I spent my second full day back in Blue Heaven attending the UNC-Penn game, the final nonconference home game of the season. I came away with quite a few impressions:
- Ibrahim Jaaber is good. I mean, really good. The 6-2 senior Penn point guard (#2) played 35 minutes against a comparably fresh 1-2-3 punch of the speedy Ty Lawson, the now-healthy Bobby Frasor, and the enigmatic Quentin Thomas. Jaaber ended up playing better than our combined 3-headed hydra (whom we are very fortunate to have, by the way; having 3 good point guards on the same roster is almost unheard of at any level). He led all players with 21 points and 8 assists compared to 9 points and 8 assists for our three combined PGs, but what truly impressed me was the way he kept the Quakers in the game (for the first 25-30 min) by limiting the game to the halfcourt, not allowing the Heels to get comfortable on defense, and taking advantage of every opportunity. Even though Penn ran out of gas in the end through the first 30 minutes or so of the game Penn shot almost 59% from the field (it said so on the Jumbotron) compared to 46% for the Heels. The Quakers took advantage of every opportunity, and Jaaber was the catalyst of their offense. He played extremely well against the toughest opponent he’ll face this season. I feel sorry for the Ivy League; Jaaber is about to tear it apart. If Penn makes the Big Dance, take the time to watch this guy. Trust me, it’s worth it.
- The UNC defense still worries me. We had played good defense the last 3-4 games versus pasty opponents. On paper, it seems we played good defense again versus the Quakers, allowing 64 points and forcing 21 turnovers against 10 for the Heels. Don’t let the stats fool you, however; throughout the game we seemed to have trouble playing our assignments. In particular when we ran the half court press, the Heels collapsed on the ball but missed our assignments when Jaaber was able to make a pass, leaving guys wide open for shots. We are very lucky that this was an inferior opponent that ran out of gas at the end. Our defense cannot play this way if we expect to win in the ACC, consistently one of the toughest conferences in college basketball. Teams like Florida State, Virginia, Boston College and Duke will not be as forgiving.
- If you’re not into politics, skip this paragraph. Last night at halftime, Presidential Candidate John Edwards came into the students section and started giving handshakes to students in the riser seats. As much as I bleed Tar Heel Blue, I will have a hard time bringing myself to vote for this guy after what he said. I can’t find the video for it, but I can guarantee you that this happened. When interviewed on CNN on 12/29, Edwards was asked something along the lines of “Are you suggesting that we give up on Iraq?” and he resoundingly said “yes.” I strongly disagree with this; I believe that the US presence is what’s preventing complete anarchy. However, I have to give credit where credit is due; it takes either big cajones or a brain lapse to give such an unequivocal answer to such a touchy subject on National TV. May John Edwards’ political career rest in peace; I don’t think that the political blogs will let him hear the end of this. (Politics end here.)
- Tyler Hansbrough has finally learned to kick the ball out when double teamed. You have no idea how big a step this is for UNC’s title prospects. Psycho T is an unbelievable player, but for his entire freshman year he would always try to get a shot even when he was triple teamed. He managed to do well most of the time, but opponents quickly realized that if a team stopped Tyler, the entire offense would be disrupted. This is exactly what Boston College did when the Eagles beat us twice last season, and Gonzaga focused on Tyler in our only loss this season. Against Penn I saw him pass the ball back outside to Ty Lawson, Rayshawn Terry, Brendan Wright and Wayne Ellington (Wayne’s World! Wayne’s World! Party Time! Excellent! WHOOOOO!!! [guitar riff]). Easy shots followed. Opponents must now respect the perimeter at all times, which in turn opens things up for T in the paint. If he continues to do this against the ACC, there’s no limit to how far UNC can go.
- We got biscuits! A short primer: Local Bojangles restaurants give a deal of two sausage biscuits for $1 the morning after the Tar Heels score 100 points at home. When the score was 96-60, the entire Dean Dome began shouting “WE WANT BIS-CUITS! (clap-clap-clapclapclap) WE WANT BISCUITS! (clap-clap-clapclapclap)“. At a time when we Tar Heel fans wanted to clog our arteries, benchwarmer Dewey Burke delivered. He hit two threes in the final minute to put the Heels over the top with 8 seconds to go. When he hit the second three, the crowd cheered as though he had just hit the game winner against Duke. It’s those kinds of moments that make it awesome to be a Tar Heel Maniac.
- Suddenly I’m obsessed about Ibrahim Jaaber. Seriously, the 76ers need to scout this guy. They can dump Andre Miller’s $9 million per year contract and use their second round pick on Jaaber. I would not be surprised of he became a very good point guard in the NBA and maybe the cornerstone of Philly’s post-AI rebuilding project; he was that good last night. He’s proven himself at high levels; he was one of New Jersey’s greatest prep players, and he has played well this year against some of the NCAA’s best teams (UNC, Villanova, Syracuse). He’s very intelligent, both on and off the court (at Ivies like Penn, there are no athletic scholarships, only academic scholarships). I don’t see how the Sixers could lose with using a second round pick on excellent homegrown talent like Jaaber. I’m dead serious about this. At some point I am going to write a big article about this guy.
Overall, I think that the Heels played well against the Quakers, but here is till a lot of room for improvement. I can’t wait for the ACC schedule to begin. This sunday the game against Florida State will mark the beginning of the real basketball season. Stay tuned for a more in-depth article about Ibrahim Jaaber…seriously.