Duke 69, UNC 53: Frank Tanner Underutilized in Season Finale Loss

USA TODAY Sports

Let's go ahead and get this out in the open. Responsibility for Satuday night's drubbing is laid squarely on the shoulders of one player: Frank Tanner.

In three minutes, the former leading scorer for the JV Tar Heels (14 ppg)--and one of ESPNU's Top 150 shooting guards of 2009--laid goose eggs in every statistical category. His zero-point performance was well below his 0.11 points per minute average (even Erick Green was only throwing up 0.69 ppm in conference play this year), and his 0.11 rebounds per minute (only 0.23 fewer than Richard Howell's 0.34 rpm) was utterly negated by his complete lack of effort on the boards Saturday.

Tanner saw more minutes this year (19) than any other member of the Blue Team, and his older brother, J. B., even has a ring from the 2009 season (I have his autograph). But that experience and championship breeding paid zero dividends for Tanner and the Heels this past weekend.

But it wasn't just Tanner's historically poor performance that made the difference Saturday. It was the way Roy utilized him.

Not only did we need more Frank Tanner, we needed more P. J. Hairston from the bench. The decisive factor in this game was Roy's decision to start Tanner for Paige rather than Hairston. Hindsight's 20/20, but this was undoubtedly Roy's biggest coaching miscalculation of the year (effectively handing Larranaga the ACC's COY), and could have made all the difference.

I respect the fact that Roy didn't pull a Mike Krzyzewski-Patrick Davidson with Tanner and have him rough up an opponent's star off the jump, but if you're going to let him play straight up, you've got to start him for P. J. and put him on Kelly.

Think about it.

Roy's unorthodox decision to start a second-string shooting guard at power forward is what has made the difference for the Heels this season. The only logical extension, in the biggest game of the year, is to push that iconoclasm to the extreme by starting your fourth-string shooting guard in the post--and here's why it would have worked:

  • If Paige starts, you've likely got Strickland guarding Curry, which makes it much less likely that he goes off amidst the 14-0 opening run that effectively sealed the victory in the first four minutes.
  • On the other end of the floor, Curry probably doesn't (not) guard Tanner either. As it turned out, starting Tanner at the 2-spot played right into Curry's preferred role of doing all the scoring without having to defend.
  • With Tanner at the four, you have Bullock guarding Thornton (there's no way he hits that first three over the 6-7 Bullock), and if Kelly goes off for a couple minutes, that's ok, since you've got Hairston coming in to give him a new look and force him to shake up his offensive attack.
  • You've got Hairston back in the familiar role of bringing a 20- or 30-point offensive burst off the bench, instead of the 1-for-15 3FG night we got by starting him.
  • You don't freak Paige out by not starting him for the first time all year, causing him to go completely berserk in a vertiginous 32 minutes of basketball.

Point all you want to shooting percentages, lack of intensity, and the fact that we only had four more defensive boards than Duke had offensive boards, but the fact of the matter is this:

You put the 6-4 former Hickory Ridge High School Team Captain on the 6-11 Pride of Ravenscroft, and Curry doesn't go off, Hairston does, Kelly gets confused, Paige conducts the entire operation, and the Heels win this one by 7.

Dadgum, Roy and his half-hearted attempts at shedding ideological stubbornness.

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