So apparently I picked a good game to start blogging. As I tweeted midway through the first half, this game seemed like a bizarro version of the UNC-State football game from this past season: one fan base anticipating their solid squad taking on a down-and-out team and absolutely annihilating them, relieving a few years of recent pain, only to severely underperform and lose in convincing fashion. In a lot of ways you can’t really say that a win over an inconsistent NC State team was unexpected, but with the way this Tar Heels team had been playing it was far from a sure thing. Plus, the game offered us a good amount of surprises, including:
- Ed Davis unexpectedly suiting up… and not being the best UNC big man on the floor. That honor goes to Deon Thompson, who looked as active as I’ve seen him all year in hitting the offensive glass early, doing a decent job on post stud Tracy Smith (granted, they doubled him all night, but still…), muscling his way into the paint and not settling for that 15-foot turnaround jumper he seems to fall in love with so frequently. He finished with 20-pt, 4-rebound (that number was a little surprising in the final box score) performance that really buoyed the Heels offensively. It’s also worth noting that he was just as animated on the bench as he was on the floor, cheering the Freshmen on, and was nice to see someone doing that for a change. The Carolina bench has been pretty sedate this year, and it’s always nice to see your team doing some chest-bumping and finger-pointing (in a good way). When Thompson performs like he did tonight, he could legitimately be the team’s #1 option on offense, which makes for much better roles for guys like Ed Davis, Larry Drew and Marcus Ginyard.
- Cutting down on the turnovers. Ok! Eleven turnovers, while not great, is a number I can live with. If memory serves correctly, UNC didn’t even have their first one until about 3 minutes left in the first half. Some sloppy play to open the second half let the Pack get back into the game, but unlike the Carolina team that we’ve seen go on huge runs and give up even bigger ones, tonight they managed to stem the tide and avoid turnovers when they actually mattered most. Blame that on State’s sloppy defense if you will, but it’s nice to see that UNC can have a competent offense on occasion. Except perhaps for…
- Marcus Ginyard: 0-5, 0-3 3pt, 2 TO. Ouch. At one point in the game Adam Gold asked a question that plenty of fans have to be thinking: “When is Roy going to have a Jackie Manuel conversation with Marcus so that he just stops taking shots?” Now, that’s selling Ginyard a little short - his offensive game is a lot better than Manuel’s - but there’s an element of truth to what Gold was saying in that I’d much rather have Ginyard assuming a team leader role via hustle plays and lock down defense than nailing transition 3’s. The numbers say he’s a 41% shooter from downtown, but he’s just 1-10 since ACC play started. I’m not really sure what the solution is - he doesn’t take terrible shots, he just isn’t making them right now, and with Strickland and Drew II continuing to play hot offensively, I’d rather leave the shots to them. You could see it against Wake and several times tonight - it looked like defenders were sagging off of him daring him to shoot, and after missing a few early he looked to pass instead in the second half. I know it’s probably a bit deflating for him personally, but whatever helps the half-court offense look respectable.
Ginyard’s struggles aside, the offense looked pretty solid, getting back to earning points on the break, which (surprise!) allows you to execute the secondary break so much better. The overall feel you get coming away from this game is a cautious optimism - sure, the Heels looked good, but State looked pretty bad. How they managed to put up 88 points against Duke is beyond me, other than never choosing to double Tracy Smith. The Pack didn’t really get much out of anyone besides Gonzalez tonight, who was throwing up heat check after heat check to close out the first half, and you know that had to stop sometime - once he cooled off, they had nowhere else to go.
So you can either attribute the final 14-point margin to a great bounce-back performance by Carolina on both ends of the floor or crappy effort and execution by State… also on both ends of the floor. However you want to interpret it, a win is a win, and UNC avoids being a cellar dweller in the ACC, looking like a team that is fully capable of fighting its way back into the Top 25 - or at least .500 in the conference.