Lawson is averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 assists for the Denver Nuggets this year.
Lawson is averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 assists for the Denver Nuggets this year.
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Lucas: A Questionable Omission
Release: 12/12/2012

By Adam Lucas

Six Tar Heels landed on the NCAA's list of all-time greatest March Madness players, tied with UCLA and Duke for the most of any program.

It wasn't enough.

That's just one of the Carolina-related oversights (No 2005 team that won a virtual road game against an Illinois team that began the year 29-0, the third-best start in Big Ten history? Winning back-to-back triple-overtime games on back-to-back nights in 1957 doesn't count as a top moment?) when the NCAA released a series of three honors designed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the NCAA Tournament.

Ty Lawson's omission from the list of all-time NCAA Tournament players is the most egregious oversight. It's doubtless a challenge to parse the hundreds of players who have excelled in March, and the 76th player on a 75-player list is always going to be miffed.

Here's the thing, though: Lawson shouldn't have been the 76th player on anyone's March list, unless it's a list of players who always tied their shoes for pregame warmups (the laid-back Lawson sometimes had to be reminded). If it's a list of players who played their best on college basketball's biggest stage, Lawson deserves a place.

According to the release, "NCAA staff analyzed statistical data compiled exclusively from performances in NCAA Tournament games to determine the 75 player finalists." They must not have had access to box scores from the 2009 event, when Lawson was the South Regional Most Outstanding Player (the first and only Tar Heel point guard ever to win regional MVP honors), a member of the All-Final Four team, set Final Four records for most free throws attempted (35) and made (25), set a championship game record with eight steals, led all players on both teams with 21 points in the title victory over Michigan State, handed out six assists and made just one turnover. 

Lawson has the most NCAA Tournament steals of any Tar Heel, the third-most NCAA Tournament assists (81) of any Tar Heel, and is tied for the second-most NCAA Tournament free throws (65) in a Carolina career. His 104 points in five games in the 2009 tournament are the third-most ever by a Tar Heel in a five-game tournament, and his 6.8 assists per game average that same year is tied with Raymond Felton for the highest ever by a champion UNC point guard.

Lawson finished his UNC career 12-2 in the NCAA Tournament, a winning percentage of .857. He started 14 NCAA Tournament games, the most ever for a Tar Heel point guard.

He is, quite simply, one of the all-time greatest Tar Heel performers in March, and his incredible 2009 postseason-when he averaged a team-high 20.8 points per game, shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from the three-point line with 34 assists, 16 steals and just seven turnovers-deserves to be rated among the NCAA's best. In fact, you could make an argument that he has an even better case than Antawn Jamison, who did make the final cut.

My guess is that Lawson's candidacy was overlooked because he didn't win Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four (Wayne Ellington won it instead), so the selection committee never really looked closely at his numbers. But the truth is that Carolina never would have been in the Final Four without Lawson, because LSU would have pulled a second-round upset.

That was in the heart of the Ty Lawson Toe Watch, when Tar Heel fans became intimately acquainted with Epsom salts and turf toe. There was serious question as to whether he would play against the Tigers. He looked gimpy in the first half, scoring just two points.

He then proceeded to turn in 20 of the best minutes in Carolina history in the second half. After Lawson scored 21 second-half points in the win, CBS commentator Jim Nantz called it one of the best performances he had ever seen, and no less an authority than Tyler Hansbrough called it "the best half Ty has ever played."

After the season, assistant coach C.B. McGrath reflected on Lawson's  performance.

"I think Ty got to the point that he thought he was unguardable," McGrath said. "We had seen that t times when we played Duke when he was younger, where he would just take it and go with it. This year, you saw it more, where he knew he could take over the game. I think that had a lot to do with confidence and maturity."

"I tell our kids all the time we get a chance to perform on the biggest stage there is," Roy Williams said after the season. "People are going to remember how you played on the biggest stage...and Ty was not afraid."

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly and the author or co-author of seven books on the Tar Heels.


UNC North Carolina Men's Basketball


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