Friday, April 10, 2009

Thoughts on UNC's Championship

Well the game turned out almost exactly as I expected (I picked 87-72, the score was 89-72), and as a result I was less than sober on Franklin Street at 12:30 A.M. monday night. I wanted to take some time to appreciate the win (and spend over $50 on merchandise) before I shared my thoughts on the blog, but now think I have a good enough grasp to share them here.

Timelapse: Franklin Street after the victory from The Daily Tar Heel on Vimeo.

UNC really won the game as soon as they came out playing well. The biggest worry I had was a repeat of the 2008 final four where UNC came out half asleep. Once UNC built up a 10 point lead, the intensity visible in all of the players made it evident they weren't going to let the lead slip. Michigan State was a solid team, but UNC was a more talented team, playing better basketball.

Franklin Street was one of the craziest experiences of my life. Aside from seeing someone tasered, the bonfires and random hugs from people who I'm pretty sure weren't students made it that much more absurd. Honestly nothing I can say sums it up as well as this awesome video that Daily Tar Heel put together.

As great as Wayne Ellington was (named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four), Ty Lawson deserves the recognition as MVP of the tournament for UNC. Coming back from a toe injury Lawson averaged over 20 points and 6 assists throughout the tournament as well as posting 8 steals in the game. Lawson and Ellington should and will be headed to the NBA draft and both improved their stock. Lawson will have to use his speed to compensate for his lack of height, but should be able to help teams at point guard. Ellington needs more depth to his game but if he can keep shooting well he could end up as a poor man's Ray Allen.

UNC is going to be a very different looking team next year, losing seniors Hansbrough, Green, Frasor (and Copeland), along with likely draft entrants Lawson and Ellington. Ed Davis has insisted he is staying over the past few weeks, which should really help UNC next year. Additionally along with an already stellar group of freshman coming in next year, top point guard prospect John Wall from Raleigh, NC is now reportedly considering UNC. Assuming Wall does not come, the depth chart at the beginning of the season looks like this:

Larry Drew II, Dexter Strickland (f), Marc Campbell
SG: Strickland(f), Leslie McDonald (f), Justin Watts
SF: Marcus Ginyard, Will Graves
PF: Deon Thompson, John Henson(f), David Wear(f), Travis Wear (f)
C: Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller

A lot of these positions are fluid, as Henson is a 6’10” forward who used to play guard and can comfortably dribble the ball up the floor, and could thus be put at SF with Davis and Thompson down low. Ginyard will bring leadership as a redshirt senior and can play any of the guard positions or small forward. Strickland is a combo guard who could give Drew II a rest during games. Regardless the frontcourt is loaded with depth and should overwhelm smaller teams. UNC will struggle at times due to inexperience, but should be good enough to make a run to the sweet 16 or elite eight.

I am not a huge fan of the “best team ever”, “team of the decade” conversations that materialize when a good team wins it all. I won’t compare UNC and Kansas of last year and won’t say that Florida’s teams could handle 2009 UNC. That said, I am very intrigued by the matchup of the 2005 Tar Heels and the 2009 team (which did not share any common players). I don’t think I’ll anger too many common fanbases by breaking down the matchup of those two teams, so here it goes.

Point Guard

Both Felton and Lawson won Cousy awards in their title years, and both developed a good shot the year they won it all. Felton may have been a slightly better passer and defender than Lawson, but Lawson was quicker and more of a threat to drive and score. Rumor had it that Felton could not guard Lawson when he was coming in as a freshman. I think Lawson gets the slight edge as a result
Edge: 2009

Shooting Guard
This may be the most intriguing matchup of all. Ellington has a purer stoke and was more consistent than McCants. That said Rashad was a much more dynamic scorer and was more likely to put up 35 points in a game than Wayne, but was a bit of a ballhog. Both were not excellent defenders, though Wayne improved during the tournament run. I think they would almost go shot for shot, and while McCants would put up a few more points, Ellington would make better decisions with the ball.
Edge: EVEN

Small Forward
It is hard to compare Green and Manuel as they played completely different roles. Manuel was a true shut down defender more similar to the injured Ginyard than Green. Green was a versatile player who was a matchup problem due to his ability to go inside. While Manuel will always have a place in my heart for his great defense, Green gets the edge due to his ability to fill up the stat sheet in various categories.
Edge: 2009

Power Forward
My friend and I had an epiphany about Deon Thompson during the championship. He tends to put up great stats in the first half then largely disappears in the second. Jawad Williams was more athletic and had a better inside and outside game than Thompson, who really only has a mid-range game at this point. This is probably the biggest mismatch of all with Jawad having a significant advantage.
Edge: 2005

Tyler Hansbrough will go down in history as one of the best college basketball players in history. That said I think Sean May was much more dominant during the 2005 run than Hansbrough was in 2009. I see the matchup playing out somewhat like the Blake Griffin-Hansbrough matchup, though I think Tyler would be more productive as he may not get in as much foul trouble. Overall Hansbrough would probably put up around 16 due to his indefensible mid-range fadeaway, and his improving outside jumper, but May would dominate in the paint and force the 2009 team to give Tyler help on the defensive end. Hansborugh had the better career, but May wins this matchup.
Edge: 2005

Ed Davis really came to life in the second half of the season and could be a dominant force next year. That said Marvin Williams had a more complete game than Davis and had the same size. As for the rest of the bench I’ll take Scott, Noel, Terry, and Thomas over Frasor, Zeller, Watts, and Drew.
Edge: 2005

Coaching is a wash as Roy would do the same thing both times: let the teams play and not call timeouts. While the 2005 team wanted a championship they were not nearly as dominant in their run to the championship, coming within a questionable call from falling to Villanova in the sweet 16. While Illinois was better than any team the 2009 team faced, I actually think the 2009 team had a harder road otherwise, forced to face an underrated LSU team, a Gonzaga team with multiple future pros, the Oklahoma Blake Griffins, and a Villanova team that manhandled Duke and UCLA, then beat a very good Pittsburgh team. The 2009 Tar Heels were more focused and disciplined than the 2005 team ad truly were on a mission.
Edge: 2009


I think while the 2005 team may give the 2009 team fits with their equal athleticism, the 2009 Tar Heels would come in playing more focused basketball. In the end I think Lawson’s ability to drive would open up opportunities for Ellington and Green, providing too much offense for the 2005 Heels to handle. No team would be a clear favorite, but I think in one game for it all the 2009 heels would prevail 87-84.

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