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UNC and the 2011 ACC Tournament: Plenty of Upside Left After Some Ugly Performances

[Editor’s Note: This entry comes from our new regular contributor Rob Weldon, who will be giving us UNC news from the sunny confines of California. Take a quick gander at Rob’s bio here, then read some his thoughts on the ACC tourney below.]

What did we learn from watching the Tar Heels play three games in three days?  A few things – some good signs for the team and some pretty disturbing trends.  Two comebacks, two days.  Then a failed comeback against… Duke.  Such is this season with the UNC Tar Heels.  Even with a fantastic ACC season, the Heels have not brought their best to every half they’ve played in.

Of the first two games, Miami and Clemson whipped up Carolina for nearly ¾ of each game.  The indications were there in inbalanced scoring, getting outhustled and a number of turnovers.  All these indications leads one to start worrying about that vague, yet important, descriptor of championship-calibur teams: intensity.

All the other media outlets were touting Marshall and Zeller as being the catalysts for the comebacks and I agree they deserve a good amount of credit for their late game clutch plays.  That said, Harrison Barnes showed great desire and poise when UNC needed it most:  throughout the games!  He very obviously demanded the ball and seemed like the only Heel actively seeking a way to turn it around.  There was one moment in the Miami game when ESPN really slowed it down so every could see just how much he wanted the ball.  To this lip-reading viewer, he appeared to have a few choice words in describing his desire.

40 points in the overtime win against Clemson.  Big, huge, massive, gi-normous numbers for a freshman in the ACC tournament.  The bandwagon’s back, people!  Interestingly, when Harrison Barnes received the most criticism it was because either he was forcing shots or just not asserting himself enough. Then there were the commentators who praised him for “allowing the game to come to him.”  All of those thoughts seemed to not quite jive together.  Now he’s forcing his game, demanding the ball, shooting those oh-god-he-didn’t-oh-yes-he-did-thank-god shots, but also because he appears to be doing in the framework of the team.  In other words, he’s doing the same things he’s been doing all along.  Now the ball’s just going in more often.  His game against Duke was less stellar, but, in the context of that competition and the showing of his guards, it is less worrisome than his great performances were promising.

Basically, Harrison Barnes was never terrible and now that he’s scoring more he’s not the team’s savior.  Yet.  Scoring 40 points against Clemson is great, but do it against Duke and we’ll start talking Jesus/Neo/KungFu Panda allusions.

With all this hoopla about the current Heels’ run of winning basketball, we’re not realizing that they are still very young.  Their intensity comes in waves and the players struggle to beat just about everyone we play, except the home game against Duke (let’s all agree to not quit excessively harping on that performance).  The kids have read the things written about them:  potential number one seed, top ten, capable of making a real Final Four run, etc.  They looked like they’d been reading too much of that stuff for most of the games in Greensboro.  I almost (although I’d like to stress that “almost” is a very important qualifier here) wanted them to lose that Miami game and come back to Earth ready for a REAL thirsty run in a week.  Maybe a 17-point Duke shellacking will help reduce their self-congratulatory nature that’s characterized the past few weeks. Maybe Harrison Barnes will show them what it takes to compete this week.  I’m worried about the Tar Heels’ chances in large part due to their lack of intensity and fight from start to finish. Everyone loves a good game, but these Heels just love those games too much.