Where: Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, NC
When: Sunday, February 6th, 2:00 PM
TV: Fox Sports South
Records: UNC 16-5, 6-1 ACC; FSU 16-6, 6-2 ACC
There are two sayings that come to mind at this point.
"May you live in interesting times."
"Be careful what you wish for."
For those who have been clamoring for all Kendall Marshall all the time, you get your wish starting today. The departure of Larry Drew, while fraught with the sort of PR and emotional turmoil you'd much rather avoid is really no different than had Drew blown his knee out Thursday at practice. UNC now has to adjust the rotation to account for the loss of a guard. That means players stepping their game up to a new level. It also means Kendall Marshall who has not seen more than 24 minutes in a game this season will be called on to play at least 30 minutes if not more. This will be Marshall's chance to shine and knowing full well it is his show to run often times boosts a player to a different level. Still the change will require Dexter Strickland to move over to the point guard slot to spell Marshall. In other words the perimeter rotation will change and adjusting to that change will take some time.
Not that there is ever a good time to deal with this kind of adjustment, playing a stretch which includes the ACC's top defensive team and a pair of road games vs Duke and Clemson is probably the least ideal. I mean, if Drew really wanted to leave mid-season couldn't he had at least done it prior to the Wake Forest game? Ironically enough, the last time UNC dealt with a significant change at PG it was these three teams in this same order. In 2008, Ty Lawson was injured during the first five minutes of a game on Super Bowl Sunday versus FSU. Quentin Thomas took the reins of the team during that game eventually starting in a loss to Duke and a double OT win over Clemson. So here we are again, so to speak. UNC facing the FSU-Duke-Clemson gauntlet with a transition at PG making life difficult. Of course the difference here is going from Lawson to Thomas was perceived to be a huge step backwards. It turned out to be much better than we could have possibly imagined. Now we are talking about UNC going all in with Marshall which is perceived to be a step forward. Like it was with Thomas we can only hope it turns out to be better than we can imagine.
FSU is somewhat an enigma. As good as they are on defense they are almost as bad on offense. The Seminoles are #1 defensive team in the ACC and #2 in the nation according to KenPom. On the other end of the court FSU's offensive efficiency is 99.7 which is 201st nationally and 11th in the ACC. In fact only two teams in the ACC have an offensive efficiency below 100 and ranked in the 200s. FSU is one, Wake Forest is the other. If you asked me which end of the court I worry about most with the loss of Drew it is probably the defense over the offense. I think Marshall can carry the load in running the offense, we have seen evidence of that. What we don't know if how well the perimeter defense will work for UNC sans Drew who, along with Strickland, gave the Heels some solid defense on the outside. The question now is whether Marshall and to some extent Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock can compensate with their respective defensive play. Not that defending FSU is a decent indicator of how well your defense is playing but it bears watching all the same.
The key to this game lies with UNC's ability to execute offense against a good defense. As good as the Heels have been versus NC State and Boston College, neither of those teams could stop a runny nose with a box of Puffs and a dose of Sudafed. FSU on the other hand held Duke to an offensive efficiency of 89.2 which was the lowest rating of the season for Duke so far and only the second time the Devils had been below 100. The importance of UNC's offensive execution cannot be underscored enough. FSU can lock a team down meaning the Heels could take a huge step forward by winning this game with a great offensive outing.
Setting aside the Drew issues and the need for the team to prove something following his departure, the conventional stakes are in play although obscured for the moment. The Heels need to hold serve at home. UNC needs to win as many of these winnable games as possible. Moving to 7-1 puts the Heels in tremendous position to end the season with 10-11 wins in ACC play. It also sets the stage for a showdown versus Duke in Durham which will carry major implications for how the ACC regular season could ultimately be decided. This will be an emotional game for the Heels as they deal with the emotional baggage in the wake of Drew's sudden departure. There will be tremendous pressure to step up and perform. However, knowing the character and toughness this team has shown, I am hard pressed to think of a group of players who can better handle this type of adversity.
UNC 72 FSU 60