Monday, March 28, 2011

Reasons For Each of UNC's Big 3 to Stay

Needless to say I was disappointed with the outcome of yesterday's elite eight game, but when the other team shoots 12-22 from 3 and one of your best players is on the bench in foul trouble it makes it hard to win. I am in the midst of a test week so I will hold of on my UNC season wrap up. Instead I wanted to quickly address the topic that will be on most Carolina fan's minds the next few weeks: whether Henson, Barnes, and Zeller will be back next year. This is not meant to try and convince any of the players to stay (I doubt this blog has 0.001% impact on their decision making process), but rather to break down the reasons of why each of the players may come back next year. Obviously the reasons they would leave are high draft stock following great tournament performances (excluding Henson yesterday) and the guaranteed money that comes with being picked. Also winning a national championship would be an obvious reason all might want to come back. Here are a few more individualized reasons each may decide to don the light blue jerseys one more season:

Tyler Zeller
Zeller wasn't thought to be much of a risk to leave early, but the big man saw his stock rise after a dominant tournament.  However, he was an academic all american and may be interested in attaining his degree from one of the top business schools in the nation before he goes on to the NBA.  Zeller also has a chance to even further boost his stock if he puts on more muscle, expands his already impressive post game, and begins hitting shots consistently out to 18 feet like Hansbrough did his senior year.  His jump hook is a thing of beauty, and if he adds a couple more post moves to his repertoire he may be unstoppable next season.  He could build on his tournament dominance and be an All-American next year and see his name up in the rafters.

John Henson
Henson would be a lottery pick right now because of his absurd athleticism and potential.  His defensive skills are impressive and he could help NBA teams in that role off the bat.  However, his offensive game is inconsistent outside of 5 feet.  He improved his FT shooting throughout the season and another year could prevent him from being a liability at the line in the NBA.  For someone as long as Henson he actually has a very nice shooting stroke, and one more season could go a long way to developing a consistent jump shot out to 12 feet.  He would have a great chance to move up UNC's record books in the blocks and rebound categories.  He seems to enjoy being at Chapel Hill, and staying would allow him to be close to his sister who will be playing basketball at Duke next year.  His parents financial situation is secure, so he probably does not feel intense pressure to make money right away.

Harrison Barnes
Barnes is an interesting case.  He could be a top 3 pick right now.  He has a bright future in the NBA.  It would be hard to blame him for going pro, because 95% of kids in his situation would.  However, those people aren't Harrison Barnes.  I have talked to two people who had "connections" to Barnes and the program that claim he's not leaving.  Barnes himself entered college talking about a 3 year plan.  Does any of this mean he's staying?  Not at all.  But it does show he's not your typical freshman sensation.  He seems to have a business oriented mind and he may realize that while he could be picked early this year, another year in college would allow him to enhance his brand and come into the league with a superstar aura not seen since LeBron.  It's the difference between being a hyped rookie in 2011 and possibly entering with a Nike Black Falcon shoe brand in 2012.   He also seems to be very cognizant of his legacy and if he returned he would have a chance to not only help hang a championship banner, but also have #40 hung alongside #12, #50, and most importantly, #23.

Who knows what these guys will decide.  The truth is they are all 19-21.  Whatever they decide I, and hopefully the rest of Tar Heel nation will support them.  I'll never take for granted how awesome they were this year.  But if they do decide to come back.... man would next season be something special.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Things I liked and Things I Didn't From The First Weekend

Unfortunately I am in the midst of a nightmare of a couple of weeks of work so I won't be able to blog as much as I would like during the tournament.  I have had a chance to see a decent amount of the action this week and while I don't have time to do an in depth breakdown here are some things I liked and some things I didn't from the first weekend of action.

Things I liked:
1) The ACC in March.  A common theme in the media this year was how weak the ACC was this year.  However, the conference that owns the past two national championships is again coming up big in March Madness.  Clemson had one of their classical meltdowns in the round of 64 against West Virginia, but UNC and Duke are on to the second weekend and Florida State took down second seeded Notre Dame last night.  Right now there are more ACC teams in the sweet sixteen (3) than there are Big East teams(2).

2) TV Coverage of the Tournament.  It makes so much sense to put the game on 4 different networks so that you can flip to any of the games.  Turner's rights to the broadcast have been a plus too with the addition of Charles Barkley, who just turned Rick Pitino bright red with a rant against the Big East, Kenny Smith, Steve Kerr, Marv Albert, and Craig Sager.  Gus Johnson has already had some signature moments announcing close games and he continues to be the most exciting announcer in the nation.

3) The Chip of VCU's Shoulder. The Rams caught the blunt end of a lot of experts' rants on Selection Sunday about them being less worthy than teams like Colorado and Virginia Tech which got left out.  All they have done since being selected is dominate big conference teams USC, Georgetown, and Purdue by a combined 49 points.  Their matchup with the defensive minded Seminoles should make for an interesting Sweet 16 game.

4) Games Decided in the Final Seconds.  I won't even attempt to recap all the games that have that have come down to the buzzer in the tournament, just today the Carolina-Washington, Duke-Michigan, and Texas Arizona games were one possession games with less than 10 seconds on the clock.  March Madness truly has no equal and a year that lacked juggernauts has made for an exciting tournament.

5) North Carolina's Sunday.  First the Tar Heels edged out a talented Washington team in Charlotte thanks to the fact that John Henson may be the best player in history at defending the inbound pass.  Then Marquette managed to upset Syracuse whose 2-3 zone would have given the Tar Heels nightmares.  Buzz Williams' squad is not to be overlooked, but if the higher seeds advance in the East, it would set up a fantastic showdown in the Elite Eight between Carolina and an Ohio State team that looked dominant today against George Mason.

Things I Hated
1) Decision Making in the last two seconds of Pittsburgh-Butler.  Shelvin Mack's foul with 1 second on the clock was boneheaded, but at least to his credit a lot of bumps with time expiring are ignored (see Kansas-UCLA earlier this year).  Gilbert Brown also deserves a share of the shame for missing the second free throw which would have iced the game for Pitt.  But he missed and what followed was inexcusable.  Nasir Robinson blatantly fouled Matt Howard on the rebound which allowed Howard to win the game for Butler at the line.  With one second on the clock Robinson had no business even aggressively trying to rebound.  If the opposing team makes a 7/8 court shot to win the game then it happens, but you don't foul.  I feel for Pittsburgh fans who have had their share of heartbreak (Scottie Reynolds comes to mind), and this loss may have taken the cake.

2) Texas in March.  Not much really needs be said other than that no one consistently gets less out of amazing talent in March than Rick Barnes.

3) My Bracket.  Five of my Elite Eight teams have been eliminated with only Connecticut, Kansas and Ohio State remaining.  Granted I could care less if it means the Tar Heels make a championship run, but for someone who feels like they know a lot about college basketball I have really stunk it up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bracket Thoughts and Predictions

 Thanks to spring break and the start of neuroanatomy this site unfortunately went in to radio silence during one of the most exciting weeks of the year in college basketball.  Only bigger and better things await in the next week with the NCAA tournament, but to quickly recap thie highlights of what happened since I last posted:

UNC laid a beat down on Duke in Chapel Hill to win the ACC regular season title, then Duke returned the favor in Greensboro to nab their 19th ACC tournament title.  Kemba Walker went into beast mode for 5 straight games leading Connecticut to the Big East tournament title.  It seemed to rain buzzer beaters, from Tyler Zeller Princeton to Kemba to Isiah Thomas (bonus points for the Gus Johnson call on that one). Jimmer scored 52.  Harrison Barnes scored 40.  VCU and UAB are dancing while Colorado and VT are playing in the Not Invited Tournament.  Kansas and Ohio State won their conference tournaments and earned #1 seeds.  Seth Greenberg is just confused and Dick Vitale is still yelling somewhere....

Yup, its definitely March.

Anyways I'll lead off with my bracket and follow with my thoughts.
(Click to Enlarge)
For the first time in a while I did my best to pick with my head and not with my heart (no worries though I definitely have a second ESPN bracket which has the Tar Heels cutting down the nets in Houston).  I realize I went a bit chalk with three one seeds in the Final Four, but Ohio State and Kansas are playing very well right now and Pittsburgh has a cushy road to Houston.  The one #1 seed not picked to make is Duke.  I can't claim I'm unbiased when approaching the Blue Devils, but I think Texas has the athleticism to give the Dookies problems out west.

The East bracket is pretty loaded with talent. With Ohio State, Syracuse, Kentucky and UNC it's not lacking for big names either.  Potential Sweet Sixteen pairings of OSU-Kentucky and Syracuse-UNC would be must see TV.  The West may be a shade under the east but also has heavy hitters in UConn, SDSU, Duke, Texas and Arizona.  Tennessee is a bit of a dark horse in the west, as they have amazing athleticism but lack consistency.  In the Southwest, a Purdue-Notre Dame matchup in the Sweet Sixteen would be a treat for basketball purists, but don't be overly surprised if FSU manages to knock off the Irish.  With a healthy Chris Singleton, the Seminoles have the ability to defend Notre Dame on the perimeter.  In the Southeast, I still don't like MSU making the tournament, but their draw sets up pretty well for an Elite Eight run if Tom Izzo can once again capture lighting in a bottle in March.

Players to Watch
East: Jared Sullinger (OSU),  Terrence Jones (UK), Corey Fisher (Vilanova), Demontez Stitt (Clemson), Tu Holloway (Xavier), Scoop Jardine (Syracuse), Isiah Thomas (Washington), Harrison Barnes (UNC)

West: Nolan Smith (Duke), Scotty Hopson (Tennessee), Derrick Williams (Arizona), Jordan Hamilton (Texas), Marcus Denmon (Missouri), Kemba Walker (Connecticut), Lavoy Allen (Temple), Kawhi Leonard (SDSU)

Southwest: Marcus Morris (Kansas), Demetri McCamey (Illinois), Kenneth Faried (Morehead State), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue), Chris Singleton (FSU), Ben Hansbrough (ND)

Southeast: Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh), Jacob Pullen (KSU), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin), THE JIMMER (BYU), Durrell Summers (MSU), Chandler Parsons (Florida)

Five First Round Games Not To Miss
 1) 12 Clemson vs. 5 West Virginia (12:15 Thursday - CBS) - Bit of a risky prediction since Clemson has to win tonight against UAB to even have a chance to play WVU.  Also risky given Clemson's recent tournament history.  Still I think Brad Brownell is an upgrade at coach over Oliver Purnell and Clemson has a strong frontcourt and a talented senior leader at guard in Demontez Stitt.  Look for the Tigers to pull the upset.

2) 13 Morehead State vs. 4 Louisville (1:40 Thursday - TBS) - Louisville is the better team, but Kenneth Faried is the all time NCAA leader in rebounding and could have a field day with Louisville's smaller frontline.  I'm still going with Louisville in a close one.

3) 10 Michigan State vs. 7 UCLA (9:20 Thursday - TBS) - The Bruins finished the season strong and freshman Josh Smith really began to come into his own in the second half of the season.  Next year paired with the Wears, the Bruins could have a pretty formidable frontline.  As disappointing as Michigan State was during the regular season, they still have talent on their roster and final four experience.  I'm going with Izzo over Howland in this one.

4) 9 Villanova vs. 8 George Mason (2:10 Friday - TNT) - The Wildcats limp into the tournament and have to face a team on the opposite end of the spectrum in George Mason.  I don't expect a return trip to the Final Four for the Patriots this year, but I do think they put Villanova out of their misery.

5) 5 Georgetown vs. 12 USC (9:50 Friday - TNT) - Again this is presupposing that the Spartans knock off VCU, but I think Georgetown could be in a bit of trouble with their smaller frontcourt if they have to face Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson.  Assuming Chris Wright is relatively healthy I think the Hoyas squeak this one out in a close one, but if Wright is not himself look for the Trojans to pull the upset.

I hopefully will be updating this blog with thoughts after each round so keep checking back.  This last part is aimed at Carolina fans so if you aren't interested in how I think UNC could manage to win it all then feel free to navigate away.

Also in this scenario this is not called a charge
Okay, well as a Carolina fan I wasn't overly thrilled with UNC's draw.  I hated not picking the Tar Heels to win it all, but they have so many obstacles in their way and are such a young team I don't really think its going to happen.  Still I do believe there is a somewhat realistic draw for the Heels that would allow them a shot at a sixth NCAA banner.  In the first round the Heels should light up LIU, who likes to play uptempo.  They will probably face Washington in the second round, who has become somewhat of a trendy pick to upset Carolina.  Still I think UNC is a better team and will have the home court advantage in Charlotte.  The Sweet Sixteen is where things will have to fall into place for the Heels.  I have a really hard time seeing UNC cracking Syracuse's zone defense, so for UNC to advance I think Xavier will have to upset the Orangemen in the second round then catch Tu Holloway on a mediocre shooting night.  That puts Carolina in the Elite Eight where they probably will face Ohio State.  While perhaps Kentucky would be an easier matchup, I expect Sullinger to wreak havoc on the Wildcats.  Furthermore, despite the fact they are a #1 seed, Ohio State doesn't scare me as much as Syracuse.  Henson and Zeller's length could bother Sullinger and if the Heels can avoid giving Diebler too many open looks from beyond the arc I think the Heels could take down the Buckeyes.  Now in this hypothetical scenario UNC is playing San Diego State in the Final Four who knocked off Texas in the Elite Eight (Duke lost to Tennessee in the second round... hey it's my hypothetical).  Carolina has the athletes to match up with the Aztecs who are a little overwhelmed by the Final Four.  In the Championship Carolina faces off with Pittsburgh who coasted to the Final Four and took out the Purdue Boilermakers in the other semifinal.  Harrison Barnes goes off and UNC gets Pittsburgh playing an uptempo game in which they can't keep up with the Heels.  Strickland is in Gibbs' grill all day and prevents him from getting good looks from beyond the arc.  UNC wins by six.  Party on Franklin Street.

For the record I don't think this happens, nor do I expect it to.  Considering where UNC was last year it would be a victory for the Tar Heels to make the second weekend and have Duke lose at some point.  Still it can't hurt to hope.... HARK THE SOUND!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random NCAA Basketball Musings

The sound you hear is hundreds of facts about bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites rushing out of my brain (though in seriousness most of it was pretty cool).  After perhaps the most intimidating test of med school I finally have a chance to get back on here and write about college basketball.  I was going to write a UNC-Duke column, but I haven't finalized the angle I am going to take, so expect that sometime tomorrow.  In the past couple months the posts I have managed to find time to write have all been focused on either ACC basketball or Carolina basketball.  Since we are 11 days from selection Sunday, now is as good a time as ever for a survey of the college basketball landscape.

BYU does not approve of the Lonely Island's recent single
The Role of BYU will be played by Jessica Alba
Perhaps the biggest story this week was BYU big Brandon Davies being kicked off the team for an honor code violation.  The violation?  He admitted to having premarital sex with his girlfriend.  I completely respect that BYU has their honor code and that students who go there agree to abide by that honor code.  However, from a basketball perspective, BYU went from a potential #1 seed following their sweep of SDSU this weekend to possibly a 3 seed.  The Cougars sans Davies got waxed last night by New Mexico.  They still have the Jimmer, but going into the tournament now fall more into the Davidson '08 category as opposed to having a shot to make the finals like Butler did last year.  It personally just amazes me an athlete would be kicked off a team for something that a large handful of college basketball players are probably doing as I write this.  The whole fiasco already has sparked a lot of jokes (Bill Simmons wrote on twitter that "Breaking the BYU honor code" is his new favorite euphemism for sex), but as I said before BYU has the right to create and uphold their own honor code regardless of whether I, or anyone else on the outside agree with it.  Still it would have been fun to see how far a full-strength BYU team could have gone in the tournament.

Finding Goliath
No one team seems to stand above the rest.  Ever since OSU suffered their first loss to Wisconsin, no team has taken a hold of the top spot in the polls for more than a week.  There doesn't appear to be a single team in the nation without vulnerabilities.  Duke has a great frontcourt and a mediocre backcourt.  Pittsburgh is tough and defends well but isn't explosive offensively.  Kansas can get inconsistent play from their backcourt.  Texas looks dangerously close to another march meltdown under Rick Barnes.  Ohio State is probably the closest thing to a dominant team with their only losses coming on the road at Purdue and Wisconsin.  Still they are a far cry from the dominant team that was the 2009 Tar Heels, 2007 Gators, or any of the top seeds in 2008.  I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple #1 seeds fall early in this tournament.

At least one of the following red-hot teams are going to make the Final Four: Purdue, Louisville, St. Johns, Wisconsin, North Carolina
With the aforementioned lack of a dominant team, the field is wide open for a team ranked in the 6-15 range to make a national title run.  In their past 5 games the combined record of these teams is 23-2 with one of the losses coming when Wisconsin played Purdue.  Purdue is exceeding all expectations sans Robbie Hummel.  St. Johns has made a living out of beating top teams in the Garden over the past two months.  Wisconsin has a great pair of players in Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor and the Badgers slow paced style allows them to hang with any team.  Since Kendall Marshall was inserted in the lineup at UNC, their sole loss came by 6 at Cameron Indoor after holding a 14 point lead at the half (more on UNC later).  Louisville is probably the weakest of the bunch, but they are playing well and Rick Pitino remains one of the best coaches in the sport.

If Barnes, Henson, and Zeller return for UNC next season college basketball may have another dominant team
Harrison Barnes Tigerblood > Charlie Sheen Tigerblood
Zeller has had a breakout year this season and leads the Tar Heels in scoring.  Barnes got off to a slow start and still can be inconsistent shooting, but he has really broken out in the second half of the season.  The Black Falcon (as he is sometimes called) hit an absolutely cold blooded three to beat FSU last night, and his late game heroics and recent trend of ferocious dunks have inspired my new favorite website on the internet.  As much as Barnes has improved, John Henson, who many labeled a bust after last season, has elevated his play even more.  Henson has become a terror in the paint with his ability to block shots and rebound and he has added a pretty nice arsenal of post moves to his game on the offensive end.  Even his much-maligned free throw shooting has been significantly better as of late, which could come up big in the tournament.  Furthermore, Rasheed Wallace, who has been practicing with the team lately, seems to have rubbed off on Henson.  In a recent interview Henson listed 'Sheed as his favorite past Tar Heel and Henson is playing with a 'Sheed-esque swagger as of late (in true 'Sheed fashion he even was whistled for a technical last night). 

While Zeller will probably be back next year, Henson and Barnes are projected to be lottery picks.  Both seem to enjoy Carolina and neither come from backgrounds where there is a pressing need to make money as quickly as possible.  I think both could use one more year to really elevate their games, but it is always hard to turn down the opportunity to be a lottery pick.  If they do return though, mark down the Tar Heels as the odds-on favorite for 2012.  Anyways, this wraps up my college basketball thoughts, check back tomorrow for a UNC-Duke post.

Oh and Virginia Tech is on the bubble, what else is new?