"You called down the thunder, well now you've got it."
At approximately 4:45 PM EDT there was a sound heard across the ACC country, the sound of a millions of opposing fans crying out in terror. At a quarter to five this Monday afternoon, UNC got it's groove back in the form of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green making the decision to return to school. And had you told me as little as 24 hours ago that all three would come back I would have called you delusional. This was the best case scenario that no one ever discussed because it was never really considered a possibility. The primary assumption was that Ty Lawson would for certain be heading to the NBA, despite his #20 pick cutoff. Wayne Ellington was a general mystery who could go either way and Danny Green's roller coaster is well documented. Now, to get all three back is nothing short of a complete coup.
1. The Process Worked
On one hand it was a little like making chicken salad out of you know what. Then again as much as many of us lamented the way the last six weeks unfolded, the end results seems to be the appropriate one for the players. Setting aside the media circus we ended up enduring, the players themselves entered the process, gained experience and received an accurate read on their stock. Obviously getting Lawson back probably had a lot to do with his legal problems which tainted him in the eyes of NBA GMs. Still, this is what testing the waters is supposed to be, players going through the pre-draft workouts to see if they will be drafted high and if not head back to school. I honestly believe these three will be better for the decision and the fringe benefit for the fans is a killer team on the floor next season.
2. Chemistry Questions
I actually think this will be less of an issue than most people are going to attempt to make it. Roy dealt with the 2004 team which he coached into the 2005 team and won a title. Granted there will be tons of questions about whether the guys like Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard will get along with the players who tested the waters, especially given some of the comments heard in the media. There will also be talk about how much this trio of players could screw the team trying to impress the scouts or whining about playing time. I also think this may get overblown simply because each one of these Tar Heels have played for Roy and they know the deal. They are well versed in his system and understand what he asks of his players which means they know what it takes to earn your PT. In other words, I think Roy can handle things. Based on last season, all three of these players saw plenty of time on the court to be impact contributors. I see no reason that will change since the incoming freshman and the return of Bobby Frasor should only marginally effect Ty Lawson with little impact on the other two.
3.Chips on Shoulders
Another reason I think the chemistry/playing time/me first attitude stuff will not be an issue is these guys know(or will be told that) the best way to help their stock is to win a national title and look like world beaters doing it. Lawson, Green and Ellington certainly must realize that in order to get drafted high, they need to show they play consistently on both ends of the floor and play like their life depended on it. I fail to see how this hurts UNC in any way. There is also a pressure there. Green and Lawson, in particular, made a lot of noise about being good enough for the NBA. I say it is time to put up or shut up, especially when it comes to Lawson playing defense since he declared himself to be such an excellent on the ball defender. The bottom line is every player on this team needs to play with a full effort and do their individual thing in a way that compliments their teammates and creates an unstoppable team effort. It is really quite simple. UNC will have so many weapons on the floor and if every guy out there is being unselfish and executing when called upon, I am not sure there is team in the nation that can slow them down. The key will be the whole team focusing in on one goal: winning the title. If they do that, the other concerns, such as NBA Draft position will really take care of itself. If you have doubts just ask the Kansas players what winning a title did for them.
4. Lawson and the Law
This needs to be tidied up and Roy probably ought do something, perhaps suspend him for one game. So here is what I suggest. Suspend him for the first game of the season and start Larry Drew in his place. Why? Because the first game is at UC Santa Barbara on the way to Maui and the last time UNC opened the season in California on the way to Maui they did so with the starting PG, Raymond Felton, suspended one game and a freshman, Quentin Thomas at the point. They also lost the game but ended up winning the national title. So why not try it again, except skip the game losing part while keeping the national title portion of the agenda.
5. The Lineup
Should be the same as last year: Lawson, Ellington, Ginyard, Thompson, Hansbrough.
Frasor should back-up Lawson followed by Drew which gives Roy his coveted three PG setup. Green will the the sixth man and come in reeking all sorts of wanton destruction on opposing defenses. I also am going to nip the "Green starting" meme in the bud here and now. It is not going to happen unless Roy decides to go with Green at the four. GInyard is a favored player and he kicks rear ends on defense so he starts. Now, Green starting at the four is not outside the realm of possibility but that is a small lineup so I am not seeing it at this point. With Alex Stepheson transferring, Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller will step in and play his minutes, hopefully in a productive manner. Will Graves is a real X factor, especially if his summer of hard work pays off.
6. Getting Defensive
So assuming chemistry/attitude issues are minimized, there is one nagging thorn in the foot to consider: defense. UNC was not great at defense last season and it was a bit of a bugaboo through most of the year. In my mind this has to be the first focus. The offense will be there. Offense was never an issue and with all of the offensive threats UNC has, opposing teams will be in "pick your poison" mode from the first game minute. My advice to the players is make learning how to play defense the #1 priority this summer and into the start of practice. Make it a point of pride and when the first solid round of Pomeroy ratings come out next season, UNC should be #1 in offense and top five in defense.
7. Great Expectations
Most talented team: Check
Tournament tested: Check
Tough and Poised: Check
I am on record as saying that I think it is unfair to expect a national title since the Final Four is such a crapshoot. I am prepared at this point to amend that. It is the goal of UNC basketball every season to win a national title. This team should be plenty motivated, they are highly experienced, have a returning NPOY, the best PG in the nation, the best sixth man in the nation, a sweet shooting two guard and a cast of role players who are more than capable of getting the job done. They will play at the Final Four site in December when they take on Michigan State giving them a preview of facility. There is no other team returning the combination of talent and experience to go along with a Hall of Fame head coach. All the pieces are there, the question is if they can be assembled into a well oiled title contender.
Calling this team national title or bust might be unfair, but when you put this kind of team on the floor, those are the breaks. In this day and age a team with this kind of talent and experience is exceedingly rare. How about making the most of it and hang NCAA banner #5 in the Dean Dome.