UNC vs. Louisville: Elite 8 Preview

 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.

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What The UNC Men’s Team Must Do to Win the 2008 NCAA Tournament

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.) 

Of All The Scheyerfaces In the World

I like this one the most.

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Carolina…outright ACC champs.

Photo: Gary Broome/AP (if the huge AP logo in the middle hadn’t already tipped you off)

An (Ir)rational Assessment of That UNC-Duke Loss

Perhaps I can be rational about the result of this game at some point. But not yet.

First things first, let’s get this out of the way: Quentin Thomas did not lose this game. It may have been a completely different offense without Lawson on the floor, there were several stretches in which he struggled. However, there were many other points of failure points in that game, any of which could have won the game had they been corrected.

For example: Wayne Ellington and Danny Green combined to shoot 2 for 153. The statisticians began to feel sorry for them and stopped tracking their misses, only writing down “2-24”. True story. Below, a visual representation of Wayne and Danny’s shooting nights, respectively.

 

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It was expected that without Lawson on the floor, Carolina could not play their transition game. When forced into a halfcourt team against a halfcourt press, running effective screens becomes crucial. I did not see the Heels run effective screens against Duke, which I think led to a lot of turnovers and low-percentage shots.

Deon Thompson played like a beast for the first five minutes of the game. Then he seemed to become unfocused and devolved into the human fouling machine, fouling out after just 18 minutes. For lack of a better expression, he was the black Shavlik Randolph.

Duke is very effective in playing with the human psyche. When you see a Duke player driving he lane. a defender’s first instinct is always to help out. This plays right into their game, as this leaves plenty of Blue Devils open for threes. Coach K has been using this strategy for years, yet few teams are ever disciplined enough to override their instincts and and defend the perimeter no matter what happens inside. Carolina was no exception on Wednesday night. Credit is due to Duke for running a system so well, but Carolina needs to get better on defense.

This bears repeating: when Marcus Ginyard and Quentin Thomas account for 1/3rd of your offense, you’re in trouble.

There is absolutely no need to panic about the result of this game. Remember this: Duke played perhaps their best game all year, and Carolina obviously played a bad game, severely shorthanded at basketball most crucial position…and yet it was a two possession game after 39 minutes and 5 seconds. I don’t know what that says about Duke, but it shows that, with Lawson in the lineup, this team is still a national championship contender. Unless, of course, we lose to Clemson on Sunday. I would hate for this to be the team that ended the streak.

And finally: I don’t care what you think, this is funny.

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The #1 Team in the Nation is Playing the Only Sub-.500 Team in the ACC. I’m Not Going to Pay Much Attention to This GamHOOOOOO LEEEEEEEE CRAAAAAAAAAAP

That may have been the same attitude that Carolina had for the first 20 minutes of the game. No one expected the 7-8 Yellow Jackets to play as well as they did last night. A few notes:

  • Georgia Tech is definitely not the worst team in the ACC. They have good athletes, especially in the paint, who can keep the team in most games if no one gets into foul trouble. They have the ability to make crisp passes and create wide open shots possession after possession. Their post players, for most of this game, outhustled the Tar Heels to the ball consistently. It is possible, even probable, that Georgia Tech has been underachieving up to this point, and it has taken the ACC season to give them the impetus to put it all together.
  • This game has one main theme in common with Carolina’s other near-loss at Clemson. Both the Yellow Jackets and the Tigers chose to run a fast paced game alongside us, and managed to keep up for the entire game. This could be a big problem looming for the Tar Heels in the tournament. Carolina would almost certainly have to play a very good fast-paced team to get to the championship and as great a coach as Roy Williams is, one of his weaknesses is making mid-game adjustments.
  • When all else was equal for the first 39 and a half minutes of the game, Danny Green almost single-handedly won the final 30 seconds. First, after Carolina played some good defense, Green grabbed the rebound of a Georgia Tech shot and drew a foul with 22 seconds left. Then, after making one of two free throws, Georgia Tech had the ball with a chance to win. They had a shot from 6 feet to win, but Green and Hansbrough were there to make the block. After the Jackets throw up another shot, who’s there to make the final rebound? Danny Green. A Yellow Jackets swats the ball out of bounds, Carolina has the ball with 0.5 second left, and Carolina survives.
  • Like in the Clemson game, Hansbrough was turned into a non-factor for most of the second half outside of the free throw line. Unlike the Clemson game, so was Wayne Ellington (7 points for the game).
  • Ty Lawson: 5 assists and 4 turnovers in 33 minutes. Quentin Thomas: 2 assists and 0 turnovers in 7 minutes. Just sayin’.

The most important lesson in this game, as always: no one can take the result of an ACC game for granted. Not that I’m overly concerned about Saturday’s game against Maryland.

UNC vs. Ohio St. Live Blog: Big Ten-ACC Challenge

Tonight, the Tar Heels play the first of two true road tests this week, as they face the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus tonight as part of the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Obviously, this isn’t the same Buckeyes team who played in the Final Four last year (most notably without Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jr., Daequan Cook, and Ron Lewis), and whom UNC beat 98-89 last year in Chapel Hill; however, they bring some star freshmen players such as center Kosta Koufos, and bring back talented upperclassmen like point guard Jamar Butler and forward Othello Hunter. Against a inconsistent Tar Heels squad, Carolina needs to be on upset alert tonight.

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9:34 pm: 13-13. Sorry…some tchnical difficulties at the worst possible time. But we’re up and running.

Ellington is left open for a three to give UNC a 16-13 lead.

9:36 pm: 18-13, UNC. Deon Thompson gets an easy shot inside, forcing Ohio State to take a timeout. After UNC started slow, they have outscored the Buckeyes 12-4.

9:38 pm: Michigan State clobbered NC State tonight. Either the Spartans are scary good this year, or NC State was a bit overhyped this year. I think this may be an aberration, but it certainly looks like the Wolfpack aren’t as effective a team without Engin Atsur.

9:41 pm: Hansbrough is struggling on offense to start the game. The Buckeyes have done a good job of keeping him in check.

9:42 pm: 18-15, UNC. After a Butler layup, Koufos get two straight blocks on UNC shots, the second one on Hansbrough.

9:43 pm: 18-17, UNC. How is Othello Hunter left that open inside?

9:44 pm: 21-20, UNC. Ellington hits the three, but the Buckeyes respond immediately.

9:45 pm: 23-21, OSU. Diebler hits a three from what looked like 27 feet out. A huge momentum swing, as the Buckeyes take back the lead.

9:51 pm: 27-23, UNC. Koufos spent time on the bench, and the Heels took advantage. Ellington hits a floater in the lane to take the lead, and then Hansbrough dunks over Hunter to give UNC a four point lead.

9:53 pm: 27-26, UNC. Diebler hits another open three. He’s caught fire tonight.

9:54 pm: Butler blows by Ellington, and he gets the layup and the foul. 29-27, OSU.

9:55 pm: A great pass to hansbrough, who finishes with authority. 29-29.

9:56 pm: Insane. Diebler starts 2-24 from 3 to start the season, and he decides to end his slump against us. his buzzer-beater off the glass gives Ohio State a 32-29 lead at halftime. UNC has not been running at their normally fast pace, and they’ve een taking bad shots. No Ty Lawson at point guard always hurts, but no one outside of Hansbrough and Ellington is getting much of anything done on offense. To win in the second half, Someone else needs to come up big on offense, the Heels need to improve their rebounding, and someone has to guard Diebler at all times.

10:13 pm: The second half starts, as Ohio State’s defense continues to confuse the Tar Heels.

10:14 pm: Ginyard hits a floater in the paint, but Jamar Butler hits a three on the other end.

10:15 pm: Where is Quentin Thomas? In the absence of Lawson, He’s much better at running the transition than Frasor.

10:16 pm: Ellington falls hard on the floor, and he’s shaken up.

The good about the Ohio State Student section: their unique way of distracting the free throw shooter.

The bad about the Ohio State student section: their chants. “YOU-CAN’T DO-THAT!” clap-clap-clapclapclap…

10:19 pm: Hansbrough ties the game at 35 with a three point play.

10:19 pm: Koufos hits his first shot of the game to take a 39-37 lead, but Ginyard ties the game 10 seconds later.

The Buckeyes still aren’t allowing the Tar heels to play their transition game.

10:23 pm: What a steal by Ellington, who gets it to Q, who finds Ginyard for the layup and the foul. See? Quentin Thomas enters the game, and the pace picks up immediately.

10:24 pm: Othello Hunter with a big block on Danny Green. 42-39, UNC.

10:26 pm: What was Green thinking throwing that pass?

Carolina has some serious issues on the defensive boards. They just gave Ohio State four different opportunities in the paint, and now Hunter is at the line.

10:28 pm: Deon Thompson gets a huge dunk on the offensive rebound. Where has he been all game?

Ellington hits a three pointer off the gall on the next possession to make it 47-40, UNC.

10:31 pm: Thompson gets another offensive rebound, and he gets a shot off of the glass. UNC now has a 49-40 lead, the biggest margin of the game.

10:35 pm: Thompson hits another one, this time a mid-range jumper. He’s finally come into his own tonight.

10:36 pm: Deon gets another defensive rebound, and then he hits a hook jumper to give UNC a double digit lead. Thompson now has 12 points and 5 rebounds, as the Tar Heels may have figured out this zone.

10;38 pm: Now it’s the Tar heels defense that’ seems to be giving the Buckeyes fits, but it looks like no one on the court outside of Thompson can hit their shots right now.

10:40 pm: Or, maybe not. Deon’s free throws were ugg-lee, and we’re still at 53-42 with less than 8 minutes left.

10:44 pm: Why wasn’t there anyone behind Hansbrough for him to dump the ball and restart the offense.

10:45 pm: Ellington hits a nice jumper on the right side. 55-43, UNC, as absolutely no shots are falling for Ohio State.

10:43 pm: Hansbrough with the tough shot in the middle. He has 13 points and 10 rebounds, and the Heels have a 14 point lead with less than 6 minutes left.

10:47 pm: Ohio State’s drought is broken by–guess who?–Jon Diebler. 57-46, UNC.

10:48 pm: Lighty hits a three, Diebler gets a dunk, and suddenly the Buckeyes are within 6, getting 8 points in 54 seconds, but who cares? I just found out that Roy Williams is a Yankees fan! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

10:49 pm: Thompson stops the bleeding, but Othello Hunter scores on a putback. 59-53, UNC, with 3:52 left. How did the Heels let Ohio State back into this game so quickly.

10:53 pm: The Heels do nothing for 30 seconds, and then Ellington simply drains the three with a guy in his face. 62-53, UNC.

10:54 pm: Uh-oh. Hansbrough missed his last three free throws. Is he out of gas?

10:56 pm: Diebler with the tough dunk, but he lands awkwardly on his elbow. UNC takes advantage on the other end with an easy shot. 64-55, UNC.

10:57 pm: Inside the paint, UNC and OSU have been playing the last few minutes like a football game rather than a basketball game.

10:59 pm: 64-55, UNC, 35 seconds left. After Diebler misses a three, Ellington gets a rebound, and that should about seal this game.

11:01 pm: The game is over, and UNC wins, 66-55. Aside from the quick 10-2 run with about 5-6 minutes left, Ohio State could not get anything done on offense in the second half. The Tar heels dominated the end of the game, outscoring them 28-11 until the Buckeyes run. Ellington and Thompson really stepped up, which they will need to do throughout the season for Carolina to live up to expectations. Overall, this was an important road win for the Tar Heels as they develop throughout the season.

Video: Roy Williams Dancing

Every time I’m starting to feel bad about our collapse against Georgetown, I think about this and I cheer up. Seeing UNC’s coaches (and for that matter, their players) try to dance is just hilarious.