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Thoughts from the Other Shade: Looking at the Heels

“The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of other things.” With Round 1 only 58-ish hours away, its time to dip into a recurring column of taking a look at our hated rival from the opposite lens. So here is some Duke perspective on the the Tar Holes.

Let me be clear here - no self-respecting Duke fan wants Carolina to do well. But for the sake of the rivalry it’s better that UNC is finally coming out of their 18 month stay in the doldrums of college basketball. Or so it would seem.

After getting white-washed by ACC bottom feeder Georgia Tech, the Heels have put together 5 straight wins: grinders against Clemson and Miami but then three convincing wins in a row. So the woeful ACC finally has two teams in the top 25 just in time for the media blitz of Duke/UNC Part I.

I’ve seen pieces of a lot of UNC games this season, and watched a couple start to finish. With added weight to more recent performance (and with the caveat that I don’t read much about the team so could be repeating a lot of what has already been said) here are some thoughts/observations:

  • “They are who we thought they were!” UNC is finally, finally playing about to the level I was expecting this season: on the bubble of the top 25. They certainly have a good mix of talent, but the strength of the team is in the front court. There is not a single back court player (well until Marshall undressed FSU’s defense) that really scares you into thinking they can take over a game. And college basketball is ruled by guard play, plain and simple.
  • “Greed… is Good” Ol Roy needs to bust out some Hoosier-style rules when the Heels are in the half court set and Tyler Zeller is in the game. “New Rule, no one shoots the ball until Zeller gets a touch from inside 10 feet. Period. End of story.” Good things happen when he has the ball inside. He has a great low post game and can turn and face effectively. He consistently makes good decisions when he has the ball - something that cannot be said for anyone else on the team except Marshall.
  • Henson = The Black Hole.  As valuable as Henson is as a rebounder and shot-blocker - on the offensive end I mostly want to shake the shit out of him and yell one of a couple of things: “SLOW DOWN”, “RELAX”, or “There are FOUR other guys on the floor!” Part of the issue is that a year and a half later he is still bean-pole thin and looks like he is all elbows and knees. So even when he is doing good things by using his nearly limitless athleticism, he looks kinda awkward doing it. But if I had a nickel for every time I have seen him pass the ball from inside 15 feet I wouldn’t be able to buy a piece of bubble gum. Now part of the problem is that the perimeter players don’t get he and Zeller the ball enough in the positions where they can score. And both guys are shooting over 50% from the floor so they should be getting more shots than they do. But to me, Henson is still a shadow of what he can be until he puts on 40 pounds and learns how to see the floor a bit better.
  • Some advice for Mr Barnes: Stop Listening to Everyone! Yes we can all agree how foolish it was for Harrison Barnes to have been voted pre-season All-American and heaped with so many expectations. Yes it seems like the spotlight was too bright and the analysts too critical. The game winner against Miami has certainly a confidence boost (though a bit of a lucky play as Marshall made a freshman mistake getting caught in the air with no where to go) that led to a two great scoring games. Against FSU it seemed to me that Barnes took a small step back by falling victim of reading too many raves about his hot play of late. He had 17 points but took 15 shots to do it. It looks to me like he is at his best when he is simply reacting on the court. He is not great off the bounce trying to create for himself - that is when he tends to take badly-forced shots. He is a relentless worker and clearly has good instincts. Now if he could just turn off his left brain a bit more I think he’d be alright.
  • (cue the chant) “We are… Mar-shall!”  Poor Larry Drew. The guy really got heaped on by the UNC semi-faithful over the years. He had some impossibly-big shoes to fill with the departure of Ty Lawson, and unfortunately for him he had some small feet. His progress was slow, going from a  turnover tornado as a freshman to semi-solid contributor. But as previously alluded in this article, college basketball is ruled by guards - and he was not ever likely to be a dominant player (and certainly not ever going to be beloved by Carolina fans). Luckily the baby blues seem to have found the ‘matter’ to Drew2’s ‘anit-matter’ in the form of Kendall Marshall. Marshall is incredibly composed and confident on the floor. He is not much of a finisher, but with the guys around him he doesn’t need to be. I am still not sure how he manages to get by people because he looks about as fast as Peter Jackson movie ending. But he does manage to slither past people and find teammates with vision that is bordering on Kyrie Irving level. Of course Marshall also has the benifit of taking over the geisha-sized shoes of LD2, so whatever lumps are yet to come for the freshman will be taken with glee.

We will have a more specific preview on Wednesday morning, but the match-up with Duke this week will be a better barometer of where UNC is really at and whether this team is dangerous enough to advance out of the opening weekend of the tournament. For the sake of the Tar Hole fans, and for the sake of the rivalry they are least showing enough signs of life that another 30 point clowning doesn’t seem in the cards.