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ACC Women's Preview #4 - North Carolina

by Rob Clough

2000 Roundup: 20-13, 8-8 ACC 

Head Coach: Sylvia Hatchell

Who's Leaving:
Teasley, Nikki/ G, 6-0 (14.6 ppg, 6.2 apg {led ACC}, 2.3 spg, 4.0 rpg)
Higgins, Jackie/ F-C, 6-0 (10.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
Huntington, Jasmine/ G, 5-9 (3.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 31.2% 3FG)
Goloboy, Maggie/ C, 6-1 (2.1 mpg)

Who's Coming Back:
*Brown, Juana/ G, Sr. (10.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg)
*Brown, Coretta/ G, So. (4.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.8 apg)
*Sharp, Leah/ G, 5-11, Sr. (5.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.9 apg)
*Barksdale, LaQuanda/ F, Sr. (17.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg {led ACC in both categories})
*Allen, Lashonda/ C, So. (2.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, led team with 9 blocks)
Thomas, Jennifer/ F, 6-1, So (6.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Lea, Cherie/ G, 5-9, So. (2.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
Myers, Jackie/ C, 6-4, Sr. (1.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
Chambers, Courtney/ G, 5-10, So. (4.5 mpg)

Who's New:
Baptist, Chrystal/ F, 6-2
Hairston, Joy/ G, 6-0
Sutton, Candace/ C, 6-6
Davis, Carrie/ F-C, 6-4

Quickness, athleticism, star talent

Inside play, defense, depth

Scouting Report: Well, things certainly don't get boring in Chapel Hill.
The ongoing Nikki Teasley soap opera took yet another strange turn when
she announced that she was taking the year off for stress-related reasons.
This comes after an unexplained absence in the middle of last season that
crippled the team, followed by her return and the resurrection of the team's
post-season. Though UNC made it to the Sweet Sixteen (aided by host UCSB's
first-round choke to Rice), their real highlight came in a game they lost:
the ACC Championship. Teasley nearly single-handedly beat a Duke team that
was executing out of their minds in the most compelling ACC final since
Maryland and Virginia staged a multi-overtime thriller in the early 90's.

The season started on an ominous note when several players failed a preseason
conditioning test and were held out of games, including Teasley. Teasley
left the team right as the ACC season began, and the Heels lost 7 out of 8
games without her, including a humiliating 101-58 loss to Duke and an
excruciating double-digit loss to league patsy Wake Forest. Upon Teasley's
return, the team promptly won their next game and finished 10-4 down the
stretch, including wins against Duke, Virginia (twice), and Clemson. Another
key figure in this run was Jackie Higgins, an undersized but burly post player
who was skilled at clearing out room down low and providing a very physical
presence. She decided to leave the team over the summer to pursue a pro
career in Europe, leaving UNC without their most crucial inside player.

Since UNC won the national title in 1994, they have had one crippling
weakness, year after year: a lack of effective post play. Since the
remarkable Sylvia Crawley graduated (and who has just rejoined the team
as an assistant), no UNC pivot has been able to measure up. And since
Hatchell rigorously opposes using zone defenses, this means that many teams
have been able to exploit the smaller Heels down low on a consistent basis.
Taking a quick look at some Tar Heel stats, one can see that their FG%
on defense was third worst in the league (43%). A further look shows that
opponents' percentages on threes wasn't that great (33%), pointing the finger
directly at post and fast-break defense. The Heels also ranked dead last
in shot blocking and third-to-last in scoring defense.

Well, the Heels have recruited to address these concerns, landing three players
6-2 or taller. Moreover, considering the lack of depth the Heels face
due to losing stars Teasley and Higgins, these young post players had best
be ready for all the minutes they can handle.

When speaking of the Tar Heel frontcourt, the conversation must begin with
the fabulous LaQuanda Barksdale, the returning league-leading scorer and
rebounder. Unlike some of her more, ahem, spirited teammates, Barksdale has
always let her play do her talking. Not a great shooter, she scores on
post-ups, penetrations and short jumpers, and was remarkably skilled at
getting to the line and converting (4th in the league at 78%). She did
struggle a bit in Teasley's absence, mostly because other teams were able
to successfully gang up on her defensively, and the rest of the Heels were
unable to step up. I would say that UNC's mediocre league record was the
only thing that prevented her from winning the ACC player of the year award,
as well as being overshadowed by Teasley. Once again, she will be the team's
primary scorer and leader, but she's already shown that she can't do it alone.

6-5 Allen returns as well, a player whose most notable statistic was her
large foul total. I suspect she may be bumped to the bench if the frosh
prove their worth quickly. The most promising returnee is Thomas, a heralded
recruit whose achievements were modest, but who showed a great deal of
potential. Her athleticism and quickness around the boards will be crucial
for a team that didn't rebound well, even with Higgins. Even though Barksdale
and Higgins were among the league's top three rebounders, UNC still finished
with a negative rebound margin as a team.

The best of the frosh lot may be Sutton, whose 6-6 frame will allow the
Heels to match up with just about anyone. Another top 100 recruit was
Baptist, who could provide some much-needed backup for Barksdale and may even
play some wing. While there's definite hope here for the Heels, there are
many more question marks; Barksdale is the only sure thing. But if she
doesn't get a lot of help, teams will attack the Heels inside all year. Even
though UNC wasn't a great rebounding team, they were able to get a lot
of offensive boards, which was especially useful since they weren't a great
shooting team, either. This advantage could be neutralized without another
big-time rebounder.

The backcourt's big question is: how do you replace Nikki Teasley? The
answer: you don't. But for all Teasley's mind-boggling talent (she may well
be the most talented player in league history), she brought a lot of
baggage to the game. Her defense was frequently indifferent, her ballhandling
careless (3 turnovers a game) and her shot selection extremely questionable.
When she wasn't taunting, she was frequently surly. Yet it's undeniable
that her mere presence on the court electrified a crowd and put the other
team on edge. Her ability to penetrate is unmatched, and no one could
stop her one-on-one. While UNC did collapse when she left last year, this
year's team will know going into practice that she won't be available, and
will be able to prepare for it properly. Moreover, young guards like Coretta
Brown and Cherie Lea now have a year under their belt.

C.Brown may be ready to explode as a sophomore, if UNC's summer tour of
Australia is any indication. The Heels played several top-notch Australian
teams, including one with future WNBA star Lauren Jackson. While they lost
most of these games, they played well in the majority, with C.Brown emerging
as a big-time scorer. I look for her to take on a much larger role for this
year's team. Another key player is the mercurial Juana Brown. No one loves
her game as much as she does, and she's happy to tell you about it. I've
rarely seen a player boast so much who accomplishes so little (well, other
than Makhtar Ndiaye), but she does possess amazing quickness and a blinding
first step. She has a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, which
led to a dismal 28% from three for the season. Brown possesses a lot of
talent, but must learn to become more disciplined on the court, especially
on defense. And as one of the team's few seniors, she will have to set an
example. Still, J.Brown could have a huge impact on UNC's fortunes, and may
even make some postseason All-ACC squads as a result.

Two quieter guards who still make an impact are Cherie Lea and Leah Sharp.
Sharp is a role player who can hit the three and hustles admirably. Lea is
a tough guard who steadily improved as the year went on and will see a lot
of time at point. But without Teasley around to make everything go, UNC
will struggle at times, because no one on the team can create like she does.
If UNC is to have a winning season, they will have to focus on execution
and discipline, perhaps becoming a bit more conservative than they'd like.

UNC will be the ACC's biggest X-factor. If Teasley and Higgins were both
in the lineup, I would have picked them for first place. Losing both
absolutely decimates their depth, meaning that their frosh will have to make
significant contributions. Their team defense must improve, and a competent
inside presence must emerge. They don't need a center averaging 20 ppg, but
they do need a defensive force who can hit an occasional jumper. If Sutton
and Baptist can shore up the frontcourt, and Coretta Brown emerges as a star,
than UNC will be a first-division team and perhaps challenge for the title.
But if the young players struggle, UNC might have problems finishing ahead
of hungry Maryland and Florida State. I'm going to split the difference,
and project them with an 8-8 record, tied for fifth. The key to their
postseason chances will lie with their record against the four top twenty
teams in their non-conference schedule. Picking up significant wins there,
along with a big win or two in the ACC, will land them in the tournament.

Schedule Analysis: UNC has put together a schedule that may be the toughest
in the league. It's highlighted by likely top 5 team Notre Dame on a neutral
court, but games against Auburn and Old Dominion will also be brutal affairs.
UNC's January matchup against likely top-20 Oklahoma will give the Heels
a taste of post-season play; this will be part of the four-team ACC-Big 12
Challenge. UNC will also play a mediocre Syracuse squad as well as warm-ups
like Buffalo, NC A&T, Winthrop and Elon. The last game of interest is
against a middling South Carolina squad on the road. Overall, this is a very
daring and challenging schedule, one that will quickly test UNC's young

Predicted finish:
5th (tied)