After getting what could be construed as a marquee win against a pretty good Kentucky team that’s in a similar situation to the Heels (young team that’s probably yet to play their best basketball), UNC got back to what was making it successful early in the year. No, not hitting from the outside (they still can’t do that) or feeding the post (rebounding and points in the paint were no surprise as Evansville’s tallest player looked to be about 6’6”); I’m talking about playing with confidence.
I realize that sometimes traditional sportswriting overblows ideas about confidence, or swagger, or whatever you want to call it - especially when there’s statistical evidence that points to the fact that there are plenty of other problems plaguing a team than whether they’re feeling “confident” or not, but as a Carolina fan it seems obvious to me this team’s performance seems to derive from whatever is going on with them psychologically from game to game. After beating Kentucky last week (“hey! we can beat Kentucky?!”) the Heels seemed like a different team for the first half of this game on both ends of the floor before settling into some unfortunate second-half sloppiness. Despite the continuing malaise from outside (this team HAS to do better than 4-21 from 3pt range, that is absolutely putrid) the offense clicked pretty well with various guys stepping up in turn - the balance of scoring was a positive sign - and defensively I thought the effort and communication was much better than it has been this year. Also, let’s not forget to be thankful for a night where the Heels actually shot over 70% as a team from the charity stripe (26-36, 72%); let’s just hope that all the positives I mentioned above are upward trending fashions rather than just aberrations caused by playing a pretty bad team.
The overall tentativeness of Harrison Barnes continues to be a source of concern, however. The kid still doesn’t seem sure of his place in the offense and may be the type of player who needs to get touches every time down the floor to get into an offensive rhythm, but Roy is absolutely committed to establishing Zeller and the other bigs down low as his first priority (and with good reason - they’ve unquestionably been the best performers on the team thus far this year). His brilliance comes in spurts, like the 19-point half against Hofstra or his 7-point run in the Kentucky game, but he has yet to display any sort of go-to move or tactic to get his game going when his shot isn’t falling. Bill Simmons mentioned via Twitter during the Kentucky game that Barnes left him lukewarm in a Marvin Williams-ish way, and that comparison stuck with me, as well. Barnes seems extraordinarily gifted with a wide offensive repertoire but not really anything specific that you can point to and say “he does THAT better than any other freshman (or other player, supposedly) in the country.” Meanwhile, the boys over at The Mikan Drill are putting together entire blog posts about how Kyrie Irving’s first step is one of the best in the nation. Barnes seems like an incredibly astute kid so I agree with the general consensus that he’ll figure it out sooner or later but unfortunately, like a lot of fans I think I may be a bit over eager for UNC to have a brilliant offensive player again and I’m not to keen on waiting for the “later” option. Here’s hoping he starts blossoming before ACC season rolls around and he’s still trying to discover his offensive identity.