Well, that was pretty much everything you could hope for.
First of all, let's get the inconsistent nature of the offense out of the way up front. This game should have been over at halftime. The start was great and that was built largely on the play of Harrison Barnes. After that point the offense was stagnant, so much so that UNC played NC State basically even from the 12 minute mark of the first half until the same point in the second. UNC went up 20-8 and then the game was a 32-32 affair for the next 20 minutes. Over the next nine minutes it was 28-14 Tar Heels as the Wolfpack basically gave up and UNC executed extremely well on offense. The rough patch in the middle is the biggest concern. UNC had troubles with turnovers, poor shot selection and shots simply not falling. UNC falls in love with the jumpshot and does not make a concerted effort to get the ball inside first to give the half court offense some flow. Had UNC been playing a team with some sort of offensive ability or you know, a group of players willing to make an effort, the early lead would have dissipated. Unfortunately, I think this is something that is not going to go away though if this was truly Harrison Barnes breaking out then that could change. On the upside it appears to be an issue of execution and proper decisions rather than just poor play. That can almost certainly be improved upon as the season progresses. The point guard play could stand to be better. At this point it is necessary to view Kendall Marshall and Larry Drew a combined unit since neither are really doing anything on the own to impact the offense. Along those lines it was not a good day in the turnover department. Marshall had four, Drew had one versus seven combined assists and six total points. The turnovers are the real concern but since Marshall has not been prone to them and Drew has been better of late in that department, let's simply chalk this up as bad game.
The most encouraging part of the game on a team level was the intensity and effort brought by the Heels. Barnes set the tone early by going after offensive rebounds and loose balls. It carried over for most of the game. NC State's general effort and approach to the game has been under question for a few games now. There was not much difference here and the contrast was stark, especially in the first half rebounding which was ridiculously skewed. Likewise, NCSU has struggled on offense so while I thought UNC played well on the defensive end it is a little tough to tell how much of that was UNC and how much of it was the Wolfpack sucking mightily. Of course none of that really matters, at least not to the players who will build confidence off this win and the dominance UNC showed to start and end this game.
On the individual side, who should we talk about first? The break-out performance of Harrison Barnes or the absolute freakish game played by John Henson? Let's start with Barnes because this performance was probably the most anticipated of the season. It is well documented that Barnes has had his moments or stretches of play that let you know he was perfectly capable of doing what he did today. It has really always been a question of doing it consistently over the course of the whole game. That was the difference today. It was not just the first eight minutes of the game in which he played well and it was not just hitting shots. Barnes hustled after loose ball and rebounds which opened up scoring opportunities. However, it was the step back three to start the game which pretty much signaled what kind of day it was going to be. Barnes was relaxed and comfortable. It was clear in his demeanor and translated to his play. Barnes said the Miami game gave him confidence and why not? He hit a tough 15 footer and the game winner. It clearly dawned on him as it did everyone else that the key to playing better was to stop thinking so much and let the instincts take over. Hopefully it will continue. Hopefully we will be talking about this game six weeks from now as the game which flipped the switch.
As for Henson, putting up 16 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks while altering no telling how many others is a ridiculous day of work. I am not sure how C.Michael is going to make a choice for BTB POG because one could argue Henson's stat line and impact on the game exceeded that of Barnes. Henson was a force on both ends. He collected 1/3 of UNC's rebounds. The shot blocking altered even the way the Wolfpack attacked the basket. Yes, NCSU made some reverse layups or scoop shots but those are more difficult shots all forced by Henson's presence. Oh and Henson also had three assists which was as many as Marshall and one less than Drew.
Watching this team progress is interesting. You cannot tell in this moment whether what we saw today is a step heading in the right direction, the peak of the mountain or a total fluke. The passage of games lends meaning to this game by giving us more or none of the same. With that in mind it needs to be said that if both Barnes and Henson play like this or somewhere close to over the next ten ACC games, we are going to be very happy people.