Yea, college football is cool. But now that our veggies are out of the way, let’s enjoy the crème brûlée of the college basketball season. This is North Carolina, where we get to over-analyze basketball (especially early in the year). With that said, let’s turn our attention to the big college basketball programs in the state (sorry Wake Forest).
|This loaded team full of future pros has been replaced by a younger, less talented one|
I’m a Tar Heel fan. Despite the professional basketball being my favorite sport, the Tar Heels are my favorite team. In fact, I would make an argument that it is, historically, the best program in the country. With that said, we aren’t very good this year…at least, not yet.
UNC lost four first-round draft picks to the NBA last year. Kendall Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and Harrison Barnes are all contributing on the next level. In their place, the program has been taken over by a litany of talented but young players. As a UNC fan, I can speak with some authority on the fact that when we get freshmen, they LOOK like freshmen. Sure, UK Freshmen are TECHNICALLY the same age; but their demeanors, bodies, and games are aged. UNC’s freshmen are the top in the class that still need college. You could see it when they had trouble defending the pick and roll while playing Butler, and when they got hammered in number 1 Indiana (at least in the Butler game they showed a will to fight back, clawing from 30 down to single digits in the final minute).
Coach Roy Williams has done a magnificent job of recruiting players; Brice Johnson and Paige Marcus have both showed flashes of their promise. Still, Williams is getting to know what this team is capable of doing along with the rest of us. He has tinkered with the lineup and will continue to do so until he finds what works (all UNC fans remember how notoriously slow he was to make the switch from Larry Drew III to Kendall Marshall). Moreover, this team will go as far as the wing position carries it. I can’t recall a Tar Heel team that was constructed in such a manner. PJ Hairston (whose absence from the Indiana game was palpable), Leslie McDonald (a tough, sharp shooting 6-8 forward recently recovered from last year’s ACL tear), and Keith Bullock (the team’s best perimeter defender) are the heart of the team’s defensive and offensive presence.
James McAdoo is, by far, the most highly regarded pro prospect out of the crew. His athleticism is on display every time he touches the ball. In fact, although he was a 6th man last year, there were rumors he was seriously considering jumping to the pros with the rest of his teammates at the end of last year. He has come back, and his jumper has looked improved (although his footwork and hands are still wildly inconsistent). In order for UNC to compete with the country’s elite, he will have to establish a more efficient post game and not allow large stretches of the contest to pass without affecting it. He is no longer a luxury player on a stacked team as he was last year, now he is the guy that will have to lead a young and inexperienced team.
|Seth Curry (Left) and Mason Plumlee were instrumental in defeating Kentucky|
Ok, so maybe I put off writing this post until after they played Indiana hoping that they would have recently lost. In fact, the opposite happened, as they made their best case to date for being the number 1 team in the country and increased their non-conference win streak to 97 wins. UK, Louisville, and OSU (all top 5 teams) all lie in the graveyard of teams that Duke has carried out in a body bag. Mason Plumlee, in addition to breaking the all-time dunk record at Duke (seriously, he has), has lived up to all of the preseason hype surrounding him. He’s averaging a monster double-double (19.9 points per game and 11 Rebounds per game) and has anchored a team filled with the annual gluttony of Duke Shooters. What may be different from recent years is that Duke guards really well on the perimeter, and has a litany of finishers on the team. It will be interesting to watch them play on the road vs. a quality opponent (Louisville and UK were both neutral-site encounters, and they trailed OSU most of the game in Cameron Indoor Stadium).
Additionally, Seth Curry has added a dimension to his game. Previously, while he was a dead-eye shooter, he was largely as valuable as a statue once he got near the paint. Now, he feels comfortable taking the ball off the dribble and finishing at the cup. Against UK, it was he (not Plumlee) who took the game over late and closed the show for the ball club. With the veteran leadership and talent of an inside/outside duo of Curry and Plumlee, this Duke team will be the favorite to win both the regular season and conference post-season titles.
|Mark Gottfried has done a magnificent job of recruiting talent, now he just needs to mold them into a winning team|
They’ve pretty much been the red-headed stepchild of NC basketball. The runt of a state boasting with college basketball behemoths finally got picked first this year, as they were selected to win the ACC this season by the Conference’s coaches. That’s a lot of pressure for a team that has only made the NCAA tournament a handful of times in the past 20 years, and hasn’t won a title since 1983 (years before anyone on their current roster was even being thought about).
So far, the (5-2) Wolfpack are winless against top 25 teams (Oklahoma State and Michigan) and haven’t looked capable of living up to the talent that they have on their roster. They have looked undisciplined (star player CJ Leslie got a Technical foul that earned him a DQ for reaching the 5 foul limit) and overrated (Raleigh product and number 1 ranked HS player Rodney Purvis has struggled mightily at times figuring out how best to fit in to Coach Mark Gottfried’s system).
The team looks and feels inexperienced. I think we will know everything we will need to know about this team by midway through their ACC schedule. The talent is there (Leslie and Lorenzo brown were both selected preseason All-ACC) and Gottfried’s track record shows he can turn around programs that have struggled (3 years ago NC State’s recruiting class wasn’t ranked, then it was 10th, and last year 9th in the country). But if they don’t get any winning experience soon, he may lose the team and that talent would’ve been wasted in Raleigh.