Friday, December 31, 2010

The X Factors

With the non-conference schedule coming to an end this Sunday against what should be little more than a stepping stone in St Francis, the shape of the 2010-2011 Tar Heel basketball team is coming into focus. Tyler Zeller is the go to scorer. John Henson is a presence in the paint and on the boards and seems to have figured out what does and does not work for him on offense. The point guard position remains an issue of constant debate, but neither Drew nor Marshall are going to score much more than 10 points in most games. Harrison Barnes has fallen short of his astronomical expectations, but can be expected to contribute between 10-16 points on most nights. However, through the first 14 games of the season, the X factors on this team have been the pair of sophomore guards, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald.

Strickland has started at shooting guard all season and over the past month seems to have really elevated his offensive game. With respect to Drew ‘s much improved defense and Henson’s penchant for shot-blocking, Stickland has been the best defender all season. He is 6th in the ACC in steals with 1.62/game. In fact, one could argue that Strickland, who switched his jersey to #1, a number worn last season by Marcus Ginyard, has been a more effective lockdown defender than Ginyard was last season. Playing out of position last season, Strickland often seemed out of control and couldn’t consistently finish in transition despite his impressive speed. This season Strickland looks much more impressive in transition, pushing the ball on fast breaks and finishing consistently. He also has done a good job at the charity stripe shooting a respectable 72.9%. While not an outside shooter, he has knocked down 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Strickland’s backup, Leslie McDonald has also shown marked improvement this season. McDonald is not the defensive pest that Strickland is on the defensive end of the ball nor is he as explosive in on the fast break. However, McDonald has done a pretty damn good Wayne Ellington impression (McDonald is now wearing #2, the number Ellington wore as a freshman) on several occasions this season. McDonald is the most assertive scorer on the team, one of the things that impressed me last season when he seemed at times the only player outside of Will Graves willing to confidently throw up a shot from beyond the arc. While not Ellington, I feel Wayne is best comparison for McDonald who some have compared to Danny Green (McDonald is shooting an impressive 43.2% from 3 point range). While McDonald has certainly disappeared at times this season, he has been an explosive scoring force off the bench who by his junior and senior seasons may be able to do an even better job of making it Wayne on a more consistent basis.

While, Strickland and McDonald’s complementary skill sets do sometimes make fans wish the two could be combined into one player (Lester StrickDonald?), the improvement of the two sophomores show just how silly it is for players to be declared busts or disappointments after their freshman season. The two will continue to improve over their four (or maybe three) years at Carolina and could be stars as upperclassmen. This year don’t be surprised if the Heels go as far as their pair of sophomore guards take them.


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  2. You forgot one key X-factor, probably the biggest of all. Will the refs side with us like they did during our last NC run. It is no secret around the country that we were handed a NC on a silver platter by the black and white stripes. Don't get me wrong we had talented players, could we have done it without the refs? Possibly. But Hansbrough went to the line at least 8+ times for phantom fouls. He was a great actor and really looked in pain when opposing players hair brushed the side of his arm as he went up for a layup. I can't blame him for what he did, it was the only way he was going to get to the NBA. I don't think Zeller has the media love and facial expressions/looks of pain to get the calls like Tyler did. I really hope he develops it, because if so the black and white stripes could carry us far into the Tournament this year.

  3. I'm gonna go ahead and assume you're not really a carolina fan

  4. I'm going to guess that your bias for the team you love blinds you unlike me.