Friday, April 22, 2011

UNC 2011-2012 - Fun with Rosters

The Black Falcon is Back, and he will have plenty of help
As you undoubtedly know by this point, Harrison Barnes announced on Monday that he would be returning for his sophomore year.  It proves that Barnes is a unique type of superstar and has goals for his college basketball career beyond making it to the NBA.  While Barnes is being lauded for passing up sure money people also need not forget about John Henson and Tyler Zeller who also passed up guaranteed first round money to come back and make a run at the national championship next season.  I'm holding off on proclaiming UNC the undisputed preseason #1 until it is assured that at least Knight and Jones (and hopefully Liggins as well) are done at Kentucky, but at the moment it does look like UNC will be expected to cut down the nets in New Orleans.

Since the expectations for UNC and Barnes' decision have been discussed ad nauseum, I figured I'd go a different way with this post and play around with some possible lineups UNC could  throw out on the floor.   In addition to having a star-studded starting lineup, UNC has one of the deepest rosters in the nation.  Justin Knox was the only player who saw significant minutes this past season who won't be on the team in 2011-2012 and the Heels get back a (hopefully) healthy Reggie Bullock as well as a 5 man recruiting class ranked #4 in the nation by  Consequently the number of lineup possibilities are endless. 

Starting Five - no real explanation required here. 

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Dexter Strickland
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: John Henson
C: Tyler Zeller

UNC should be starting the exact same lineup they started this past season.  The only concern with this group remains 3 point shooting, but I would expect Marshall and Barnes to both improve in that category.  Strickland keeps the starting shooting guard spot due to his defense.  He showed at times how dangerous he can be in transition and when attacking the rim.  If he improves his shooting and becomes more assertive driving to the basket, he could perhaps be the most improved player on the team next year.  The frontcourt is absolutely loaded.  They could barely be stopped last season and might become completely unstoppable next year.

Make it Rain - The ultimate 3 point shooting lineup

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Leslie McDonald/PJ Hairston
SF: Reggie Bullock/PJ Hairston
PF: Harrison Barnes
C: James McAdoo

I'm not sure we see this lineup much, but with these players out on the floor, UNC has good shooters at every position.  McAdoo showed off his three point range in both the McDonald's all All American game and in the Jordan Classic.  McDonald, Bullock, and Hairston are all pretty interchangeable at this point with regards to shooting.  As mentioned above, Marshall will probably be an improved shooter as well, but his main role in this hypothetical lineup is finding the open shooter (which shouldn't be too hard).

Murderous Press- stealing this one from Bill Simmons' book, in which he took the idea from Rick Pitino, who said that if he went back into the NBA he would take 5 of his bench players and have them press relentlessly 5 minutes each half.  It doesn't seem likely UNC will do this next year, but I like the idea and think it would be interesting if UNC adopted the concept and went to this lineup a couple times a game.

PG: Stillman White
SG: Dexter Strickland
SF: Justin Watts
PF: Jackson Simmons
C: Desmond Hubert

White, Hubert, and Simmons are all middle to lower level recruits coming in next season who probably won't see significant playing time.  I put Strickland on the press due to his great defense/to have a second ball handler.  Justin Watts may see his minutes diminish this year but he would be PERFECT for this press.  Hubert could be replaced with Henson if he isn't able to execute this, but I wanted it to be mainly composed of bench players

The Monstars - Go big or go home

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Harrison Barnes
SF: James McAdoo
PF: John Henson
C: Tyler Zeller

This lineup has been talked about quite a bit already and ESPN's Eamonn Brennan's called it the "'screw it, I'm doing it' video game lineup" in one of his chats earlier this week.  While I doubt we actually see this lineup much on the floor, Barnes could potentially play the 2 guard and McAdoo is thought by some to be a hybrid forward along the lines of Marvin Williams.  They may have issues keeping up with smaller guards on defense, but on the offensive end a lineup with 4 players 6'8" or over would be a nightmare for opposing teams.

Lockdown Defense
PG: Dexter Strickland
SG: Reggie Bullock/PJ Hairston
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: John Henson
C: Tyler Zeller

Dexter Strickland takes over at point for Kendall Marshall whose one weakness is on the defensive end.  Once again if Bullock is healthy he could give opposing shooting guards problems with his 6'7" frame.  Alternatively Hairston is 6'6" and also seems like a solid defender from what I've seen.

Crunch Time -the lineup in the last minutes of a close game when UNC needs to score/make free throws

PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Leslie McDonald
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: James McAdoo
C: Tyler Zeller

A good case for Strickland, Hairston, or Bullock could be made at the 2 guard position, but I ultimately think that I may trust a junior Leslie McDonald the most to knock down a big shot.  Marshall, Barnes, and Zeller are no-brainersMcAdoo the edge at power forward due to having a better offensive game and being a better free throw shooter than Henson.

and just for fun The Best Biscuits Lineup Ever!
PG: Stillman White
SG: Patrick Crouch
SF: Justin Watts
PF: Jackson Simmons
C: Desmond Hubert

Outside of crouch I actually think all of these players are/will be solid college contributors, but with the talent UNC has on their roster they may not see the floor too much until mop up time.  Still this is definitely a roster that can get you from 94 points to 100 points in the last couple minutes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

UNC Basketball 2010-2011 Season Wrapup: Part II

Note this is part 2 of a 2 part season wrapup.  For part one, click here.

Lowlight #5: Oh Offense, offense, wherefore art thou offense?
UNC rebounded from their disappointing second half in Durham with wins against Clemson and Wake Forest, neither of which were particularly pleasing from an aesthetic point of view.  Their next game was against Boston College who they had managed to score 106 points against in their previous meeting.  This time the Heels failed to score half that, tallying 48 points, the lowest of the Roy Williams era.  Luckily BC scored two points less and Carolina got the win, but it was an ugly game that made people wonder whether Kendall Marshall was hitting a wall and whether the team had peaked too early.  It also was just a painful game to watch.

Highlight #6: Black Falcon Blood > Tigerblood

The Tar Heels answered their doubters with back to back double digit victories at NC State and at home against Maryland (and in the meantime Charlie Sheen's antics captivated America, thus the).  Their next matchup was against Florida State in Talahassee, the site of Duke's first loss of the season.  The game was neck and neck the whole way through and with 18 seconds remaining Derwin Kitchen hit a free throw to give the Seminoles a one point advantage.  To the surprise of some, Roy Williams called a timeout with 10 seconds left.  Barnes was given the ball about 8 feet from the top of the key and went iso with his man, looking like he would drive to the hoop. Instead he pulled up from three and hit an absolutely cold blooded three pointer to give UNC the win.  Perhaps the most surprising thing was how muted Dickie V's response was to the shot.  Perhaps he genuinely had come to expect that from Barnes, but I would bet he would have yelled and waxed poetic for a good five minutes had Singler or Smith made the shot.

Highlight #7: ACC Regular Season Champions in the Sweetest Way Possible

With both Duke and UNC coming into the final game of the regular season at 13-2, the rematch in Chapel Hill had the added stakes of being for the outright regular season ACC title.  Now time for a confession.  I wasn't able to watch this game in its entirety.  I was in Charleston with a group of friends from medical school on spring break, and everyone decided to get dinner at 8:30.  Consequently I was stuck getting up from the table every five minutes to go watch the game on the TV at the bar.  To be fair I caught all of the final 5 minutes and probably slightly over 50% of the rest of the game,  but I hate missing any of a Duke-UNC game.  As for the game itself, UNC made an early statement by starting three walkon seniors who proceded to help UNC to a 3-0 lead before being pulled.  Kendall Marshall was the star of the game with 15 points, 11 assists and only 2 turnovers.  Harrison Barnes hassled Singler into only 8 points on 3-14 shooting.  Dexter Strickland also put an exclamation point on the victory with a thunderous dunk on Miles Plumlee (13:55 in the above video).

Highlight #8: 40 for 40

After capturing the regular season title, UNC had their letdown in the ACC tournament with three consecutive slow starts.   Carolina was down 19 to Miami in the second half of their ACC tournament game before a furious comeback was capped by a Tyler Zeller buzzer beater with time expiring.  The Heels then proceeded to fall behind early again in their third meeting with Clemson in the ACC semifinals.  With the Heels down 5 and 1:23 remaining on the clock, Barnes hit a three to bring UNC within two (Zeller scored the tying bucket), then scored 15 points in overtime to finish with 40 points, tying Tyler Hansbrough's single game freshman scoring record.

Lowlight #6: A Dish Served Cold

Carolina's ACC tournament habit of surrendering big leads early against came back to bite them in the ACC tournament finals against Duke.  It was a game I had a bad feeling about as soon as the matchup was set and UNC was thoroughly outplayed by a Duke team that looked like a bunch of seasoned veterans.  Nolan Smith bothered Kendall Marshall all game and Duke shot 9-20 from beyond the arc.  While the refs were not as awful as some Carolina fans claimed, there was an atrocious charge called on a Dexter Strickland posterization of Kyle Singler that did kill some early momentum from Carolina.  In many ways it may have been best had UNC lost to Clemson in the semifinals.

Highlight #9: John Henson Also Likes to Live Dangerously

After an opening round game against Long Island that was closer than it should have been for much of the first half, Carolina faced off against the PAC-10 tournament champ Washington Huskies.  Washington jumped to an early lead, then the game was back and forth.  John Henson came up with a huge play with five seconds remaining and Carolina up one when he deflected Washington's inbound pass to Dexter Strickland, who appeared to seal the game with two free throws. However John Henson attempted to catch Venoy Overton's desperation shot, only to drop it out of bounds with a second left.  Washington inbounded the ball to Isiah Thomas whose shot was off mark.  Henson for some reason attempted to goaltend the shot (he didn't touch the ball) which would have been the dumbest decision in college basketball history had Thomas's foot not been on the line and had the ending of the Pitt-Butler game not occurred only a night earlier.

Highlight #10: Derrick Williams Dominates Duke, UNC Dominates Marquette 

A night before UNC's sweet sixteen game the Blue Devils faced off against the Arizona Wildcats.  Duke seemed poised for a blowout in the first half and the only reason I kept watching was Derrick Williams' buzzer beating three to cut Arizona's halftime deficit to six.  In the second half Arizona looked like the Monstars in the first half of the space jam game, thoroughly dominating Duke including a couple sick jams to upset the Blue Devils.  The next night the Tar Heels eviscerated the Marquette Golden Eagles, who were never able to find any semblance of offense against UNC's length.

Lowlight #7: Kentucky en Fuego
With a final four field that already included VCU, Butler, and Connecticut, I felt like Carolina suddenly had a chance to cut down the nets in Houston if they could get past the Kentucky Wildcats in the elite eight.  Kentucky had upset overwhelming favorite Ohio State in the sweet sixteen, but I figured Carolina had a good chance since they had already beaten Kentucky once and since it would be hard for the Wildcats to reproduce their 9-21 shooting beyond the arc from the previous matchup.  I was wrong.  Kentucky shot a ridiculous 12-22 from 3 and John Henson spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble.  UNC did roar back in the final minutes due to an 8-0 run by Harrison Barnes, but down one with 1:02 left, DeAndre Liggins blocked a Kendall Marshall layup and then converted on the other end with a three to win the game and end the UNC season.

Final Thoughts 
Despite the fact the season ended with a lowlight, it was one of the most enjoyable seasons of Carolina basketball I've witnessed.  We saw an inconsistent team full of young talent mature into a Final Four contender, in part due to the departure of Larry Drew II.  In a year where Duke was penciled in as the best team in the ACC all year, UNC managed to capture the ACC regular season title by beating the Blue Devils in the Dean Dome.  Despite the ups and downs of the season, Carolina finished ranked exactly what they were ranked in the preseason, #8.  If the rumors are true and Barnes comes back, next year could be something special.  However, there will also be enormous expectations that at times may take some of the fun out of watching UNC next season (trust me I was there for 2009).  On the flip side the NIT debacle last season makes one really appreciate how much fun it is to see a UNC team like this year's team.  I will never forget 2010-2011.

Friday, April 8, 2011

UNC Basketball 2010-2011 Season Wrapup: Part I

Note: This is part 1 of a 2 part season recap.

Kendall Marshall taking over at point guard was a turning point in the season
With the college basketball season coming to an end this week, I figured now was as good as a time as any to look back once more on the past season for UNC before focus completely shifts to next season (which it will as soon as Barnes makes his announcement).

To set the stage, the 2010-2011 season came in on the heels of one of the most disappointing Carolina basketball seasons ever.  In what may have been one of the worst title defenses of all time a team that was ravaged by injuries and never seemed to gel on or off the court stumbled to a 16-16 regular season record (5-11 ACC) and ended up losing in the final of the NIT.  To make matters worse, Duke, with the help of an advantageous draw, cut down the nets in Indianapolis to bring the Devils within one national championship of UNC.  One of the few high moments what was otherwise an unmitigated disaster from a Tar Heel fan point of view was the commitment of top recruit Harrison Barnes, the nation's top recruit and perhaps the most heralded high school senior since LeBron.

Entering this season it was apparent that the roster contained a substantial amount of talent, but nearly all of it was unproven.  The natural leader of the team, redshirt senior Will Graves, was kicked off the team prior to the start of the season.  Larry Drew II, a junior point guard who had faced significant criticism the previous season was the only returning starter.  In fact the previous season there were even rumors of him transferring (*foreshadowing*).  Tyler Zeller was also a junior who had shown promising flashed but had spend much of his first two seasons injured.  John Henson, Dexter Strickland, and Leslie McDonald were the remaining pieces of what had been a highly heralded and highly disappointing (at least to some impatient UNC fans) freshman class.  Justin Knox was a graduate transfer from Alabama, who seemed like a useful stopgap without true star power.  Lastly, Barnes was joined by fellow highly rated freshmen Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock who many hoped would make an immediate impact to restore the program to national prominence after a one year leave.

The offseason was characterized by high expectations from the media and intense debate among fans.  Despite the dearth of proven qualities on the roster, the Tar Heels were ranked #8 in the preseason rankings, largely in part to the stratospheric expectations for Harrison Barnes who was voted a preseason All-American and even picked by some to end up national player of the year.  Among fans, debates raged about starters and playing time, with a particular emphasis on the point guard position.  Due to Larry Drew's poor play the previous season and moments that some fans thought reflected a lack of commitment to the program, many fans advocated starting freshman Kendall Marshall over Drew.  In what was not a surprise to anyone who knows Roy Williams' tendencies as a coach, Drew got the starting nod to begin the season.

I could continue recapping the season in this manner, but if you are reading this post you probably already know rest of the story.  So instead I'm going to go through the major highlights and lowlights in a sequential manner (complete with youtube links when appropriate).

Lowlight #1: Puerto Rico: Land of Sunshine and Disappointment
After dispatching Lipscomb and Hofstra  in their opening two games, Carolina faced Minnesota in the Puerto Rico tournament semifinals.  Larry Drew was unimpressive, the frontcourt was bullied by Ralph Sampson and Trevor Mbakwe and Harrison Barnes went 0-12 from the field.  Just two days later, Vanderbilt sent the Tar Heels to a 2-2 record.  Barnes was again unimpressive shooting and looked lost and Drew failed to inspire much confidence.  Tyler Zeller was the only Tar Heel to impress in Puerto Rico, but had moments where he appeared timid in the paint.  Puerto Rico was certainly not encouraging to many Tar Heel fans who still had the previous season's NIT debacle etched into their mind.

Highlight #1: Tyler Zeller gets UNC its first signature win

Things didn't get immediately better for the Heels after Puerto Rico.  The Heels did avenge the previous season's loss to College of Charleston, but Illinois beat Carolina by 12 in Champaign in the Big 10-ACC challenge.  The next game was against the Kentucky Wildcats, who like the Tar Heels carried high expectations but little experience.  In a game staged in front of a raucous Dean Dome the score was always close, though Kentucky held the advantage for most of the game.  However, the Wildcats had to battle foul trouble and Tyler Zeller, who seemed to hold a grudge against the team that injured him his freshman year.  John Henson's length rendered freshman superstar Terrence Jones ineffective.  Josh Harrelson (pre-steroids and magical coordination pills) was a nonfactor for the Wildcats.  In fact the only reason Kentucky was able to hold the advantage for most of the game was the fact that they shot 9-21 from beyond the arc (*more foreshadowing*).  Harrison Barnes remained underwhelming but did manage a nice run in the second half punctuated by the putback dunk shown above.  In the end Zeller's free throws down the stretch made the difference and Chapel Hill was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Highlight #2/Lowlight #2: Dammit Cory Joseph

A couple weeks later UNC faced off with Texas in Greensboro.  The game was well played by both teams, and for the first time, Carolina showed off their potential.  After Texas came back to take the lead in the final minutes, Harrison Barnes showed the first glimpse of a clutchness that would define the rest of his season by hitting a huge 3 to tie the game.  However, fellow freshman Cory Joseph of the Longhorns hit a Kobe-esque turnaround jumper from the free throw line to give the Longhorns the victory.  All in all it was not a performance to be ashamed of, but it prevented UNC from returning to the rankings for the next month.

Lowlight #3: Beatdown in A-town
Following the Texas loss, UNC won five straight including their first two ACC games in come-from-behind victories against Virginia and Virginia Tech.  Both of those games were ugly and featured slow starts from UNC, but nonetheless the Heels seemed poised to reenter the top 25 if they could beat 8-8 Georgia Tech in Atlanta.  Nothing of the sort happened and instead the Yellow Jackets outhustled and manhandled UNC, forcing the Heels into 18 turnovers and 27.6% shooting from the field (which I thought was the worst a team could shoot until I saw Butler in the National Championship game).  In the end Georgia Tech beat Carolina by 20 which sparked both good things (the switch to Kendall Marshall as starting point guard) and bad things (IC temporarily turning into an insane asylum, Roy Williams making some angry comments on his radio show).  While I consider myself a pretty reasonable and realistic fan, even I was worried that UNC may miss a second consecutive NCAA tournament.

Highlight #3: Enter Black Falcon

UNC beat Clemson in a close game at home to keep the Tigers winless in Chapel Hill then traveled to Miami to play the Hurricanes.  UNC again started slow but managed to keep the game neck and neck for most of the second half.  With the score tied at 71 and 8 seconds on the clock, Barnes hit a three to win the game for Carolina.  He followed his clutch antics by putting up 25 against NC State (the first time he broke 20 points) and then 26 in a 32 point beatdown against Boston College.  Barnes' breakout propelled the Tar Heels back into the top 25 and made Tar Heel fans aware of his nickname "The Black Falcon" (which while I have embraced it, still comes across as trying a bit too hard to be Kobe).

Highlight #4: Larry Who?

The switch to Kendall Marshall at point guard after the GT game seemed to go more smoothly than expected.  Drew gave UNC a defensive boost off the bench in the four games following Kendall Marshall's promotion.  Then, out of nowhere, word came out that Larry Drew had left campus in the middle of the week and would be transferring.  In retrospect the decision to leave in the middle of the season still seems bizarre, but it has become more and more clear that his parents (especially his psycho mom) had a lot to do with the decision.  With questions of whether a freshman point guard would be able to carry the increased load, Kendall Marshall put on a passing clinic for the ages against Florida State, a team with one of the best defenses in the nation that had beaten Duke just a week earlier.  Marshall finished with 16 assists, 9 points, and only 3 turnovers and helped make UNC the first team all season to shoot above 50% against the Seminoles.

Highlight #5/Lowlight #4: Heels Make a Statement in Durham then Nolan Smith Makes a Louder One
While Carolina was suddenly starting to play to their potential, they were still considerable underdogs going into their matchup against Duke in Durham.  While Duke had lost freshman phenom Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith was playing at a national player of the year level.  So when the Tar Heels came out and jumped out to a 14 point lead at the half in Cameron Indoor, most people were stunned.  In the first half, UNC flexed their superior talent and Duke seemed unable to match UNC's athleticism.  However, Nolan Smith and Seth Curry led a furious comeback in the second half which was aided by poor perimeter shooting from the Heels.  While it stung to lose a game to our arch-rivals in which we held a 14 point lead at halftime, the game proved that Carolina could compete with any team in the nation when playing to their potential.

We'll stop here.  Make sure  to check out part two.