First off, Winthrop is a darned good team. Do not let the Big South label fool you, these guys can get up to play. Jay Bilas made the point that Winthrop was "unafraid" since they are used to playing the big dogs and almost toppled one in the NCAA Tournament last season in the form of Tennessee. It also should be noted that #3 Kansas lost at home to an Oral Roberts team probably not as good as Winthrop. The truth of the matter is it is early and teams are findint themselves, UNC being one of them. The guilty confession many UNC fans are making is that we got very starry eyed following the two very dominant exhibition win and assumed it would carry over into the regular season with only some degree of moderation. Well, we were wrong. This does not mean that four months from now we will not have the most powerful team in the nation, it just means we should all be glad they hold the NCAA Tournament in March.
Tonight was the first time I have seen UNC play this season and even after watching Tyler Hansbrough play like a beast last season I am utterly amazed at the level of his play. Forget the interior game we all knew he had that, the post moves, and the sheer will to score regardless of contact. The most impressive aspect tonight was his ability run the floor. In fact on one play he stole the ball and dribble the ball upcourt into the lane and then dished to Bobby Frasor for a layup. On other plays he ran with the guards down court and took the ball for an easy basket. Hansbrough has incredible skills and his consistent play is going to be the steadying force that pushes this team along early in the season. Use your imagination concerning what happens when the other pieces fall into place.
Concerning the freshman, once again I think many UNC fans assumed too much when we thought they would be the cat's meow from the first game. According to Roy Williams only Brandan Wright and Wayne Ellington have picked up the system to this point. They were the only other double figure scorers tonight besides Hansbrough. As far as Ty Lawson goes, I will point out(not to toot my own horn) that I thought the projections that Lawson would be the floor general right away and Frasor would be out of the PG slot were a little off. I maintain that Lawson is a several games away from being given the keys to the car. Make no mistake there are moments where he does some astounding things with his speed and his ability to make things happen off penetration. On the other hand there are more moments when he shows his experience level and the fact he has not fully grasp what is happening in the Carolina system. Lawson will get there, it just may take more time than some fans thought it would.
All in all, this was a good game for UNC to play. There is no underestimating the importance of having a tough game early in the season that you have to tough out and win. It was a little shocking to have UNC go down by eight at halftime but also bear in mind that UNC had committed 14 turnovers and Winthrop shot a ridiculous 53% from behind the arc on their way to hitting eight threes. UNC also gave a somewhat lackluster effort which again points to an attitude and focus problem. The second half bounce back shows a building toughness with this team that will be necessary going forward.
So, good win for the Heels. Yes there is a lot of work to be done, but plenty of time to do it.