After all, for two days, North Carolina point guard Tywon Lawson had the most famous foot in sports this side of Tom Brady's protective boot.
Lawson, who injured his toe in practice Friday, was rumored to be on crutches leading up to Sunday's game against rival Duke. So when the ball went up at the Dean E. Smith Center, it was a bit of a surprise to see him in the starting lineup.
But to see him finish the Blue Devils was just downright predictable.
As predictable as the roar of the hometown crowd for departing senior Tyler Hansbrough. As predictable as Mike Krzyzewski's frequent umbrage with the refs. As dadgum predictable as Williams lacing his post-game press conference with a sugar bowl full of dadgums, frickins and doggones.
On a night dedicated to Hansbrough, Lawson would again remind everyone that he is the most important player in the nation. Even with a bad wheel.
"He wasn't the Ty we've seen all year long, but nine assists is pretty doggone good," Williams said after North Carolina's 79-71 win over rival Duke. "He's been so big in close games and he's played so well since the first two games [of the ACC season, both North Carolina losses]."
If this Lawson wasn't as good as it gets, the rest of the NCAA tournament field should just start spring break early, bone up for exams or do anything except try to survive a Bracketville brawl with these 'Heels. If Lawson gets better than he was Sunday, then the engraving has already been done on North Carolina's fifth national championship plaque.
The junior nearly put a triple-double on the Blue Devils. He grabbed eight rebounds, handed out nine assists and scored 13 points, including the five points that all but put the game out of reach, turning a four-point edge with 1:50 left into a nine-point edge 58 seconds later. He turned Duke's defense into a blue-and-white bag of pretzels and twisted through the lane with moves that made you think his joints were made of Play-Doh.
And for the fifth time in five career tries, Lawson beat Duke.
And somewhere along the way he proved what should be as obvious as the Alexander Julian trim on North Carolina's uniforms: Ty Lawson is the true leader of the Heels.
"He has been so big in close games," Williams said of Lawson, when asked about the ACC Player of the Year race. "And I'll say this too. I've never coached anybody that's had to face as much on the court as (Hansbrough) has faced, and he has been awfully impressive. To do the things he has done with two and three guys going at him, as physical as he has played ... I don't know who is player of the year, but you go past those two and I find it hard to believe."
But all you had to do was listen to Mike Krzyzewski to figure out who, exactly, won that game. His post-game autopsy singled out three plays that made the difference.
"I thought that three-point play by [Deon] Thompson, the 3-point shot by [Danny] Green and the 3-point play by Lawson," Krzyzewski said, "those three exchanges were what won the game."
Pour a bottle of luminol over those and you'll see Lawson's fingerprints everywhere. The Thompson bucket, which came after a Gerald Henderson dunk cut the lead to two with just over five minutes to play, came because Lawson's entry pass moved quicker than Duke's Lance Thomas, who was doubling down.
When a Jon Scheyer 3-pointer again trimmed the lead to two with 3:24 left, it was Lawson again who drove the lane so effectively you'd be excused for thinking he had a GPS chip somewhere in his head, and kicked it out for Green's wide-open 3-pointer.
And if there was any doubt left, Lawson took a nail-gun to Duke's coffin on the last of Krzyzewski's three plays. After the Blue Devils rebounded a Lawson miss with 1:18 left, Singler turned the ball over as he stumbled out of bounds with the ball. The Tar Heels got a new 35-second clock to protect their four-point edge. Lawson needed just 14 seconds to blow by Scheyer, sink a layup and head to the charity stripe for another point.
Lawson five. Duke zero.
"Ty Lawson," his coach added succinctly, "was awesome."
He'll never get the publicity of his teammate Hansbrough. Then again, the Tar Heel center couldn't get more fawning press coverage if his first name was Barack and his last name was Tebow. Look hard enough and the Florida quarterback and the president probably have their own Facebook group protesting his coverage.
But what makes North Carolina so dangerous isn't the halfcourt game that Hansbrough excels in, and it sure as heck isn't its defense -- there are kids that go to the dentist with more enthusiasm than the Heels man up -- it's the Lawson-led transition game. Watch the speedy point guard go about his business and it'll look like defenders are wearing Army boots and running in sand. Watch him fly up the court for an and-1 layup, and you have to double-check that he isn't wearing ice skates.
Take Hansbrough out of that lineup, and you've still got what Williams would undoubtedly refer to as a heckuva frickin' team. Behind him, there's Deon Thompson, who scored 14 points, just three fewer than the team star in six fewer minutes. There's freshman Ed Davis, who would likely start on any other ACC team except perhaps Wake Forest. And on, and on, until your realize there's enough height on that team to clean Williams' gutters without fetching a ladder.
But there is no replacement for Lawson anywhere in college basketball.
When he went down a season ago, the Heels lost to an almost exact copy of this Duke team by 11. Backup Quentin Thomas filled in well enough that the Heels, with huge games from Hansbrough, didn't lose again in his six-game absence. But the only thing that was the same about those teams was the uniforms. And as good as Hansbrough has been this year, Lawson has been better. According to Ken Pomeroy's offensive ratings, Lawson is the single most efficient player in the nation, regardless of possessions used. Hansbrough is 21st.
When Lawson has been slowed, the Heels have lost. In North Carolina's three defeats, he's averaging just 3.7 assists per game, almost half of his season average of 6.4 assists. Keep him at five assists and under and you've got a shot of winning. Let Ty drop more than six dimes and you may as well hit Expedia.com for travel arrangements home.
Lawson did get a share of criticism earlier in the year when Jeff Teague and Tyrese Rice torched North Carolina in back-to-back losses to start the season and more than a few wondered if his heart was in college hoops. It was, after all, understandable criticism for a player who thought he'd be cashing paychecks in the NBA this season. (Lawson declared for the NBA Draft last year, but, after an inability to guarantee a top-20 selection returned to campus for a junior season. Some would say it was due to an alcohol charge just before the draft, but the oft-troubled NBA turning its back on a player for a minor arrest seems about as likely as a homeless man sending back a meal because the foie gras was paired with the wrong wine.).
Lawson's one-toe tribute to Willis Reed puts North Carolina almost exactly where it was before the start of ACC play, the favorite to cut down the nets in April.
That is, assuming his bum toe doesn't keep him from playing at full speed. These Heels have seen more injuries than a sweeps-week episode of ER this season; lose Lawson, and Williams may as well as start handing out more Kansas stickers, because North Carolina will need someone else to root for.
"It's just tough for me to move on it or pivot off it right now," Lawson said. "It felt numb. I felt like I was running on four toes. I was able to do everything I could, but now I'm coming down off it and it's real painful right now."
And if those words send a shiver colder than that ice pack on Lawson's foot up the spine of North Carolina fans everywhere, it's likely because they've long known what should be obvious to everyone.
There is no replacing Ty Lawson. And when he's healthy, there's no stopping him either.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.