Tonight UNC faces Louisville in the East Regional Final (9:05 pm, CBS). Both of these teams like to run, so this game should be fun.
Louisville’s strengths: Louisville distributes the ball very well. Four players average double digit points, and eight average more than six points per game. UNC has depth, but Louisville is more than able to match it. In particular, Teraance Williams, a big yet speedy player, could be a nightmare of a matchup against UNC’s defense. On defense, Louisville has been able to contain the best scorers of each they’ve faced in the tournament so far.
Louisville’s weaknesses: They’re the only team left in this tournament without a true point guard. Jerry Smith fits the height profile, but he’s kind of awkward at the point. If Ty Lawson can take advantage of this matchup, it could be a long day for the Cardinals. The guards are also susceptible to foul trouble.
What UNC needs to do to win the game: Like in the Washington State game, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green need to get incorporated into the offense early, and the Heels need to play solid defense and outrun their opponent. Unlike the Washington State game, Hansbrough cannot be outplayed by David Padgett for the first 25 minutes.
Prediction: UNC will almost surely get their first close game of the tournament. These obliterations, as much as we would like them, cannot be expected to continue. However, I expect the Heels to get a close win in this game.
Tonight the Tar Heels play their first tournament opponent who legitimately scares me, the Washington State Cougars. It will be a treat to watch the two most contrasting styles of the tournament, UNC’s breakneck offensive pace versus Wazzu’s stifling defense.
I’ll be at Storming The Floor to live-blog this game, as well as all of tonight’s action. So join us, won’t you?
As the Tar Heels head into their Sweet 16 game against Washington State, the minds of the Tar Heel faithful have been eased thanks to two blowout victories, including a game against the talented Arkansas Razorbacks that was over by halftime. While the Heels were 32-2 entering this tournament, the majority of those victories have been closer, uglier conference games, and these convincing wins were welcome respites from results in conference play.
There are several plausible phenomena that could explain this. First and foremost is the return of a healthy Ty Lawson. Another possibility is that, despite a weak year and receiving only 4 tournament bids, the ACC prepared North Carolina well for tournament play. But perhaps both the most important and most surprising key to UNC’s dominance in the first two rounds has been the play of the frontcourt players not named Tyler.
The offensive efficiency of Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson has been simply unreal. Thompson has scored 31 points on 14-16 shooting from the field playing for only 40 total minutes in two games, and Stepheson has scored 22 points on 10-11 shooting. This is in stark contrast to most of their performances this season.
Whether UNC’s other frontcourt players can continue anything close to this level of success for the rest of the NCAA Tournament. However, there does seem to be a direct connection between Deon Thompson playing well and either Tar Heel success or inferior opponents. The Tar Heels are 7-0 this season and win by an average margin of 29 points when Deon Thompson makes at least six field goals. But those seven teams are combined 116-111. Carolina is also 7-0 when Alex Stepheson makes at least four field goals, but the quality of the teams is similar
So, does UNC win big because Thompson and Stepheson play well, or do they only play well when the Heels would have won by 30 points anyway? Whatever the case may be, these two players will likely need to deliver more good performances in order to win the national championship.
On Sunday the Tar Heels play their fist tough game of the tournament, a second round matchup against the talented Arkansas Razorbacks.
Keys to the Game:
Hog Wild Backcourt. Patrick Beverly, Gary Ervin, and Stefan Welsh combine for 27 points and 8 assists per game. Add Sonny Weems as a swingman (who lit up Indiana in the first round) and Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Quentin Thomas will have their hands full.
Battle of Awkward Whiteness. At least three players may be given the task of defending Tyler Hansbrough. One of those players is Stephen Hill, who may have the worst hair of this tournament.
How Arkansas’ frontcourt defends Hansbrough and Thompson could determine their fate.
Experience: Arkansas has six seniors on their roster. They will not be mentally fazed by the Tar Heels’ talent.
Biggest Weakness: Consistency. Many of their losses are puzzling: Providence, Appalachian State, South Carolina and Georgia, to name a few. The Razorbacks need consistency to keep up with UNC.
Enjoy the game. I’ll be live blogging this game, among others, at Storming the Floor.
Merry Basketball Christmas to all this Good Friday. I would be in a much more celebratory mood today had Belmont performed the upset of upsets over Duke. Give credit to Gerald Henderson, he wouldn’t let the Blue Devils lose that game. But I digress.
Last year’s North Carolina team was a testament to the importance of experience. The Heels of 2006-2007 was perhaps the deepest, most talented squad ever to grace Chapel Hill with its presence. Just look at this lineup:
F-Tyler Hansbrough, Sophomore
F-Brandan Wright, Freshman
F-Deon Thompson, Freshman
F-Alex Stepheson, Freshman
F-Rayshawn Terry, Senior
G/F-Danny Green, Sophomore
G/F-Marcus Ginyard, Sophomore
G-Wayne Ellington, Freshman
G-Wes Miller, Senior
G-Ty Lawson, Freshman
G-Bobby Frasor, Sophomore
G-Quentin Thomas, Junior
And that’s just the regular rotation. Nobody played more than 30 minutes a game, everyone had fresh legs, and when their heads were in the game they could run just about any college team in America into the ground and out of the building. Every one of these twelve players would be either starters or important bench players at most other schools. In Chapel Hill, they were some kind of Baby Blue Voltron.
Alas, therein lay their weakness. Nine of the 12 players in the regular rotation were underclassmen, Q might as well have been an underclassmen, and only Miller and Terry had any kind of starting experience, and they were 5th and 8th options in our offense, respectively. This inexperience led them to lose quite a few games they had no business losing, and they squandered a few close leads. The most glaring example was the Georgetown game, where they went the final seven or eight minutes without scoring a field goal. On defense, they allowed the Hoyas to shoot over 70% from the field in that same span. Georgetown went on to lose in overtime, and I may have overreacted a bit. I’m pretty sure I scared my non-fan neighbors by screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” to the television at the top of my lungs (I had made the mistake of leaving my windows open that day; it was 68 degrees, get off my case).
I’m sorry, where was I? Oh yes, this year’s tournament. So how do we avoid…that?
Win close games. This characteristic of a team tends to come with experience. Carolina is a much more experienced and focused team this year, if a bit more shorthanded. With graduation (Terry and Miller), NBA eligibility (Wright), injury (Frasor) and in lieu of incoming freshmen, our rotation is now 8-deep (with a bit of Will Graves and Mike Copeland peppered in). The backcourt is much more mature, and it shows. The close losses of last year have turned into close victories, as UNC’s players kept focus and clamped down on their opponent when they absolutely needed. Don’t expect a Georgetown-like late collapse this year. If anything, expect the implosion to happen early. Which reminds me…
Have your head in the game for all 40 minutes. If the Heels ever let a game mentally get away from them, it’s usually in the early going. Maryland jumped out to a double-digit first half lead, and the Heels never quite got into their rhythm, leading to their only loss of the season with Lawson in the lineup. Against Clemson (twice) and Georgia Tech the Heels let their opponents get ahead with poor execution before taking the game in the final seconds. And I don’t need to tell you what happened in Chestnut Hill. The Heels will keep it close no matter who they’re playing; if they stay focused for 40 minutes, they should be able to win all of their games.
Tyler Hansbrough must get to the line. That may sound like an easy concept, as he already holds the UNC and ACC career records for free throw attempts, and free throw shhoting usually accounts for about a third of his offense. Against Duke on March 8th, however, Duke managed to go the entire game wothout putting Hansbrough on the line once. You can bet that every prospective Carolina opponent will be poring over that game to try to reduce his trips to the stripes, and take 6-8 points out of UNC’s offensive production.
The perimeter shooting cannot go cold. In Carolina’s loss to Duke, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington were a combined 4-24 shooting, including 1-11 from three. In big games down the stretch, Roy needs to be able to count on them for about 20-25 points.
Point guard play. We’re still not 100% sure that Ty Lawson’s ankle is completely healed. Q has really stepped up for the Heels both in Lawson’s absence and coming off the bench when he came back. Q will need to continue that into the tournament.
Congratulations to the Tar Heels for their great season so far, and best of luck to them staring tonight against Mount St. Mary’s. Billy Packer following our every move aside, it’s going to be a fun ride.
(apologies for the layoff. Life got in the way during the ACC Tournament, but THM back just in time.)