Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Woody Durham, and more

Sorry to have been away for a little bit there, but have to empty the skull a little, and we start with goodbye to a legend.

Woody Durham retired from his post as the Voice of the North Carolina Tar Heels (yes, it's a proper title after the way he did it for 40 years). It's hard to argue there has been another broadcaster in the state's history that has had as much impact as Durham. His signature calls of big Tar Heel moments will never be forgotten, that wonderful staccato cadence will be missed. Durham is the only voice that most Tar Heel fans know. It will be strange not to hear him calling a game this fall once football season begins. I wish him nothing but the best. He was always a classy man to talk to, especially when I was new to the Raleigh market. He took the time to answer any question I had, offered a kind word.

I still want 3 shots a side when we tee it up, though, Woody!

Carolina Panthers schedule was released Tuesday night, and if you missed it, well, it's not easy. Then again, it could be a moot point if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place by then. Regardless of labor talk, the Panthers schedule is as follows:

Week 1 - @ Arizona
Week 2 - Green Bay
Week 3 - Jacksonville
Week 4 - @ Chicago
Week 5 - New Orleans
Week 6 - @ Atlanta
Week 7 - Washington
Week 8 - Minnesota
Week 9 - BYE
Week 10 - Tennessee
Week 11 - @ Detroit
Week 12 - @ Indianapolis
Week 13 - @ Tampa Bay
Week 14 - Atlanta
Week 15 - @ Houston
Week 16 - Tampa Bay (Dec. 24)
Week 17 - @ New Orleans

Couple things. Unless the Panthers are in a playoff chase, I'll be able to spend my anniversary with my wife, and this is not the easiest schedule in the league (which has been afforded to the team with the worst record the previous year). The Panthers will play all of their games with a 1 pm start times, depending on the time zone they are in. Nothing in prime time, and I wouldn't hold my breath waiting on a flex schedule option falling their way either. The current lockout has me totally disinterested in the upcoming schedule. It will be nice to talk about upcoming games when we all know they will, in fact, be coming up.

Quick takes on the NHL and NBA playoffs: On the ice, your final four will be Detroit v. Vancouver (which kills me as a Chicago Blackhawks fan), and in the East, I'll take Washington to face Montreal. Should be an entertaining Finals between Washington and Detroit, and give me the Capitals to win it all.

In the NBA, still anybody's guess, because so many early game upsets have things a little uneasy. My NBA final four: East, Chicago v. Miami and out West, I like the Lakers and Oklahoma City. Would love to see the Thunder get by LA, but in the end, I think it will be a Chicago-Lakers final. Lakers win it, as Chicago just isn't quite ready for that stage yet, but they are close.

Mike Solarte

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cheers, Rory.

I have to admit, I am pleasantly surprised that there aren't more people jumping on Rory McIlroy for his dreadful Sunday at The Masters. In this day and age where people can hide behind the veil of the internet (if they choose), it is quite easy to write nasty things about someone without fear of repercussions. It happens on this blog from time to time, when a comment is left with a false e-mail account attached to it. Regardless, I am glad to see that McIlroy is getting praised for the way he handled himself after a final round 80. He could have avoided the media (and they likely would have understood), but he faced the music, owned his rough day, and vowed to become stronger as a result. Good on him. can't wait to see him at Quail Hollow Club in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, Charl Schwartzel will be forever known as "former Masters Champion," every year he tees it up, for the rest of his life. Former, that is, after the 2012 tournament, unless he repeats. What a tremendous Sunday he had, birdieing the final 4 holes to claim the green jacket. It's one thing to birdie the par 5 15h, and par 3 16th. Plenty of players have done that. Finishing with birdies at 17 and 18 after picking up those shots at 15 and 16? Yeah, not real common, especially on Sunday in the Masters. Solid. Rock solid.

Hats off to the Charlotte Bobcats for snapping a 6-game losing streak by picking up a 105-103 win against New Jersey. Why is this big? Well, it's not big, but it is noteworthy. Bobcats had just 9 players dressed, due to injuries. they are out of the playoff mix, and have nothing to play for. They are professionals, and are expected to do their best, but to say that it's easy to give that effort when there is nothing on the table is a bit silly. Still, they played hard, and got the "W". Good on them.

Busy week on tap, Checkers playoffs begin, 4-Wide racing comes back to ZMAX Dragway in Concord, the end of the Bobcats season, and more. We'll have you covered on Sports Night.

Mike Solarte

Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 1 at Augusta

A wonderful start to the first major of the season. Rory McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros fire 65's (7-under par), with K.J Choi and Y.E. Yang coming in with 67's to be two shots back after 18 holes.

The low Americans on day one were Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes who came home with 68's (4-under), on a day when the winds were relatively calm, and sun splashed the Augusta National layout. I'm a golfer, so to me, this is one of the great weeks of the year. The best players in the world on one of the most dramatic pieces of real estate on the planet.

What to make of this leaderboard? Well, the foreign contingent means business, for one. Plenty of players not representing the red, white and blue find themselves behind a wonderfully talented group of players from all corners of the globe, making this a true representation of the state of the game. American golf isn't failing, but it is certainly being pushed to new limits, and thus, in the end, new heights.

Tiger Woods kinda shoved it around the place to open at 1-under, 71. Sounds dull, but given his history of not starting fast there, it's better than the norm for him. Sitting 6 back of the lead means he is still in it, but truth be told, this isn't the dominant Tiger. This is the new Tiger, the lost one, still searching to find his game after a 2010 he would rather forget. I don't want to count him out of this championship yet, but it is hard to put him in the "favorites" category, considering he hasn't been one for the longest stretch of his career.

Phil Mickelson opened slowly as well, an erratic driver keeping him from making a charge on day one, but he has 3 hammers with him, and may likely carry 2 starting in the 2nd round. Lefty was his typical brilliant self around the greens, and he had to be, as his tee shots let him down horribly on day one. Unlike today's Tiger, Phil can find a way to turn the negative into a positive, so expect him to start heating up on Friday. He went way below deck in Houston last week, and can do it again.

By the time late Sunday afternoon rolls around, I would expect the that green jacket to rest on the shoulders of the player that posts a score of 14-under par. Knowing that lead is 7-under now, 14 is my choice because the folks at Augusta can make those greens behave badly. The chatter around Augusta is that the weather should hold, save for a possible shower here or there, so if the Augusta folks want the greens faster, they can get them there.

Any way you slice it, it still makes for a wonderful start to the real golf season.

Tim Baier will take you through the weekend on Sports Night, I'll see you back on Monday!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

NC State gets Gottfried

Mark Gottfried is the new men's basketball coach at NC State.

This may not sound like the sexiest hire in the world, and that's because it isn't. Gottfried has been out of the coaching game for over 2 years, resigning his post at Alabama in January of 2009. Since then, he had been working as a TV analyst for ESPN. Factor in the reported interviews, offers, and subsequent refusals of some name guys like Sean Miller, Rick Barnes and Shaka Smart, and on the surface, the Gottfried hire sounds like he was the only guy that actually wanted the job.

That may be true, however, some of the names that said no also got some nice extensions and pay bumps from their current schools. Basically, if you're a decent college coach and NC State wants you, you want to take the call, because somehow, some way, your salary is about to increase. Wonder if the Pack have my number....but I digress.

That led me to wonder aloud on Sports Night, just why is the NC State coaching job considered to be radioactive? The aforementioned coaches aren't exactly slouches in their profession, and the ACC is certainly in the top 3 leagues (historically) in all of college hoops. NC State has tradition and history. So what made this job look so unattractive to so many "name" coaches?

I don't have the answer, of course, I am just asking hypothetically. Is it because Duke and North Carolina are the two tough guys on the block, and no one at NC State, in at least my 16 years of experience, has come remotely close to turning the tables and dominating them? Is it because Duke and UNC are simply that much better at what they do? Is it because of Wolfpack fans who are charged with running off Herb Sendek after he made 5 straight trips to the NCAA tournament?

It could be any of those factors, and then again, it could be none of the above. Again, I don't profess to have the solution to this riddle, but I will say this. The NC State job IS, in fact, a very good job to have. It's a school in a premiere league, with a first class arena to play home games in. Facilities are not the problem. Competition is not the issue, because, it's still darn good.

There is no doubt the job has a dark cloud hovering over it. There is some reason that so many coaches passed on the opportunity to lead this particular ACC school. The job now for Gottfried, and Director of Athletics Debbie Yow is to remove the stigma attached with coaching there. That can only happen by becoming a factor in the league.

I have said this to colleagues, and I believe this to be true: The ACC is a better league when all four member schools in North Carolina are competitive. NC State hasn't been competitive (overall) in my time in the state. I have watched the Pack go through a good man in Les Robinson, another good one in Sendek, and one of their favorite sons in Sidney Lowe. All three have one thing in common. They didn't win enough of the time to make the Pack a factor in the league.

That is the mission for Gottfried and his staff. They have to get the Pack back into the upper tier of the ACC. That's the place Duke and UNC call their own personal playground, while the remaining schools struggle to consistently find a spot alongside them. Maryland had their moments when they fit in with dueling blues. Wake and even Georgia Tech enjoyed a cup of coffee with them. The time for NC State to make that move is now.

And the Pack are banking on Gottfried to get them there.

Mike Solarte