Monday, November 29, 2010

Defense still lacking with this UNC basketball team

North Carolina’s basketball team will go as far as its defense takes it, and this season, that may not be far. The Tar Heels are sorely missing some players they had last year – Ed Davis, the Wear twins, Will Graves – and what is left does not look like an upper-tier ACC team.

Fans know this, too. You can’t fool ACC basketball fans, and the light crowds in the Smith Center the last two games knew they weren’t watching one of Carolina’s best teams.

Harrison Barnes is very good, and may someday be great, but the preseason prediction of him making first-team All-America was a stretch. He may not make first-team All-ACC – you can expect Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Malcolm Delaney to take three spots, and the next two are likely Jordan Williams of Maryland and Chris Singleton of Florida State.

Many thought the arrival of Barnes and the other freshmen would overcome the problems that led to last year’s disappointing effort. It was easy to point to Carolina’s problems last year. You could just name any facet of the game, point to that as an issue, and you were probably right. It was a strange year and one coach Roy Williams surely figured he would not repeat.

This team is not that team, but some issues are continuing. The obvious ones are shooting and ball-handling, but perhaps what is more surprising is there seems to be a recurring lack of desire on defense. You could see that against UNC-Asheville Tuesday night and you could see it again Sunday. The fact that UNC slowed College of Charleston scorer Andrew Goudelock in the second half garnered headlines, but the way Carolina played without intensity on defense in the first half – and much of the second - was jarring. It wasn’t until the Heels buckled down on defense with around seven minutes to go that the game changed.

Two factors may be at play here. One is Carolina lacks lock-down defenders. Against UNC-Asheville, the player who hustled the most on defense was Justin Watts, the junior from Durham Jordan. Of course, Carolina does have two shot-blockers in Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but there is no heir to the Marcus Ginyard-Jackie Manuel role. Reggie Bullock might have the talent and strength to do it, but injuries have slowed him down.

The other is more collective. Carolina doesn’t seem to have the tenacity of a great defensive team. Reaching any real conclusions is unfair – it’s a young team, and a young season. But right now, we do know this – Carolina is good, but not great. The Heels lack overwhelming offense, and the key to this season will be how well this team comes together on the defensive end.

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