Patrick Kendall (RivalBlues.com)
Now I recognize these Heels.
They look a lot like some of the great Kansas teams that ole Roy Boy used to coach (Collison and Pierce anyone?). Up tempo, athletic, tough. Big guards that could rebound and run; big men who could bull their way to the basket and draw the foul in a half-court set. It's all coming back to me.
I also remember another thing about those teams: no defense. The game plan was simple: you want to run, we'll run. At the end of the game let's see who scored more. Usually Kansas won those contests because they had better players.
UNC has that same look this year. Lawson pushes the ball quick, quick, quick. Ellington is turning into a nice finisher (and his stroke IS very smooth outside); Danny Green is a nice athletic complement at the other wing spot; Ginyard can surprise you with his off the dribble quickness; Stephenson and Thompson are tough down low and Mansbrough is a virtual certainty to score once he catches the ball (he'll go to the hoop, the line, or both). It's a nice offensive scheme.
If I was going to quibble about something (and you know I will), it's that they don't play a lick of defense when you look at the whole of the game. Oh sure, they have the kind of athletes that can turn it on in spurts but (and no matter who disagrees with me on this - Roy Boy certainly doesn't) the team as a whole is not committed to defense at all.
This mentality is what cost them so many losses during the regular season last year. That's why I'm very interested to see them against a hard-nosed Clemson team this weekend. With the start of the ACC looming, we should get a good feel for how good Carolina is this year. I do like their schedule for the most part so far this season: Valpo is a perennial tournament team and so is Kent State. Both are solid mid-major opponents. Roy Boy doesn't fear putting his team at risk early on and so I commend him for that.
But you can see his distaste for his team's lack of defensive intensity at some point of every game - obviously no top tier coach is going to say "we fired on all cylinders out there so good for us" but he makes a point to discuss his disappointment regarding the numerous defensive lapses his team suffers through nightly. Take for example the Kent State game. Up 18 points in the first half, UNC allows Kent State to run off 7 straight before Ellington hits a long bomb of a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the half.
Sadly, UNC needed a prayer in order to steal back the momentum from a team that at one point (according to the TV stats) had scored 22 of 25 points from INSIDE the paint. Letting a smaller team score from the inside using back screens (Carolina's old staple offense) again and again is a definite no-no.
So sure, I'm picking on them (again), but for most of you reading this, I'll bet you didn't have tickets bought and paid for last year for Atlanta with the expectation that UNC would be playing that weekend, did you? Well, I did. And watching them collapse against Georgetown last March hasn't left me yet so I'm only cautiously optimistic (especially after watching Memphis drop the defensive hammer on G-town last month and hold Hibbert to 6 points) about their lofty status.
Hopefully UNC watched that game and took notes. They are going to have to give defense a try at some point if they plan on playing far into the tourney.
You see, (and Roy Boy knows this intimately after living with the burden his entire time in Kansas) the problem with being number 1 at the start of the season and staying there through the midway point is that the expectations for post season play GROW. None of the stars from this team were at UNC when they won the title in '05. The guys left from that team were minor contributors at the time and Frasor is lost for the season.
UNC has to establish itself on BOTH ends of the floor this season to make sure of their place in Tar Heel history. The truth is that they have all of the component pieces to win a title - talent, depth, athleticism, coaching. They have a point guard who can score and pass (at light speed) a wing who can hit from long range, a slasher who can get to the rim and finish, tough "bigs" to enforce the paint, and the hardest working big man in the country anchoring the block.
Expectations will continue to grow as they succeed and rack up wins. When it's all said and done, the only question I have is whether Mansbrough's giant shoulders can carry the burden of those expectations all the way to San Antonio. If so, I plan to be there and see it person.
I just remember that I was there last year with the same expectations and UNC was nowhere to be seen that weekend.