John Gasaway at Basketball Propsectus takes a look at the Heels' first eight games and decides they would be better suited for the NBA.
I know. I hate it when folks say a college team could beat the Grizzilies or something along those lines. I think Gasaway's ultimate point is UNC is existing on a plane above the rest of the college basketball. Sure plenty can still go wrong but after eight games, UNC has been incredible.
Rather than rake the ashes of this particular blowout, then, I resolved to look ahead and ask a question. One that, as it happens, is put to me on a daily basis: can North Carolina be beaten?
Yes! Assuming my proposal to relocate the Tar Heels into the NBA is the first order of business taken up by our new and laudably sports-conversant president on January 20. Otherwise?
Otherwise, I wish to refocus the question. Believe me, I understand the interest in run-the-table discussions. While running the table was an occasional event back in the '60s and '70s, it hasn't happened now in 33 years. It's a legitimate object of speculation and I will do my fair share of speculating here this season, promise.
Still, let's not lose sight of the obvious. North Carolina could get tripped up at Wake Forest (January 11), at Miami (February 11), at Duke (February 15) or, heck, even at home…and they would still be the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship in Detroit in April.
This is what an overwhelming favorite looks like:
North Carolina 2008-2009
Through games of December 7
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession
Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)
H: home A: away N: neutralOpp.
Opponent Pace PPP PPP EM
Penn (H) 74.9 1.15 0.95 +0.20
Kentucky (H) 73.3 1.05 0.79 +0.26
UCSB (A) 75.5 1.11 0.89 +0.22
Chaminade (N) 81.3 1.41 0.86 +0.55
Oregon (N) 84.3 1.16 0.82 +0.34
Notre Dame (N) 74.1 1.38 1.17 +0.21
UNC Asheville (H) 83.0 1.40 0.58 +0.82
Michigan St. (N) 84.4 1.16 0.75 +0.41
Overall 78.8 1.23 0.84 +0.39
Nor does this picture change materially if you discard the outliers. Looking at just their wins over major-conference foes (Kentucky, Oregon, Notre Dame, Michigan State), Carolina is still outscoring opponents by more than 0.30 points per trip. The technical term for that level of performance over four games, only one of which was a home game, is "insane."
- There is no scenario involving earthlings and the current laws of gravity where North Carolina does not get a one-seed in the NCAA tournament.
- Since 2005, one-seeds are 32-0 in first-weekend games.
- Since 2006, one-seeds are 44-6 against opponents who aren't one-seeds.
There is a very well-established path that will almost certainly lead North Carolina back to the Motor City. For this team to be denied the title will likely require an upset on the order of Connecticut defeating Duke in the 1999 national championship game. That kind of upset is not impossible, of course, but it is unlikely--and a UNC loss earlier in the tournament is far more unlikely.
And for everyone who thinks UConn is the chief impediment in the path of the Heels, Gasaway points out the Huskies play fairly crappy defense for the most part. In fact he says eight Big East teams were better on defense than UConn was last season. The point is not to make the same mistake ACC media writers made when they voted Shelden Williams DPOY in the conference two straight season. Just because someone is a big body and capable of blocking shots does not make him or the team he is own necessarily a great defensive unit. Much is made of Hasheem Thabeet's size and shot blocking ability as though it would neutralize Tyler Hansbrough should these two teams meet. That is a pretty bold assumption since (1) Hansbrough can play anywhere on the court pulling Thabeet away from the basket and (2) UNC has multiple weapons both inside and out UConn's other players have to deal with. Then again this is a very premature conversation but it is a light week.
Gasaway also brings up the vaunted "how do you beat UNC" mantra we will hear and debunks the classic "half court game hurts UNC" poppycock that descended on us like rain prior to the Sweet Sixteen last March:
One last advisory note as we embark on what is likely to be a season-long discussion of "how to beat North Carolina." Hoops pundits tend to get needlessly hung up on pace, as in: "To beat North Carolina you need to make them play half-court." That prescription can have value for some teams but it should never be regarded as an irrevocable ukase for all teams. Pace should never be confused with style.
To beat North Carolina you need to play your style and make your shots. If the way for your team to do that in the most effective and stylistically comfortable manner is to run, great. Do it. If on the other hand you need to wind the shot clock down under ten on every possession, fine. Do that. The essential defensive objective here is something that usually falls under the heading of offense: make your shots. Carolina's offense is most lethal when they ignite it with a defensive board. The six seconds that follow that rebound quite often result in two or more points for Roy Williams' men.
Not rocket science. If you hit shots, you can win games. The key for UNC is to play defense well enough to stop that from happening which they seem to be doing. The Pomeroy rankings have UNC 7th in defense which is about 12 spots higher than they were at the end of last season. This is without Marcus Ginyard and I am sure Roy will tell you this team has not quite reached the level of defense he would like to see though I think based on his comments thus far he is pleased with the progress.
In short UNC has it rolling like we all hoped they would. The key is focusing on improvement, especially with a relatively easy schedule until the start of ACC play.