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Tar Heel Hangover: Taking care of business at home

The Lighting Lineup gets two wins ahead of a short turnaround.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning opportunity to review last week’s action, second guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: The State of the Team.

The Heels took care of business at home with wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech. In the midst of a very winnable streak of games, Carolina is climbing both the conference standings and national rankings.

Words of Wisdom? A Thought from MGD.

“Glad to get the wins but there are times that they just look asleep.”

My Grumpy Dad is right on (as usual). Against Clemson, an 18 point second half lead evaporated to 2 points in the span of just under ten minutes. Against the Rambling Wreck, a 15 point second half lead was trimmed to 5 in less than five minutes.

Some of the blame for the runs has to fall on the defense (although Clemson’s shooting to start the second half was other-worldly). The real issue, however, seems to stem from lackadaisical and sloppy offense. With so many ball-handlers in the line-up on a regular bases, the number of turnovers is head scratching.

Even more problematic, many of those seem to be live-ball situations that lead directly to opponents’ points. The total number of turnovers is not overly concerning, but they seem to happen in sequence. Stemming runs has proven to be an issue this year.

Lying In Bed, I Am Worried About. . .

This is a team on a four game conference win streak. The ACC is not as tough as it was last year, but these are good wins over quality teams. Yet, there is still some level of uncertainty about what this team is capable of. Much of that comes from the disconcerting runs that the team has given up as discussed above.

The Lightning Lineup, as was coined in this article last week, has certainly brought a spark to the team. With Cameron Johnson in the starting lineup, there are potential scorers at every position. Theo Pinson’s double double against Georgia Tech could serve as a breakthrough for his productivity.

Also exciting has been the continued improvement of Sterling Manley. If Johnson starting signals the solidification of the Lightning Lineup, then Manley’s emergence as an interior force could be the Thunder that comes off the bench. Manley is earning more time and had a significant impact on Saturday with consecutive dunks. I hear rumbling in the distance this season.

Manley’s development, unfortunately, seems to be the exception. While playing 9 or 10 deep is not necessary in March, there must be viable options off the bench to rest the starters or aid when there is foul trouble.

Finally, I would like to address the rim protector issue. Last week, I reiterated a season long concern about the lack of a true interior force, particularly a shot-blocking presence, in the starting lineup. Commenters noted, appropriately, that the per game blocks are not far from (or even ahead of) where they have been historically. The four blocks per game are the result of a collective effort with only Luke Maye averaging more than one per game (and he is at 1.1).

A shot blocker’s presence, however, is reflected more in the opponents interior play than it is in the number of blocks per game. A college rim protector does not just get blocks, they alter the way that shots are taken in the paint. Against Carolina this year, there is no fear from opposing guards who are streaking down the lane. Double pumps are rare and the kinds of crazy shots that a desperate player takes to avoid a block are nearly non-existent. Those shots are just like turnovers but they don’t find their way into the stat sheet other than as a missed shot.

Carolina’s team defense may be enough, but until opponents are blowing wide open layups because they are worried about a defender breathing down their neck, this concern will remain a valid one.

Looking Ahead . . .

It is a short turnaround from the Saturday afternoon game to the Monday tilt at Blacksburg. Virginia Tech is a good team and Cassell Coliseum is a difficult place to play. A 40 minute sustained effort will be required for the road victory.

On Saturday, the Heels welcome the Wolf Pack to Chapel Hill. A solid effort should bring a win.

Final Thoughts

Every conference win is a good win. This team seems to still be finding itself a bit, but there is certainly cause to be optimistic.