Tar Heel Bred Tar Heel Dead

Another poll, another #1 ranking for the Heels. This time, the AP bestowed the honor, a week after the USA Today Coaches Poll did the same. (Incidentally, this honor moves UNC ahead of Duke in preseason AP #1 rankings and into a tie with UCLA, the all-time leader.)

Oddly, the second-ranked Kentucky Wildcats didn’t receive any first-place votes, while Ohio State (#3) and Connecticut (#4) did. This season is shaping up to be a really interesting one, with a bunch of very good teams in the top 10, but perhaps no dominant club.

 

Jeff Goodman over at CBS Sports had a chance to drop in on a recent Heels practice, and he had some interesting observations. Basically, it sounds like the possible weaknesses on this team that we all worry about are being addressed and improvement is showing. Here are the top 5 points.

  1. Kendall Marshall’s outside shot is improving. This is great news, and should help to keep defenses honest and open up the inside for Zeller.
  2. Henson is working mightily on his offensive game, though it remains a “work in progress.” Love to hear that. Roy Williams talked a lot at his press conference this week about Henson and his improving shot. The big man still isn’t cleared to start taking 15-footers, but who knows what could happen by the end of the season.
  3. Dexter Strickland looks more comfortable running the point. This is the best news ever and addresses what is probably the team’s biggest weakness: lack of depth at point guard. Frosh Stilman White is an unproven commodity and if Kendall Marshall were to ever — we won’t even say it.
  4. Reggie Bullock is probably ahead in the race for shooting guard minutes with P.J. Hairston. OK. Not unexpected.
  5. Strickland’s shot is more consistent since last year. We’ll believe this when we see it.

More Duke douchbaggery

October 20, 2011

As part of their recent trip to China and Dubai, the dookies discovered T-Pain and Auto-Tune. And created one of the most gawd-awful videos of all time. Is there something about playing on the Duke basketball team that completely removes all self-awareness from your body? Enjoy…

Late Night With Roy recap

October 19, 2011

We had a correspondent on the ground for last weekend’s festivities — almost as if we’re a legit news organization or something. Here’s a report and a few photos from David Drake.

Late Night was much better this year from a stage production stand point. The skits were all pre-produced videos (and in the vein of the much-loved ESPN Sports Center promos) and because of this, were better paced and frankly nicely audible (something they’d struggled with in the past due to Smith Center acoustics). During the dance numbers I noticed that MacAdoo can really move and look forward to more from him in the coming years. The crowd favorite sketch featured the starters and Jonas Sahratian, UNC’s strength coach.  Jonas was pushing the team hard in the weight room and they weren’t really responding. Frustrated, he stormed out and the camera followed him into the hall where they’d set up the full Carolina bench replete with 5 second-stringers.  Jonas walks down the line, taping each one on the shoulder, a la one of Roy’s famous “pull your starters” moves. The scrubs rush into the weight room and the starters sheepishly gather on the bench in the hall where Sahratian does his best “Angry Roy” impression. As it ended, the skit faded to a live shot of Roy who was wiping a tear away he was laughing so hard.

As far as basketball goes, while fun to watch, there weren’t many Earth-shattering dunks or crazy plays. With the teams divided evenly between starters and scrubs, it was just an evenly balanced game. At one point Marshall found himself under the basket with his back to the net and Henson defending him. They both got a smile on their face as they knew what was coming next. Marshall turned and threw up a shot and Henson sniped it out of the air to a teammate. Hopefully this won’t happen to Kendall in the regular season.

One thing I was struck by watching the new guys was that James MacAdoo is a big guy. He’s thick in a good way. Hopefully he’ll be able to bang around inside with the other big boys and make some opponents regret it. He had one or two miscues but looked good overall.

Oh, and I got a high five from Vince Carter. Does it get any better than that?

Or so says an article over on Grantland today. Writer Jay Kang argues that Roy Williams’ system is impossible to beat if it works well. And it working well depends first and foremost on the point guard. When you’ve got a Ray Felton or a Ty Lawson at the helm, good things happen. When you’ve got a Larry Drew…well, other stuff happens. The article calls Marshall one of the best points in the game and predicts he’ll eventually be a first-round pick in the NBA. And if he stays healthy, this team is gonna win it all this year.

I bring this up because the 2011-12 Tar Heels are built a whole lot like the past two championship teams. They have a point guard who can run Roy’s system (Marshall, Lawson, Felton). They have a sweet-shooting wing with a knack for knocking down big shots (Harrison Barnes, Ellington, McCants). They have a five-star freshman forward who can concentrate his effort on the defensive side of the floor (James McAdoo, Ed Davis, Marvin Williams). They have a low-post player who can take over games (Tyler Zeller, Hansbrough, May). They have an athletic two guard who can bear down on defense and help push the tempo (Jackie Manuel, Ginyard/Green, Dexter Strickland). And it’s probable that all these assets would fall apart without their point guard, and, in some way, that none of these players would be as shiny and draft-worthy if they had not played in a well-tuned Roy Williams system.

Those expectations just keep getting higher. The list for the 50 candidates on the Wooden Award watch list were revealed this week, and UNC placed four players. That’s almost 10% of the entire list.

Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Kendall Marshall made the cut, while Dexter Strickland was the lone starter not to be honored.

Bullock 1, his bum knee 0

October 4, 2011

If you’re looking for who on the team might pleasantly surprise you most this upcoming season, it might not be one of the new faces. It might just be Reggie Bullock. Everyone — and that probably includes Reggie — would agree that his freshman campaign was a bit of a disappointment. He served mostly as the third-string shooting guard, logging limited minutes behind Harrison Barnes and Leslie McDonald. His production didn’t line up with either his reputation coming out of high school or his potential.

Now that he’s fully rehabbed from his knee surgery and back to 100% healthy, Bullock has been impressing some people this off-season, including his coach.

Yeah, he’s back. He’s playing now and everybody feels really good. We will have to watch his knee quite a bit because he’s had two surgeries on the same knee, so we’ll have to watch it, but boy, he’s done some really, really good things in the offseason. Former players and his teammates are saying great things about the way he’s playing right now.

Good thing too. Carolina will need his offense this season.

With yesterday’s news that the ACC is going to expand again, this time adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse, you gotta wonder, how much can you change a particular thing before it stops being that thing? Is the ACC still the ACC…even when it bears little resemblance to the thing that we all know and love as the ACC? Not really.

This shuffling of teams among conferences, which is getting alarmingly frequent, is beginning to feel a lot like baseball. MLB fans have been complaining for years that the players switch teams so often it’s almost impossible to root for a club anymore, because that club has no identity. What are you rooting for? A uniform? A front office?

There can’t possibly be anyone out there who thinks this expansion is a good idea. At least no one who doesn’t work for the ACC. These are probably the same jackasses who thought expanding the NCAA tourney to 100+ teams was genius.

But from our viewpoint, here’s why this move stinks:

1. It’s impossible to escape the feeling that this move is about one thing and one thing only: money.

Even the official press release could only conjure some lukewarm platitude about this expansion finally uniting the teams in the south with Massachusetts. That’s the reason? Geography? Of course what they fail to point out that there is only a Massachusetts team in the conference as a result of the last ill-advised and nonsensical expansion. Whatever the reason for this move, be it about football revenue or something else, you know the only reason this is happening is not because it’s good for sports or for the ACC, but because it’s going to make someone richer.

2. More of something does not make it better.

How often do greedy companies make the same mistake? How often does Hollywood? You liked Jaws? Well, how about three more of them? You like Starbucks? Well, how about two on every corner? The ACC used to be nearly perfect. Each team would play every other team twice during the basketball season. Now officials use some complicated formula to determine who plays who, leading to some teams getting easier schedules than others. Scheduling is about to become even more chaotic.

3. It dilutes the rivalries.

When the teams played each twice during the season, it bred familiarity among the players and fans alike. You can throw that out the window. What happens now? Every team plays each other once, with even fewer teams playing each other twice?

We look forward to Duke-UNC. We look forward to Maryland-Duke. We look forward (sometimes) to UNC-NC State. Is there anyone out there who’s going to eagerly await the annual Wake Forest-Syracuse throwdown? Nope. Georgetown is Syracuse’s rival, not anyone in the ACC. Or Georgetown was its rival. Can you still be a rival when you don’t play? Who knows. The addition of these two teams is going to make the conference schedule a lot less special. Period. There are going to be a lot more shrug-worthy games per year between teams that have no history. NC State-Pitt anyone? You frothing at the mouth to mark that one on your calendar?

The rivalries that currently exist in the conference took years or decades to build. They grew out of repetition, with teams playing each other twice, year in and year out. Perhaps new rivalries could build, but how long will we have to wait for that? And will we want to?

On the plus side, it may not matter. Conference membership will probably change again in a few years. We can see the press release now: “The ACC is proud to welcome UCLA and Oregon as members, extending the reach of the Atlantic Coast all the way across the country.”

It doesn’t feel like a very good day to be an ACC basketball fan. If anyone can defend this decision, please let fly in the comments below.

Here’s a new mixtape showcasing Henson from the summer league. Yes, he blocks shots. Yes, he dunks the ball. But most surprising, he makes a couple jump shots, including a nice looking half hook. The best bit though is when he goes to shoot a free throw. The video shows him releasing it…but then cuts before we see what happens to the ball. Gotta appreciate that kind editing.

 

As we roll into February, the preseason rankings are beginning to trickle out, and the one from the Sporting News has Carolina at #1.

Those college coaches preaching the “defense-wins- championships” gospel can’t be all that pleased with Roy Williams. He has won twice with teams that were brilliant on offense and just good enough on defense. This year’s Tar Heel squad looks to be cut from that cloth. Point guard Kendall Marshall has not been an elite defender and can struggle to deny penetration, but what might separate these Heels from their predecessors is the shot-blocking presence of 6-10 power forward John Henson. And, oh my, are they going to score points.

Kentucky is #2 and Duke #5.

Being #1 is nice and all, but wouldn’t it be better to start out somewhere else in the top 10 and gradually work your way up to the top spot? Being #1 comes with so many crushing expectations, and those can sometimes take their toll on a young team. Will this group of Heels be able to handle the hype like seasoned vets, or will it prove too much?

Also, that “oh, my, are they going to score points” line seems a bit overly optimistic. Just a word of caution. Last season with the same starting five, we often scored in the 60s. Hell, we beat Boston College by putting up just 48 points. Granted, everyone on the team should be improved this year, but if you look at the starting 5, only Tyler  Zeller and Harrison Barnes would be considered scoring machines. John Henson is more of a defensive stopper, Kendall Marshall only shoots when he has to and Dexter Strickland doesn’t really shoot at all. These fabled hundreds of points per game may come from a healthy Reggie Bullock hitting from downtown and the impressive freshman, but then, they may not. With Leslie McDonald looking to be sidelined for almost the entire season with an ACL tear, the offensive prospects don’t exactly improve.

Thoughts? Will this team consistently score  in the 80s and 90s and become the unstoppable offensive machine worthy of a #1 ranking as the Sporting News says?

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