Discussing UNC's 5-1 November and win in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
Brian: 5-1 and winning the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. That's the body of work so far and during what should be the Paige-less stretch. With his return probable next Tuesday, what improvements do you expect to see in how the Tar Heels play?
Chris: I think the biggest thing will be an increased consistency. The team, as it currently stands, has shown flashes where it has played at a really high level, but that’s the problem… they’ve been flashes. Reintroducing Paige to the starting lineup changes that significantly, as he instantly becomes UNC’s most consistent perimeter scorer, best creator, and best on-ball defender. And as an added bonus, putting Paige in the starting lineup moves Berry to the bench, thus providing UNC a third scoring threat coming off the bench to go along with Hicks and Britt.
But more generally, Paige will change the focus of opposing teams’ game plans, which means his teammates should all have a little more freedom to operate, and thus become more efficient players in their own right. I know that some have wanted to downplay the impact of Paige’s absence, but that’s just silly, IMO. In 2008, we saw how much the loss of Ty Lawson lowered the team’s level of play, and in 2011, we saw how much the switch from SOK to Kendall Marshall improved things. In short, there is nothing more important to Roy’s system (and college basketball, in general) then an elite point guard, and that is exactly what they are adding.
Brian: It also puts Theo Pinson into a role where he isn't being relied on for offense. Pinson, with his ode to Dexter Strickland fade away jump shot, has shown enough ability to hit a three to keep defenses honest. At the same time with Paige and Jackson drawing much of the perimeter attention, Pinson is going to get open looks. If he knocks him down it will makes the defense pay.
I was somewhat surprised Joel Berry struggled as much as he did at times running the offense. Against Kansas State he looked indecisive, dribbled out front too much and didn't initiate the offense. The Wildcat defense probably had him a little shook but Paige's return should get the offense in a better flow.
Doc: I was really surprised at all the faux "UNC lost to Northern Iowa?!?!?" shock. Without Paige, on the road at a team that was a 5-seed last year, this is not losing to Radford or even Santa Clara. I think the feeling before the Paige injury was, if UNC can get through that stretch with only one loss (Maryland, perhaps) then the Tar Heels would have weathered the storm successfully. So if Paige is back a little early and Carolina beats the Terps at home, then it's essentially a wash.
What has made me the happiest is to see that Justin Jackson, like Jimmy Chitwood in "Hoosiers", has decided it's time to start playing ball. With the return of Paige and Jackson finally starting to play up to expectations, the backcourt may finally start to be who we thought they were.
Chris: The win at KSU should, hopefully, squash some of that annoying notion that the team isn’t “tough” enough. Granted, most people didn’t want to give credit to the 2009 team for being “tough” until after they won it all. Funny how that works.
Brian: Speaking of toughness, I am curious to know how things like "toughness" are really defined. It feels like words like toughness, intensity, hustle, soft, etc. get tossed around quite a bit and used interchangeably. I also think they are "go to" terms for ANY time UNC isn't playing well. UNC shoots 38% in the first half, well they weren't tough. Four or five rebounds bounce just out of reach well they are soft. The caveat here is Roy Williams refers to these concepts quite a bit so the fan base is feeding off that. Still, is toughness thrown around too much and how are we even defining it?
Paul: I think where they need to focus on toughness is on the defensive end, particularly for defensive rebounds. Carolina too often gives up cheap offensive rebounds and that seems to be what Roy most wants to see as a manifestation of toughness. Other than that, I think everyone is pretty pleased with the Heels so far. The guards played one dud game and seem to have learned from it which is what you want at this stage in the season.
Toughness is probably talked about too much, but you do want teams to build up confidence and mental fortitude this early. It's important to see them shake off an early loss like this and build confidence with a comeback win.
Chris: The one thing I hate about the “toughness” talk is when it is used as an absolute, because that completely ignores how tough one actually has to be to earn a DI scholarship. When compared to the general population, DI athletes (and especially those in non-revenue sports) are the 1%. Now, that mini-rant aside, as to how do we differentiate toughness between those at the top? I haven’t the slightest clue, which probably is part of the reason I get uncomfortable discussing it. I think Paul’s suggestion of looking at defense, and particularly defensive rebounds, is good, but the 2009 team was 122nd in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, while this year’s team (small sample-size) is currently 24th. So does that mean this year’s team is that much tougher than the 2009 team?
Then again, according to Dan Dakich (Hi Dan!), Michael Jordan lacked toughness and was “tissue soft;” so it that’s true, then I don’t think toughness exists at all...
Brian: People act like toughness and hustle aren't in the DNA of Carolina basketball.This is a program that tracks things like floor burns and has a conditioning program that asks players to do things that make guys like me who was a D1 cross country runner shudder. Again the term is overused and is too often employed instead of actual analysis or acknowledging the other team might be a factor.