Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Great Wall and Why UNC did not Recruit Him

Tyler who? Last May when perhaps the most iconic basketball player of the decade graduated after four years as a media darling at Carolina, people jokingly wondered who would take his place. Well for the answer just go to the College Basketball frontpage of ESPN, SI, Yahoo, Foxsports, or nearly any sports website for that matter. John Wall emerged out of crowd and forced his way into the spotlight, quickly becoming to college ball what LeBron James is the NBA (at least for a year).

Wall has not only lived up to the hype but has surpassed it. He put on a show on national TV against contenders UNC and UConn. Avid college basketball fans who follow the recruiting process knew John Wall would be a ESPN Top 10 mainstay and put together a highlight reel of dunks like he did over Jerry Stackhouse in a summer league game. Statistically Wall is performing as well as expected, averaging 19 points and 7 assists per game. What we did not expect of Wall was his crunch-time clutchness. Wall takes over the last 2 minutes of close games in a way that evokes images of Jordan. With Evan Turner out of the running due to a broken back, Wall has a great chance to win NPOY this season. What is truly scary for all basketball fans outside of Lexington is that Wall can afford to improve. He is not an outside shooting threat at this point and while he's shooting a respectable 35% from 3-point range, Wall has only had one game in which he made more than one trey. Shooting usually improves in between seasons, but if Wall can become more of a threat outside the arc he may become literally indefensible. One area where Wall definitely can improve by March is turnovers. He is turning the ball over almost 4 times a game and will need to limit this number if the Wildcats hope to be able to overcome teams like Kansas. Overall though, Wall is putting together a freshman season that rivals that of Carmelo, Durant, and Rose.

Given the prodigious talent that is John Wall, it came as a surprise to some that Roy Williams chose not to recruit the local high school phenom last May. His decision was clearly not a matter of misjudging talent as Williams has been quoted as saying Wall was the best point guard prospect he had seen since Jason Kidd. As such some have been quick to fault Roy for this decision. Williams stated that he wasn't sure about the fit, which some have interpreted to mean that Roy didn't want to potentially take on a prospect who could be in violation of recruiting regulations. Furthermore it is far from certain that Wall would have ended up at North Carolina, as his handler, Brian Clifton, has some personal vendetta against the Carolina ball coach (though after what happened with Barnes I am never counting UNC out of any recruiting competition).

However, I think there was a much more basketball-related reason for UNC's decision not to recruit Wall. After Ellington and Lawson declared, I think Roy knew UNC would still not be a title favorite even with Wall in the backcourt. Furthermore, he knew Tar Heels already had talented backcourt commits Bullock and Marshall coming in next season and probably also had an inkling that they could get Barnes as well. Wall was a virtual lock to be one-and-done and Roy already had a solid point guard in the perpetually underrated Larry Drew II. I feel Williams decided to plan for a title run in 2010-2011 by letting Drew II gain confidence and experience this season so that next year's squad could have an experienced floor leader, and hoped that this year's squad would be able to put it together under the leadership of Thompson and Ginyard and compete in a bit of a down year. Basically it was like passing up a one night stand with Jessica Alba in favor of seriously dating Rachel McAdams. Yeah you may have missed out on an amazing night with a smoking hot babe, but in the end you go to bed with Rachel McAdams every night.

Ultimately the plan could pay off big time, contingent on a couple things. The first was his faith in Drew II would have to be well placed. So far it seems like it is. Drew II is fifth in the nation in assists averaging 6.6 per game, while also developing confidence in his scoring ability. Drew currently averages 8.7 points per game (a number I expect will break into double digits by season's end) and is shooting nearly 40% from three point range. Drew does not have Wall's athleticism or explosiveness, but is much faster than he gets credit for and is also a good defender. Ultimately Roy chose Drew over Wall, knowing that by doing so he could have an experienced floor leader for next year's championship run.

The second aspect of the plan is that UNC's frontcourt will still be good enough next year for them to compete for a national title. Zeller and the Wear's were pretty much locks to be back. The Wears won't dominate games, but are technically sound and should be able to give quality minutes as reserves next season. Zeller has shown flashes of dominance but he still needs to become more physical if he is to be a starter on a title team. John Henson may have seemed like a one and done prospect before the season started but so far his considerable talent has been undermined by his lack of size and thus lack of a position. He may be most valuable at PF next season with Barnes and Graves at SF, but will have to put on some serious muscle in the offseason. The real X factor will be Ed Davis's decision after this season with regards to the NBA. Davis has shown enough recently to warrant being a legitimate NBA lottery pick next June and many assume this is his final season at UNC. Unlike many college stars debating jumping early, Davis does not feel the same financial pressures as his father is a former NBA player. Likewise, his father probably realizes that while he certainly has NBA skill he could still afford to polish his game (especially offensively) in order to make sure he can come in and contribute as a rookie in the NBA. Finally, if UNC falls short of a national title this season as is expected, Davis may have a hard time turning down the chance to play with a team chock-full of McDonalds All-Americans and win a second national championship.

The final aspect of the plan is that the UNC backcourt will be as good as expected next season. While Henson was the most hyped of the freshmen, Dexter Strickland has the most potential to make an impact this season. He is slowly learning the point guard position that he will likely play at the next level and in recent games his turnovers have gone down while his points have increased. With pure point guard Kendall Marshall coming in next season Strickland will be able to act as a combo guard and will probably start at his natural position of SG, where he will be joined by 6'6 top recruit Reggie Bullock and will have quality backup depth with Leslie McDonald and Justin Watts. At the SF position mega-recruit Harrison Barnes and redshirt senior Will Graves will round out what should be a backcourt loaded with talent.

So UNC fans shouldn't be too dismayed that John Wall is not a Tar Heel. Next season they could be title favorites. For now just enjoy the chance to watch the force of nature that is John Wall.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nothing could be finer...

This year may be the most fun I've had as a Carolina sports fan, which works out well as it is my last year here as an undergraduate. This may seem surprisingly optimistic in the wake UNC's basketball team dropping out of the top 10 after a convincing defeat to Syracuse in the Coaches versus Cancer Finals, however I personally am loving this year both in basketball and football.

I'll get back to why this basketball season in so fun in a bit, but let me first start out with the football team. A couple months back after a brutal loss to UVA at Kenan Stadium I wrote a post titled "Same Old Tar Heel Football" bemoaning the ineptitude of those both calling and executing the offense. Two weeks later I was about ready to close the book on the football season after a late game meltdown against Florida State in front of a packed Kenan Stadium crowd on the national stage of Thursday night. The chances of a bowl bid looked grim and the prospect of returning to the top 25 seemed comical.

Fast forward one month and the Heels are on a 4 game winning streak taking down ranked Virginia Tech on the road and ranked Miami at home, also taking down an upstart Duke team at home and a solid Boston College on the road. The defense has emerged as one of the best in the country and the best in the ACC. With playmakers at all levels (Quinn, Wilson, Austin, Thomas on the line, Sturdivant and Carter at linebacker, and Duenta Willams and Burney in the secondary) the defense has few weakness and has been essential in forcing and capitalizing on turnovers that fueled the four game win streak. In the past two games the defense has scored an astounding four touchdowns and set up several more scores. In fact this year's Tar Heels team has become only the second football team that has been more entertaining to watch on defense than on offense (the first was last year's Steelers).

The offense has still been unimpressive and is clearly what is holding the team back from being even better. With even a marginally better unit the Heels may have only one loss (to GT) and be a top 10 team. All that said the offense has taken steps with Ryan Houston getting more carries to to Draughn's injury and Pinalto returning to the field. Next year with several high rated OL recruits and a more experienced platoon of receivers, the Heels should improve on offense (especially if someone can take over for Yates). The real question will be if the juniors on the defense will choose to come back for another year. Bruce Carter has already announced that he would return and if he can convince fellow classmates Marvin Austin, Duenta Williams, Kendric Burney, and Quan Sturdivant to join him the defense could be frighteningly good next season.

What remains for the team will be a good test to see if they are ready to be a legitimate top 25 team. When the team has flirted with being ranked in the past couple years they have disappointed and not lived up to their ranking. If the Tar Heels can go and get a win in Raleigh against a state team they should beat on paper then win their bowl game they will not only have backed up their ranking but will finish with double digit wins for the first time in a while. Either way Sunday's game will be great to watch in HD on a brand new 52' TV. Anyone who says that the basketball team is the only team that matters in UNC is way off base right now and its not entirely inconceivable that the football team could finish the year ranked higher than the basketball squad (though hopefully not).

Speaking of the basketball team, the convincing loss to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden showed this team to be inexperienced and perhaps finally served as a wake up call to those basking in the glory of last season's title. The team is raw, makes bad decisions, and despite a high level of talent can get outplayed by more disciplined team. There are going to be some pretty ugly losses this season to go along with the wins. And you know what... I LOVE IT. Since the day in June 2008 when Ellington, Lawson, and Green announced they would come back there was a sense of pressure on all the Carolina fans (and probably much moreso the players) that Carolina HAD to win the title. The season would be a failure otherwise.

While they did and put together a great season I found myself looking forward to this year. I don't know how many times I told my friends "If we can win it all this year, next year is going to be so much fun." And so far it has been. In place of stalwarts like Lawson, Green, Ellington, and Hansbrough, who we expected to show up and play at a high level every night, we have Henson, Strickland, Drew, and Zeller. The only players on the team who were expected to give a solid contribution every game were Thompson, Ginyard, and Davis. For the most part these three have, although both Davis and Thompson both have a lot of room to improve. Ginyard on the other hand is exactly what the team needs. While his skill set differs, Marcus is a jack of all trades a la his classmate Danny Green. He can lock down players on defense, can score inside and out, can handle the ball much better than Green, and is also a very talented rebounder.

I stand by my preseason predictions for this team and think they can definitely make it to the elite eight and be a Final Four contender. Obviously they have a long way to go to get there. In fact no team in the country has looked like sure-fire title favorites and in fact Syracuse has looked been the most impressive in the first couple weeks. We should learn more about UNC and other top teams in the next couple weeks as UNC enters Murderer's Row playing taking on Michigan State at the Dean Dome (I will be in attendance), Kentucky at Rupp, and Texas in Cowboys Stadium. I hope the team can go at least 1 for 3 but even if they don't it won't change the fact its a great time to be a student at UNC (even the women's field hockey team won a title).

Friday, November 13, 2009

UNC Basketball Impressions One Week In & The Impact of Harrison Barnes

For Tar Heel fans there were two major story lines to the first week of basketball season: 1) Will a very young but talented roster perform to its top 10 ranking 2) Where was mega-recruit Harrison Barnes going to end up. Obviously we got a definitive answer to the second, which I will analyze in depth in the second part of this post. Its too early in the season to get any certain answer to the second but there may be a couple things we can gleam from the glorified scrimmages against FIU and NCCU.

The game against FIU, which I attended after being approached in the UNC dining hall an hour and a half before the game by a Carolina Fever guy giving out lower level tickets, was entertaining but didn't tell us way too much about the team. The Heels got off to a good start by overpowering the vastly outsized Golden Panthers down low with Davis, Zeller, and Thompson. Drew the Deuce also looked good and demonstrated that he has improved his scoring a bit to go along with his already solid passing and defensive games. Once the Heels built a lead the freshmen got to log some significant minutes and, SURPRISE, looked like freshmen in their first game. Strickland looked nervous dishing out 5 turnovers and Henson only put up four points. While I don't think this sloppy play will continue throughout the season (and we saw significant improvement in the NCCU game), poor decisions resulting from inexperience will most likely bite this team throughout the season and are the main reason I did not pick them to make the final four. Before I move on to the NCCU game, I want to give props to Isiah, whose FIU squad fought hard and didn't back down from a much bigger and more talented team. Isiah has come under a lot of criticism (mostly deserved) from the media and Bill Simmons but he may actually turn out to be a solid college coach. Many great college coaches have struggled in the NBA (see Rick Pitino), and with a top 50 recruit locked up for next year Isiah could use a NCAA appearance at FIU to earn him a more high profile job.

The game against NCCU was a cleaner and much more dominant performance by the Tar Heels but its hard to the win against such inferior competition too seriously. . From the first two games some things do seem to stick out about the teams. In both games the Tar Heels blocked a lot of shots and challenged many more, supporting something I have said for a while now, that UNC will be one of the best low post defensive teams in the nation. Likewise it was nice seeing a team playing tenacious perimeter defense. We will know a lot more about this team after next weeks matchups with The Ohio State Evan Turners and either Syracuse or California. With regards to individual players here are my impressions and grades for the major players through the first two games.

Larry Drew: The Duece looks good handling the ball and has racked up 12 assists to 6 turnovers. That ratio certainly could increase and while Drew can make some highlight reel
passes, he still sometimes seems to be forcing passes on occasion. Offensively he has shown an improved ability to drive and knock down occasional threes, though he still is nowhere near a Felton or Lawson.
Grade: B
Dexter Strickland: Strickland looked pretty awful during the first game, but he gets a bit of a pass since it was his first college game ever. He looked better against NCCU, knocking down several jumpshots and posting a positive assists minus turnover number. Still a work in progress right now, but Dex could emerge as a solid backup by the middle of the season
Grade: C-

Marcus Ginyard: Marcus looks like the clear leader of this team. He does everything, still performing as a lockdown defender and seems to have emerged as an offensive threat after missing last season. Apparently he practiced his shot over the time he was out and has knocked down several threes so far. His matchup against Evan Turner next week will be a good barometer of his progress.
Grade: A

Deon Thompson: Thompson came out thundering against FIU, posting a 20-10 game, then underwhelmed a bit against NCCU. Thompson looks to be one of the offensive leaders of the team, but will need to post consistent performances down low if the team hopes to keep up offensively with the better teams in the country.
Grade: B+
Ed Davis: Davis picked up right where he left off last season. He still is the best rebounder on team and his long wingspan and good timing lead to a lot a blocks and challenged shots on the defensive end. However he also seems to have picked up where he left off offensively and does not look like the dominant post scorer some expected. Ed may be a solid starter but right now he is nowhere near an all-American as some projected.
Grade: B-

Tyler Zeller: While Davis's may not have made significant offensive improvement this offseason, Tyler Zeller certainly has. The seven footer put on some weight and muscle over the offseason and now shows the confidence and aggression around the basket he seemed to be lacking last year. While much ado has been made of Henson, Zeller may be the primary sixth man on the team.
Grade: A+

Will Graves: Graves has looked solid in the starting role but is certainly not lighting it up. It seems he is acting as a solid placeholder for the starting SF spot until Henson develops a bit more and is ready to take over duties.
Grade: B-

John Henson: "That was a man yell from a baby face" might be the best announcing quote of the season and we are only two games in. Henson has only accounted for 4 points in each game, but he does look fluid out on the floor and as he continues to get used to playing the three his points will go up. Watching him play tells me that he is ideally suited for the 4 spot but with Thompson, Davis, and Zeller the SF spot is the best way to get him PT. One thing Henson already has is the ability to get blocks and his monster block against NCCU rocked the 1/3 capacity Dean Dome crowd.
Grade: B

The Wears, Leslie McDonald, and Justin Watts all looked impressive at points, but look as if they will be further down on the depth chart once Roy shores up the rotation. Regardless, this team has some major depth and tired player should never be a problem.

Now to the news that has made most Tar Heel fans giddier than a 12 year old girl in the first row at a Jonas Brother concert. Harrison Barnes, after giving a speech rivaling the Gettysburg Address in length, declared that he would sign a letter of intent to play at North Carolina. To take a page out of Bill Simmons book: "Duke Fans you may now light yourselves on fire."
Barnes has been heralded as the most polished high school prospect since LeBron and while certainly no one expects him to be as good as King James, he give UNC a ridiculously talented group coming in next year alongside 6'6 shooting guard Reggie Bullock (#2 SG in ESPNU's rankings) and 6'4 pure point guard Kendall Marshall (who has been labeled the best pure passer in the nation). Barnes, who places an emphasis on academics, also claims that he plans on staying for 3 years, though I don't think anyone would be surprised if he bolted after 1 or 2. Combined with the returning talent next year UNC has to be considered odds on favorites for another title in 2011 and look to be close to establishing a basketball dynasty under Roy Williams. Just for pure speculative fun here's what I envision as UNC's depth chart next season

PG: DrewII, Marshall, Strickland
SG: Bullock, Strickland, McDonald
SF: Barnes, Graves, Watts
PF: Henson, D. Wear, T. Wear
C: Zeller, D. Wear, T. Wear

Hold on a second I have to go change my pants after looking over that lineup.....

...okay well first off I projected Ed Davis as leaving after this season due to his high draft stock, but if he does not show improvement this season he could theoretically be back (especially given how spending 3+ years paid off for last year's juniors and seniors). In contrast, I thought Henson will probably stick around another year to develop and get stronger unless he is absolutely hellbent on leaving this season (but the prospect of playing with Barnes probably doesn't hurt the chances of his return.

As I already alluded Duke is the big loser in this sweepstakes. While I'm sure Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, and UCLA would have loved to have him as well, all those schools save ISU (which was a long shot anyways) have been bringing in solid recruiting classes recently. Duke however has been in a bit of a draught and were really banking on Barnes helping turn the Devils back into perennial title contenders. Basically Roy just pwned K. And I'm loving every minute of it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

UNC Tar Heels Basketball 2009-2010 Season Preview Megapost

The Tar Heels' season tips off on Monday night against Zeke Thomas' Florida International Squad. While there should not be too much trepidation regarding the opener, especially after FIU's exhibition loss to NAIA school Northwood, the team is as packed with questions as it is with talent. However, at least to me this is not necessarily a bad thing as it serves as a nice change of pace following national championship expectations over the past three years. This post will be dedicated to taking a look into what we may be able to expect from this team including thoughts on the starting lineup and all of the major players, ranking the ten best games on the schedule, and my prediction for how the season will unfold.

Player Thoughts and Expectations
Larry Drew II (PG)- Drew the Deuce is certainly the potential starter who fans have the most reservations about. While Drew certainly has hitches in his game (particularly his shooting), I am convinced after watching him in limited action last season that he can be an effective point guard for this team. The caveat is that he cannot be the type of effective point guard we have grown accustomed to here at Chapel Hill. He does not have the speed, driving ability, or three point shooting of Felton or Lawson. What he does have is a natural ability to make good passes and rack up statistics in the assist category. Also his taller and longer frame allows him better defensive skills. While it would be unfair to make the comparison at this point in his career, expect Drew II to be a guard more in the mold of Ed Cota this season.

Dexter Strickland (PG/SG)- If Drew does falter, Strickland could possibly step up and run the offense. As it stands I think he will see time coming off the bench at both the 1 and 2 guard positions. All reports indicate that Stickland is an unselfish player who knows the game and is willing to work hard on both ends of the court. He will develop offensively as his career at Carolina goes on but for this season he looks to be a key reserve who can make an impact off the bench with great defense and good slashing ability.

Leslie McDonald (SG)- At this point McDonald, or as I have nicknamed him "McFlurry" (cue Dickie V: "This diaper dandy McDonald is a McFlurry out there on the court") , seems to be the most unknown commodity of the players on the roster who may see significant time. Like Stickland. McDonald may not be a potent weapon offensively right off the bat, but can contribute due to good court sense.

Marcus Ginyard (SG/SF)- After having to watch his peers cut down the nets in Detroit from the bench, Ginyard is probably itching to get back on the court and literally lead this young but talented team back to the Final Four. While he has worked on his jumpshot Ginyard will always be most valueable as a lockdown defender, something last year's team dearly missed at times. In fact this team may be one of the best defensive Carolina teams in recent memory. Ginyard also has the ability to handle the ball and could take over the point guard duties in a pinch.

Justin Watts (SG)- Watts probably won't see signficant minutes this season, but he does look to have improved over the summer and probably won't be a liability if called on to play some minutes in relief this season. Then again with a team that is so unproven in the backcourt, Watts has a chance to earn more significant minutes if he can score on the offensive end.

William Graves (SF)- Oh Will Graves, how unintentionally hilarious your career at North Carolina has been. Like Ginyard, Will "Cheech" Graves also had to miss out on contributing for a national title last season. However unlike Ginyard, it was his fault. Graves is slighly overweight, not particularly quick, and may be a subpar defender. However he is also the only player on the roster who seems to be able to knock down treys with any consistency. If he works his way into shape he could fill the Rayshawn Terry role and be a major contributer. If not he may lose his spot to this next guy sooner rather than later.

John Henson (SF/PF)- I'm really not sure that Henson belongs at the SF position. His outside shooting appears sketchy and while he is a good ball handler I'm not sure if he is great (of course neither was Danny Green). However, I love the move of putting him at the three because it causes matchup nightmares on both ends of the court. On the offensive end, Henson will give opposing teams nightmares with his size and speed. Defensively Henson should give opposing SF's problems getting up a clean shot and should also rack up some blocks in the paint. If he bulks up a bit and starts shooting well outside Henson could become a poor man's Kevin Durant.

Ed Davis (PF)- Davis has the most potential to be a superstar on the team. With his long frame and impressive agility, he's already one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the ACC. If he can develop more offensively and become a legitimate double-double threat, it will be very hard for teams to match up with UNC in the frontcourt.

Deon Thompson (PF)- The only significant member of the class of 2010 remaining on the roster, Thomson has been equally promising and inconsistent throughout his career at UNC. He has improved every season and with Hansbrough out of the way this could be the season that Thompy finally puts it all together. I expect numbers around 16 PPG and 8 RPG for Thompson, and if he can do that UNC will have the best frontcourt in the nation.

Tyler Zeller (C)- When I walked by Zeller during the later part of the summer I was amazed at how much muscle he had put on. He still looks goofy as ever, but he no longer is a beanpole. Hopefully that will translate into Zeller becoming more physical around the rim on offense. While he has a sweet hook shot he needs to take a page out of the book of another Tyler and get physical near the rim both scoring and rebounding. The presence of Zeller should be crucial not only in adding to a loaded frontcourt but also in giving Davis and Thompson relief.

David/Travis Wear (PF)- The Wears seem to play like upperclassmen and should both be crucial glue guys. They both are relatively strong in the paint and at least one of them demonstrated impressive range on the jumpshot during Late Night With Roy. Thing 1 and Thing 2 should be perfect glue guys who can give the starters at 3 and 4 a rest without the team dropping off too much.

Expected Starting Lineup/Depth Chart
Opening Night
PG: Drew II/Stickland
SG: Ginyard/Stickland/McDonald/Watts
SF: Graves/Henson/Wears
PF: Davis/Henson/Wears
C: Thompson/Zeller

By Season's End
PG: Drew II/Strickland
SG: Ginyard/McDonald/Stickland/Watts
SF: Henson/Graves/Wears
PF: Davis/Wears/Henson
C: Thompson/Zeller

The Ten Best Games of the Season

10) @Maryland (Feb 7)
Of all the teams in the ACC, the Terrapins seem to have had the most success against Carolina. Maryland returns a veteran team led by the perpetually hateable Grevis Vasquez. The vicious college park crowd will also add to the atmosphere and getting a win there would be a testament to the fortitude of UNC's young team.

9) @N.C. State (Jan 26)
It won't be a good or exciting game, but it's always fun to watch UNC beat up on State.

8) Ohio State at Madison Square Garden (Nov 19)
What should be the first major challenge of the year against a solid OSU team. The fact that it is on the national stage will make it that much more exciting. Also for me this is somewhat of a sentimental matchup as the first Tar Heel game I attended was against #1 OSU my freshman year (2006).

7) @Clemson (Jan 13)
Clemson has come oh so close to taking out Carolina in the past several years and you've got to think that this may be one of their best chances, especially with Wayne Ellington off in the NBA. With talented recruits and a returning Trevor Booker, the Tigers are a formidable foe and manage to catch Carolina at home early in the season where

6) Georgia Tech (Jan 16)
I thought I may be flying under the radar with my designation of the Yellow Jackets as my 2009-2010 sleeper team this summer, but apparently not. The Jackets are being picked to finish in the top half of the ACC behind returning stars Ian Shumpert and Gani Lawal alongside mega recruit Derrick Favors. In addition to the Balboa-Creed (fiesty newcomer versus reigning champ) angle, the matchup of Favors and Lawal versus Davis and Thompson should be a delight to watch.

5) Duke (Feb 10)
Other than the fact that it is Duke, this game may be a good chance for the Dookies to get a win against a Tar Heels team that still may not have melded by this point. I intend to be at the Smith Center that night in what should be a very hyped game since UNC is defending champs.

4) Texas at Cowboys Stadium (Dec 19)
Texas may be the most dangerous team on the Tar Heels schedule as they have a frontcourt that can match up with UNC's and a very good backcourt as well. Among the many great matchups watching fifth year senior Marcus Ginyard try to shut down mega-frosh Avery Bradley may be the most intriguing.

3) Michigan State (Dec 1)
Gotta love a national title rematch. Everything says the Spartans should win as they have a more veteran team and will have a taste for revenge. That said, Roy seems to own Tom Izzo and the Tar Heels will look to prove themselves on a national stage.

2) @Kentucky (Dec 5)
The top two countries in the nation with regards to total wins. The tar heels follow up their national title rematch with a perhapes even more hyped matchup at Rupp between two very promising but young teams should be very entertaining. The Heels hold the edge in the frontcourt while John Wall of the wildcats should give whoever is guarding him nightmares. Ashely Judd should at least feel better about her chances this year.

1) @Duke (Mar 6)
Could it be anything else? Duke will want to prevent UNC from grabbing a fifth straight at Cameron Indoor and the Tar Heels should be a more experienced team by this point. Onc again this could determine the ACC championship. Duke-UNC is almost always will be #1 (and on a side note should be a very intriguing football matchup this Saturday).

Season Prognostication
-Record: 24-7 (Losses: MSU, @Texas, @Clemson, @Maryland, @ GT, Wake Forest, @ Duke)
-ACC Regular Season Runner Up (Duke ACC champion)
-ACC Tournament Champion
-NCAA Tournament:
#3 Seed
Elite Eight Appearance

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top 10 UNC Basketball Players Since 1996

Last Friday, the Daily Tar Heel (UNC's student newspaper) compiled a list of the top 10 UNC basketball players in the school's history to celebrate the kickoff of the 100th season of Carolina Basketball. While the list seemed accurate and I have no major issues with inclusion or exclusion of any of the players, I also had only seen three of the players on the list play in the powder blue. Consequently, I took it upon myself to create a list of the top 10 players in UNC history since 1996, which was when I first began watching college basketball. Hopefully this list will be a little more relatable to those who did not see Rosenbluth, Ford, or even Jordan play at Carolina.

I'm sure the selections and order of this top 10 will create controversy regardless so while I'm trying to be objective, stats are not the ultimate determinant of inclusion and position on this list. Likewise, the NBA careers are irrelevant to me so don't complain how Forte does not belong on the list. Finally while some of the one and done 'ers have made an impact, none so far have managed to That out of the way, here we go. Lets count down backwards just for the sake of suspense.

10. Wayne Ellington- Before I delve in to the 10 spot, I want to give quick honorable mentions to Jackie Manuel, Danny Green, Shammond Williams and Rashad McCants all of whom were great college players. I went with Ellington over McCants because of his slightly better shooting, greater consistency, and more team-oriented attitude. Williams was every bit the shooter that Ellington was but the ring and a Final Four MOP win out. Ellington had one of the smoothest strokes in Tar Heel history, and was probably my favorite player on the 2009 title team.

Career College Stats:
14.7 Points Per Game
39.6 3-Point Field Goal Percentage

9. Brendan Haywood- In terms of sheer size and skill Haywood may be higher on this list. He made an impact on both sides of the ball. Heywood finished with the highest field goal percentage in ACC history and also recorded the first triple-double in UNC history. However as far as national recognition Haywood received only second-team all American recognition and was not involved in any title teams.

Career College Stats:
10.0 Points Per Game
6.0 Rebound Per Game
63.9 FG Percentage

8. Sean May- Like Haywood, May was a force in the post during his junior year of college after an inconsistent first couple seasons at Chapel Hill. May had some of the softest hands in college basketball and went strong to the basket both in scoring and rebounding. His junior season which included first team all American recognition, the Final Four MOP, and a national championship earns him the eighth spot on this list.

Career College Stats:
15.8 Points Per Game
10.0 Rebounds Per Game

7. Ty Lawson- In 100 years of basketball littered with talented point guards Lawson may be the fastest of them all. If looking for two plays that sum up his career as a Tar Heel I would point you to his crossover vs. LSU, and his last minute running buzzer beater against FSU. Lawson certainly belongs on this list and was perhaps more important than #50 to UNC's title run last year.

Career College Stats:
13.1 Points Per Game
5.8 Assists Per Game
1.8 Steals Per Game

6. Joseph Forte- Its hard to praise Forte without simultaneously wondering what could have been had he managed to stick around another year. Forte had great talent at the 2 guard position and played the game very well. He was the ACC freshman of the year and gained first team all American recognition his sophomore season. Had he stuck around he may have been national player of the year and the 8-20 season may never have happened. That said Forte was very good during his first two years at UNC and thus deserves recognition.

Career College Stats:
18.7 Points Per Game
5.8 Rebounds Per Game

5. Vince Carter- While Jordan will always be "his airness," Carter may be the most impressive and vicious dunker in UNC history (and he reminded us all of that at the UNC Alumni Game). Carter evolved as a player and in his junior year was one of the best players in the nation. He earned first team all American honors, but Vincantiy will always be most remembered for his ability to throw it down.

Career College Stats:
12.3 Points Per Game
36.8% 3-Point Field Goal Percentage
1.7 Highlight Reel Dunks Per Game (okay so I made that stat up)

4. Raymond Felton- Some may feel this is too high for Felton, who had a similar skill set to Lawson and received similar national recognition (All-American, Cousy Award). However, while Lawson could shoot and drive as well as Felton, Raymond was a better leader (especially as he had to satisfy McCants) and better defender and thus earns a spot above Lawson. Like Lawson, Felton not only excelled as a scorer but also as a passer, averaging 6.9 assists per game during his junior season.

Career College Stats:
12.5 Points Per Game
6.9 Assists Per Game

3. Ed Cota- One thing I felt the DTH definaltey got right was honoring Cota among their top 10. While he averaged a respectable 9.1 points per game, he was the embodiment of a pass first guard. He was honored as the ACC freshman of the year and through his career he became the first player to score 1,000 points, and have 1,000 assists and 500 rebounds in a career. While Jamison, Carter, and Haywood mad the highlight dunks and shots, it was often Cota who was the one setting these plays up.

Career College Stats:
7.5 Assists Per Game

2. Antawn Jamison- One on one I would take Jamison every day over the #1 player on this list. Jamison has a knack for scoring and was widely acknowledged as the best player on a team that included Carter, Haywood, and Cota. He was named national player of the year and was also a class act who represented UNC well on and off the court.

Career College Stats:
19.0 Points Per Game
9.9 Rebounds Per Game

1. Tyler
Hansbrough- If this were a list for most athletic or most exciting players, Hansbrough would have trouble cracking the top 10. However it is pretty much impossible to put anyone above Psycho T on this list. He has the edge in statistics, awards, and national championships over everyone on this list. He Holds the ACC record for points scored and holds the NCAA record for free throws made. Hansbrough gets the top spot on this list and deserves consideration as the best UNC player of all time.

Career College Stats:
20.2 Points Per Game
8.6 Rebounds Per Game
79.1 Free Throw Percentage
0.7 Contacts Lost Per Game

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Same Old Tar Heel Football

During my walk back to my apartment from Kenan Stadium, after watching the Tar Heels look completely incompetent on offense for the second week in a row, I heard the fans around me assigning blame and offering their personal suggestions on how to help a team that now looks to be in danger of another losing record after a promising 3-0 start. From "We need to fire Butch, a team is only as good as its coach" to "Yates is chickenshit outside of the pocket," every Carolina fan seemed to have an opinion.

What's my opinion on this team? On defense I think we deserve the credit we have been given. Throughout the first 3 quarters the defense limited the Cavaliers to three field goals, all of which were longer than 35 yards. For the second week in a row the defense allowed a back breaking touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. While this shows we are not a premiere defense in college football, the blame falls partly on the offense for these drives. In the past two weeks there have been WAY too many 3 and outs which gives the defense little rest. By the time the 4th quarter rolls around, even the most talented of defenses would be tired from having to be on the field in the heat for so long. All in all the defense is not something that should overly concern most Tar Heel fans. Holding a team to 16 points should be good enough for a team to win the game.

The offense is a different matter. I said a week ago in my NFL picks post that the Cleveland Browns would have trouble scoring in a brothel. Well right now I think the Tar Heels would have trouble scoring in a postapocalyptic world in which only strippers had survived. For my money there are three main people (or groups of people) that need to be held responsible for the fact that our offense has been absolutely putrid. The first is the offensive line. The line cannot run block or protect the passer effectively at this point. Shaun Draughn is a quick back like Willie Parker who will excell when the offensive line creates holes but does not run North-South and break tackles effectively (more on the RB situation in a moment). Their line's pass protection is no better and Yates rarely got time to let plays develop and was often flushed out of the pocket (where as my fellow fan so eloquently put it "he is chickenshit"). While this lack of protection certainly limited his effectivesness, Yates also deserves some of the blame for the offense. Yates hardly threw anything more than 5 yards down the field all game and always checked down. While I occasionally get annoyed with Ben Roethlisberger's unecessary sacks at least he is willing to chuck the ball down field and find open receivers. Yates is a mediocre pocket passer who can play fairly well with protection, but most of the promise he showed early last year seems to be more a consequence of a better offensive line and the best wideout in UNC history. UNC does have talented freshman wideouts in Highsmith and Boyd (Greg Little is a good slot reciever but has not lived up to his high recruiting ranking) but they are obviously not at Nicks' level just yet.

More than anyone though, John Shoop deserves the bulk of the blame for the offensive ineptitude. Shoop is at least partially responsible for the overabundance of swing passes that netted hardly any yards. He decided to keep Shaun Draughn in when Draughn obviously could not consistently run the ball instead of putting in the tougher Ryan Houston. He continued to attempt a wildcat offense that has so far only netted one big play all year (the pass to Boyd from AJ Blue against ECU). He never took advantage of the fact that the running game was picking up late in the game by trying for play action. He (or perhaps Butch Davis) refused to go for it on 4th and a foot from the UNC 40 in the 4th quarter when the Tar Heels were down by six and had Ryan Houston who had just converted an earlier 4th and 1. Ultimately Shoop is like a timid 12 year old kid playing Madden who is just trying to get some yards and never actually getting agressive in his play calling. While Yates and the offensive line still have time to improve, Shoop needs to be shown the door.

So where does this put the Tar Heels for the rest of the season. Well unless the team is really awful they should get a win against Georgia Southern next weekend. That would put the Heels at 4-2 (but 0-2 in the ACC). The issue is after Georgia Southern, the only game left in which the Tar Heels can be expected to win is Duke, and the Blue Devils may actually be playing better football right now. Unless things change we could certainly be looking at a 5-7 or even 4-8 season in a year where many expected UNC to get 8 or 9 wins. However don't abandon all hope just yet. With better play calling the offense does have enough talent to improve and the defense should keep us in games. Ultimately though we have to get away from what we have been doing the past two weeks, which is playing the same old Tar Heel football.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Ever since starting this blog last February I have looked forward to the arrival of the 2009 football season. While I enjoyed being able to share my thoughts on the college basketball season and UNC's run to the title, the NFL is not only the sport I know the most about, but also the one which I most thoroughly enjoy. Now after the doldrums that is the NFL offseason and the horrible impostor that is the NFL preseason, the real thing finally arrives this week as the Titans and Steelers kick things off at Heinz Feild in the Steel City Thursday night. I will post picks for each week of the season on Fridays on this blog (or Thursdays depending on the schedule). Anyways to kick off here's my predictions for the 2009 season. I'll post the standings for each division followed by a brief paragraph on my thoughts on that division.

DISCLAIMER: I did actually go through the 2009 schedule and pick every game, so the records reflect those picks and are not arbitrarily assigned. *'s represent wild card teams.

AFC North
Pittsburgh 13-3
*Baltimore 12-4
Cincinnati 7-9
Cleveland 3-13

The AFC North produced the two participants in last year's AFC title game in Baltimore and Pittsburgh and all indications point to those two teams being among the class of the AFC once again this year. The Steelers return almost the same roster that won the Lombardi Trophy last year and actually may have upgraded that team by replacing the aging Larry Foote with uber-athletic Lawrence Timmons. Also keep an eye out for CFL prospect Stefan Logan who made the Steelers roster by being absolutely electrifying on returns during the preseason. Many thought the Ravens may take a step back after losing Bart Scott and Rex Ryan, but the defense has looked intimidating as ever in the preseason and Joe Flacco appears poised to have a stellar sophomore campaign in 2009. The Bengals should be a solid team with a good defense composed of two young stars at corner (Leon Hall and Jonathan Josepth) and two more at linebacker (Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers). Unfortunately Cincinnati runs into Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice a year so their shot at the playoffs is slim. Cleveland looks to once again be going nowhere fast and should end up at the bottom of the division.

AFC East
New England 13-3
Miami 6-10
New York Jets 3-13
Buffalo Bills 3-13

With Tom Brady back and some upgrades on both sides of the ball (Fred Taylor, Shawn Springs) the Patriots look to have a chance to regain their 2007 form, a scary thought for the rest of the league. The offense should once again be explosive, however the defense is young and lacks veteran leadership after the departures of Vrabel, Bruschi, and Seymour this offseason. The Dolphins will take a step back based on the tougher conference schedule and the return of Brady for the Pats. The Jets will most likely struggle due to the same factors coupled with a rookie quarterback at the helm. The Bills have shown no semblance of an offense this offeseason and look to pick in the top 5 of next year's draft.

AFC South
Jacksonville 11-5
*Indianapolis 11-5
Houston 10-6
Tennessee 8-8

The AFC south looks to be an absolute powerhouse this year with no teams projected to finish below .500 in my preview. The Jaguars are my sleeper team of 2009, as they were decimated by injuries last season and now return a more healthy team that finally has a legitimate receiver in Torry Holt. While many feel Holt is on the downside of his career, he is a talented route runner with good hands who can fulfill a similar role as Derrick Mason does in Baltimore. Peyton Manning no longer has the options he used to at wideout, but the addition of Donald Brown along with Manning's ability should earn the Colts the second wild card this season. The Texans are a chic pick to make the playoffs and just miss out to the Colts and the Jags. I expect Tennessee to regress as Kerry Collins rarely puts together back to back solid seasons and the loss of Albert Haynesworth will slightly downgrade the defense from last season.

AFC West
San Diego 11-5
Kansas City 6-10
Oakland 5-11
Denver 4-12

Many experts say the Chargers have the most talented roster in the NFL this season and have picked the Bolts to win it all this year. However as they have been saying that for the past 5 years I hesitate to crown them until they actually make it to the Super Bowl. San Diego should have three legitimate candidates for comeback player of the year in Merriman (if he stops choking reality television stars), Cromartie, and LaDainian Tomlinson. The defense will be improved and the offense has talent at all the skill positions. The rest of the AFC west makes me sad for football as three proud franchises are all floundering. Kansas City shows the most promise for the future but I don't expect any more than 6 wins this year. Oakland continues to horrendously overpay for players doomed to disappear in the Black Hole (see Javon Walker, DeAngelo Hall, Randy Moss, and most likely Richard Seymour). Denver has fallen the furthest going from having one of the most promising young QB-WR duos in Cutler and Marshall a year ago to now having the less than impressive duo of Kyle Orton and Eddie Royal (who to be fair is a good player).


NFC North
Green Bay 11-5
*Chicago 11-5
Minnesota 8-8
Detroit 2-14

Green Bay was a much better team than their record indicated and the Packers look to take a Lambeau Leap into the playoffs this year in Aaron Rogers second season as the starting quarterback and the defensive shift to a 3-4 (which we here at VFSS are very supportive of). Chicago almost made the playoffs last year and the addition of Cutler finally brings the Windy City a legitimate quarterback, even if he is a bit of a baby. The Vikings have become a sexy pick with Peterson and Favre but I am banking on Favre breaking down by late October and turning into an interception machine. The Lions manage to get some wins this season but still end up picking first next April.

NFC East
Philadelphia 11-5
*New York Giants 11-5
Dallas 10-6
Washington 3-13

The NFC East again perhaps the most talented division. While Washington looks to take a step backwards the Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys all are legitimate contenders in the NFC. The Eagles have one of the quickest and athletic offenses in the league with weapons such as Westbrook, McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Maclin, and of course Michael Vick. The Giants have issues at wide receiver but I expect Nicks or Manningham to step up as the top option by midseason, and ultimately their defense is so good (Osi comes back healthy to join Tuck) they don't have to light up the scoreboard. Dallas falls just short of the playoffs, hopefully due to a punt hitting the Texas-sized scoreboard.

NFC South
Atlanta 11-5
New Orleans 10-6
Carolina 8-8
Tampa Bay 6-10

Atlanta manages to win the division as Matt Ryan continues to emerge as the leader of a potent offense with Turner, White, and Gonzalez all as Pro Bowl caliber weapons. The Saints do make a jump this year with a slightly improved defense, but still fall short of the playoffs. The Panthers who only a couple years back had one of the best defensive lines in the league look to be susceptible to the rushing game, and Jake Delhomme also makes the Panthers susceptible to any team with a secondary who can catch a football. The Buccaneers look to be in a transition phase under a new coach and the firing of an offensive coordinator right before the season never seems to bode well.

NFC West
Arizona 9-7
Seattle 8-8
St. Louis 6-10
San Francisco 4-12

Arizona once again sneaks into the playoffs with a sub-par record by winning the weakest division in the NFC. All the teams in the division look to be improved, but a daunting schedule and a recurring lack of talent prevents any team from supplanting the Cardinals. Arizona remains a team that will be inconsistent but dangerous if they make it to the playoffs. Seattle looks to be improved and has the best chance to overtake the Cardinals for the division title. The Rams should improve with a better defense and a healthy Stephen Jackson but still are not ready to be a playoff team. San Francisco is in a building stage under Mike Singletary and could make a leap in a couple years but not this season.
Playoff Predictions
1) NE
2) PIT
3) SD
4) JAC
5) BAL
6) IND

1) PHI
2) GB
3) ATL
4) ARZ
5) NYG
6) CHI


Thursday, September 3, 2009

There's a Reason to Be Excited this Fall in Chapel Hill and It Doesn't Play in the Dean Dome

When I arrived as a freshman back in the fall of 2006, despite being a huge football fan I was about as excited for UNC's football season as Michael Vick would be to attend a PETA rally. With the exception of watching Hakeem Nicks (a player who I watched single-handedly destroy my high school in the state semifinals) emerge as a force at wideout, the competition between Joe Daily and Cam Sexton to see who could throw more game crushing interceptions didn’t exactly do much to augment my enthusiasm.

Then at the end of the season, John Bunting was fired and replaced by Butch Davis, and while despite my initial skepticism at the idea of hiring a coach fired by the Cleveland Browns (a team not exactly synonymous with winning) Davis quickly built some genuine excitement about UNC football. While Davis’s inaugural campaign wasn’t exactly a roaring success (only amassing four wins, one more than the previous season), the team definitely showed flashes of promise.

By the time I entered junior year I was legitimately excited about football season. While the team faltered a bit down the stretch in part due to injuries, the 2008 season saw Nicks further emerge into a first round pick (breaking UNC receiving records along the way), the Tar Heels defeating Notre Dame in what was by far the most electrifying atmosphere I have ever witnessed at Kenan Stadium, and the team fall just short of winning their first bowl appearance since 2004 in a thrilling game versus West Virginia.

While Nicks, Brandon Tate, and a few others are now gone, the 2009 Tar Heels football season holds more promise than any year I have been here. Perhaps that is just a function of being a sentimental senior, but the Associated Press Top 25 seems to agree with me on that one. The Tar Heels return two talented running backs in Draughn and Houston as well as a defensive front seven that has the potential to be right there with Virginia Tech as the ACC’s most formidable units. So I ask all of you Tar Heels to take your nose out of the 125 pages of reading your history teacher assigned this weekend and get excited and loud as the football season kick’s off. While basketball may always reign supreme here, the boys that play in the Dean Dome may not be the only team you are talking about in December this year