As the UNC basketball team begins conference play, there seems to be something that is still just not sitting right, but it's hard for me to identify. Most knowledgeable Tar Heel fans knew there would be some bumps along the way, and realistically, at 12-4 with two of those losses away from home to the #1 and #2 teams in the country, the team seems to be OK. But there are a few lingering questions for me that I would offer up for debate:
1. Is this team demonstrably better than they were in early December?
I would argue that no, as a whole the team has not shown shown the improvement most fans and pundits have hoped for. UNC has put it all together exactly once this season - against Michigan State. And while we have been treated to glimpses of how good the squad can be, much of the predicted success of this team was tied to growth that was expected by this point but has not as of yet manifested itself.
2.Why has the front line been so soft?
Arguably the strength of this team was supposed to be the forwards and centers, and again, aside from some individual flashes of brilliance, the front line has seemed inconsistent and soft. Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, and Tyler Zeller should be among the most formidable front-line players in college basketball, but have often found themselves out-muscled and out-hustled by smaller, quicker teams.
3. Why has there been an apparent absence of on-court leadership?
Maybe it was unfair for UNC fans to expect Marcus Ginyard to be David Noel. Ginyard is a capable player and I'm sure a capable leader, but the job of breaking in the young colts has fallen more to the coaches than to the seniors. I guess I just keep waiting for Ginyard or Thompson to grab a handful of somebody's jersey and take charge, but that just may not be in the cards.
4. Why doesn't this team seem to "get it"?
I coached high school and college for 14 years and if I or any coach knew the answer to that question, it would be bottled and sold to teams all across America. Part of it may be a leadership issue, part of it may be the adjustment to college basketball, part may be the personalities involved - who knows? Much has been made of the coaches' frustrations with the team and there was a supposed "Come to Jesus" meeting which was promptly followed by the Charleston loss.
So many pundits and fans have compared the '10 team to '06 due to the similar circumstances, but THF made a great analogy to the '99 team, which never really seemed to "get it" either. This is not to say that this year's squad won't figure it out, though.
5. UNC has the ball at halfcourt, 5.6 seconds left, down 1 point. Who takes the last shot?
This is a crucial point as you begin to analyze Carolina's sometime ineptitude on offense, especially as it relates to the 21-4 runs that have cost the team some games. Who is the go-to guy on this team? Who gets a touch when you need a bucket? I think when the team figures this question out, it will go a long way to answering some of the other ones.
This analysis is not meant to be a negative reflection on the performance of this year's team. I think all UNC fans are waiting for the moment the light flips on and everyone on the team gets on the same page. Maybe it was the second half of the VT game - we can only hope. And if anyone can find a way to help them put it all together, it will be Roy Williams. The rest of January will go a long way towards seeing how this will all play out in the end.