Note from THF: I am going to do something I rarely do and back of something I wrote. I posted the piece after the jump taking a local columnist to task for writing what I considered a bad column. I do this from time to time but I usually do so with people who are being overtly critical of UNC without the basis of fact. In this case the author of the column was not being critical in a negative manner and I, for reasons probably having to do with being awakened four times during the night by THD #2 or the lack of fiber in my diet decided to rip the guy a new one. As two of my loyal commenters pointed out the column was not without merit and I came off as a tad defensive in my rebuttal. This is not what I am about and it plays into the meme held by ABCers than UNC fans are defensive and critical to anyone who does not wholly agree with them. So for that let me apologize for failing to meet my usual standard of presenting intellectually honest and fact based criticism in exchange for taking shots at a guy who probably did not deserve it. To him I apologize and hope if he reads it, he will be understanding that I am not usually such a complete jerk. The post will remain per policy of letting it all hang out no matter the ugliness it pertains.
Honestly this is brutal stuff from H. Williams Kellenberger of the esteemed paper of record in Nash County.
He titles the article by asking the ominous and oft recycled question I think we heard 23 times in 2005:
The Tar Heels are playing like a champion, but can they finish?
Wayne Ellington's 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining on Sunday proved something.
North Carolina is as good as a college basketball team any we are likely to see in this day of parity, where the average recruit has become more and more aware of the true meaning of playing time and the luxury that mid-major programs can afford him.
Let me translate that, basically he is saying with all the players going to mid-major schools because they would rather have playing time than fight for it on a top tier team means there is more parity in college basketball. What that has to do with UNC being one of the best team's in the nation is anyone's guess. I would dispute theory though. I think parity has been largely created in some part by the NBA defections which cause the top tier teams to play younger personnel whereas the mid-major schools benefit from four year products who develop and are also more experienced. See the 2006 George Mason team beating UNC as a prime example of this at work. I also think with ESPN and other networks giving mid-majors more exposure means the bright lights are no longer confined to places like Chapel Hill or Bloomington, IN. On top of that I simply believe the number of quality high school players exceeds the number of spots at top tier schools as well as the fact the high school rankings are not exact.
But if you prefer to simplify the matter and say it is about playing time, then more power to ya. Moving on....
The top-ranked Tar Heels had not been challenged since a season-opening test against Davidson, dispatching 13 straight opponents by an average margin of 25 points. That is, until Sunday.
Lies! As I pointed out prior to the Clemson game UNC's strength of schedule was 32nd in the nation according to the RPI and that was fourth best in the AP Top 25. Before UNC won at Clemson they were 7-0 away from the Dean Dome and 6-0 versus the RPI 100. UNC played four true road games during the non-conference slate which included a road game at Ohio State, presently ranked at #15 in the latest RPI. UNC won that game playing without Ty Lawson and while shooting horribly from the field. In my mind they have been sufficiently challenged and on more than one occasion in the past two months.
Clemson, with one loss but ranked 19th because, well, Clemson is Clemson and North Carolina is North Carolina, dominated the first 35 minutes of the game and never wilted.
I would not say Clemson dominated though I would agree they hung very tough and could have easily won the game if they had played smarter and hit some free throws.
Looked at as one game, there is no real cause for concern for coach Roy Williams. Forward Alex Stepheson was still in Los Angeles dealing with a family illness and point guard Quentin Thomas only played eight minutes because of a sprained ankle. Neither are starters but they play important roles for a group that, during the past two seasons, has become accustomed to playing with the promise of a deep bench behind them.
Last season, we saw a group of obviously-talented freshmen that seemed to live by a simple motto – we play, we win. And, for the most part, they were correct. It took a feisty Georgetown team, easily the third-best team in the country in March of 2007, to knock out the Tar Heels.
Quentin Thomas only played eight minutes because he was a turnover machine not because of the ankle. Stepheson, on the other hand, could have been the X factor in breaking the Clemson interior defense. As for last season I seem to recall that only three of the freshman saw big minutes: Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Brandan Wright. The rest of the rotation included four sophomores, one junior and two seniors to go along with two more freshman in Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson. Calling them a "group of obviously-talented freshmen" is more than a bit misleading. And as much as I give credit to Georgetown for executing on offense in that game, UNC shot themselves in the foot more than Georgetown took the game from them.
The loss of Brandan Wright, a player who always seemed a little too preoccupied with his role, to the NBA has played a large role in how the sophomores have matured as a group. Call it addition by subtraction of a 7-footer.
If anyone can tell me how Wright "seemed a little too preoccupied with his role" last season please feel free to drop it in the comments section below. I have no idea what is referring to there. And the jury is still out on the loss of Wright. I think Thompson and Stepheson will play well enough along with Danny Green's upgraded offensive prowess to offset the loss of Wright however we are not at a point where Wright's departure can be written off as not an issue.
Over the course of the nonconference portion of the schedule, the Tar Heels consistently responded in a way that has to be impressive.
They did not wilt during a six-game road trip, as long as Wright's wingspan by college basketball standards.
After a rough 10-point win over Nicholls State, and the public criticism from Williams that came with it, North Carolina dispatched its next four foes – all possible NCAA Tournament teams – with staggering ease.
I would also like to issue a Contradiction Alert for the remainder of this article. The author made the point that UNC had not been challenged yet now is telling us UNC went on the road for six games and endured a rough 10 point win versus Nicholls State. And I am not sure which of the four games after Nicholls he was watching but I recall the Valpo and Kent State games being a little nip and tuck into the second half before UNC asserted it's will. "Staggering ease" is not the best choice of words to describe how UNC handled some of those games, in my opinion.
Still, the Tar Heels are not a perfect team. The loss of Bobby Frasor (torn ACL) means either Ty Lawson will need to play 35-38 minutes a game, or Thomas will have to be counted on in a way in which he has consistently proved incapable.
I can pretty well assure you that Lawson will not be playing that many minutes, at least not until we get into March. I think Thomas can be effective against the right opponents. There are teams that are more likely to trouble him like Clemson and Duke whereas against NCSU or Georgia Tech he might have fewer problems with turnovers. Saying Lawson will play almost the whole game also discounts Ginyard running the point some which will happen because that is how Roy rolls.
There is work to be done on the act of defending the perimeter and somehow someway, Williams must find a way to stop opponents from mugging Tyler Hansbrough.
Sweet Moses. What the heck is "the act of defending the perimeter." I did not know it was an "act."
Believe it or not I actually think there is little wrong with the perimeter defense per se. I think the issue is stopping dribble penetration which collapses the defense and creates open jumpers on the perimeter. And Roy's greatest concern is guarding the basketball. If UNC does a poor job defending the ball it usually leads to penetration, etc, etc, etc.
The end of that sentence made me laugh because I am not quite sure what the author expects Roy to do, run out on the court and stop other players from fouling Hansbrough?
Still, North Carolina is one of two teams that, at this point of the season, look capable of winning the NCAA Championship (Kansas is the other). All the elements are there.
There is usually a point in a column where you can tell when the author lacks the requisite knowledge to be articulating any points on the subject matter at hand. This piece has had several points but none more embarrassing than omitting Memphis from the list of teams that "look capable of winning the NCAA Championship." Memphis is probably the team I worry about the most and rightfully so since they have all the parts along with experienced players who went to the Elite Eight last season before losing. They also have a PG capable of matching Lawson which is a huge deal if UNC meets Memphis in San Antonio.
That was never so clear then at the end of Sunday night, when Ellington had the confidence to take, and make, the game-winning shot.
The things that were clear to me at that moment were(in no particular order)
- Wayne Ellington is capable of taking a game over and for all intents and purposes buried the Georgetown game by burying that jumper
- UNC can win a game without Hansbrough having an effective effort offensively.
- Bobby Frasor needs to be more careful when standing up.
- Cliff Hammonds needs a defensive primer from his coaches.