clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

ACC Women's Preview #8 - North Carolina

Scouting Report: In the last few years, the Heels have been a team that
always seemed to be on the verge of greatness. Each year, they wound up
missing one vital part that prevented them from reaching their goals.
In the late 90's, their lack of a dominant post presence prevented them
from making much noise in the NCAA tournament even as Tracy Reid led them
to ACC Tournament titles in '97 and '98. In the past four seasons, their
biggest x-factor has been the presence (or lack thereof) of Nikki Teasley.
When she was around and mentally prepared in 2000, the Heels were very
tough to beat, but this is when her now-publicized depression started
to set in. In 2001, the Heels finally had the center they had long
needed with Candace Sutton, but without Teasley's scoring and playmaking,
they missed the tournament altogether. That was a great .500 club,
one that was often just a few points away from victory. 2002 returned
Teasley but the team lost the talents of LaQuanda Barksdale and Juana
Brown, and their young players struggled to step up. They still finished
high in the ACC standings and went to the Sweet Sixteen, but lost the
ACC Championship and finished out of first place for the fifth consecutive
year. In fact, that's been true for 7 out of the last 8 years, despite
regularly bringing in superior talent.

2002 Roundup: 26-9, 11-5 ACC (NCAA Sweet Sixteen)

Head Coach: Sylvia Hatchell

Who's Leaving:

  • *Teasley, Nikki/ G, 6-0 (15.2 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.1 spg, 4.4 rpg, 37% 3FG,
    1st Team All-ACC)

Who's Coming Back:

  • *Brown, Coretta/ G, 5-8, Sr. (17.1 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 39% 3FG,
    1st team All-ACC)
  • Thomas, Jennifer/ F, 6-1, Sr. (5.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 58% FG)
  • Coughran, Elizabeth/ F, 6-0, Sr. (3 mpg)
  • Chambers, Courtney/ G, 5-10, Jr. (1.9 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
  • *Baptist, Chrystal/ F, 6-2, Jr. (7.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1 spg)
  • *Sutton, Candace/ C, 6-6, Jr. (12 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2 bpg, HM All-ACC)
  • Davis, Carrie/ F-C, 6-4 , Jr. (4 mpg)
  • Bell, Nikita/ G-F, 6-0, So. (5.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.7 spg)
  • McBee, Kenya/ F, 6-2, So. (5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
  • *Metcalf, Leah/ G, 5-7, So. (8.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.9 spg, HM All-ACC,
    All-ACC Frosh)
  • Tucker, Tiffany/ C, 6-5, So. (1.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
  • Laaksonen, Jenni/ F, 6-3, So. (1.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg)

Who's New:

  • *Atkinson, LaTangela/ G-F, 6-1
  • Sell, Jessica/ G, 5-11

  • Strengths: Quickness, shooting, shotblocking, offensive rebounding
  • Concerns: Transition defense, uncertainty at point, blocking out, consistency,
    leadership

The problem at UNC has been that a lot of their talented players haven't
always been the most disciplined of individuals. Juana Brown is a great
example; she was perhaps the best athlete in the ACC but her outbursts on
the court combined with questionable shot selection made her career a
good one instead of a potentially great one. Contrast that to silent
assassin Barksdale; the least-heralded member of a #1 recruiting class
turned out to be the most consistent scorer and rebounder of the bunch.
Then there's Teasley, one of the most phenomenal talents to ever blow
through the ACC. When she was on, she was an unstoppable offensive force
whose ability to penetrate either got her spectacular scores or pinpoint
assists to wide-open teammates. There's a reason why she led the ACC
in assists in all four of her seasons. When she was off, she was a selfish,
whiny player who jacked up threes and wouldn't play defense. It's clear
that her sullen demeanor was more than just the veneer of an egotistical
athlete, and that she had real problems. Still, it was enough to alienate
almost every ACC beat writer (they barely voted her onto the All-ACC first
team this year) and get her into ugly situations this year where she scratched
the face of an opponent after a loss. So losing Teasley is both an
enormous loss and to some degree, a weight off the team's shoulders. There
are no more "Where's Nikki?" questions to answer, but this group will have
to learn to win without her.

The Heels began their season in the preseason WNIT, dispatching decent
George Mason and Evansville teams without much trouble. Then came a game
on the road against future national champ UConn, and the result was a 20
point loss. Despite hitting 11 threes, the Heels were outrebounded by an
unthinkable 39, as UConn simply stuck back all their misses and limited
the Heels to one shot. Teasley was a bit rusty at that stage, but Metcalf was
sensational in the early going, leading the team in scoring against the
Huskies. Of course, she did take 23 shots to do it--quite a few more
attempts than upperclassmen Teasley & Brown. After scoring over 20 points
in two of her first three games, Metcalf would only match this mark once
more during the season. A hand injury had something to do with this, but
there was a certain point where Teasley seized control of the team once
again.

UNC came back with a vengeance against a series of inferior opponents
that included Western Carolina, Howard, Winthrop and Kentucky. The Heels
demonstrated a blistering offensive attack, going over 100 points three
times and shooting over 50% three times. Back in the polls in the first
week of December, UNC gained a huge win over top 20 Old Dominion on the
road. Teasley dropped 27 points on the Monarchs as the Heels compensated
for being outrebounded by winning the turnover battle. The Heels followed
that win by crushing Richmond and then Wake Forest in their ACC opener.
A surprise waited in South Carolina, however, as USC smothered UNC's potent
offensive attack and dominated the boards by 20. Brown, Teasley and
Metcalf combined to go 12-46 in the game, but what was more disturbing
was the way in which USC's frontcourt easily handled Sutton & Baptist.
Sutton had been successful against lesser opponents, but more talented
teams zeroed in on her and forced UNC to beat them by firing up threes.
When the shots weren't falling, the Heels often weren't flexible enough
offensively to adjust. Still, that loss would look much better as the
season went on and USC climbed the rankings.

North Carolina bounced back to win four in a row over ACC weaklings Maryland
and FSU, as well as non-conference patsies Lehigh & Tennessee-Martin.
The Heels were 13-2 overall and 3-0 in the league and seemed to be in
pretty good shape. But a home loss to rival NC State (in what would prove
to be a down year) seemed to unhinge the team a bit. Teasley was awful
in that game, going 2-16 from the floor. Sutton couldn't do anything
against State's powerful post players, who destroyed the Heels inside.
The Pack won despite only getting 9 total points from every member of its
backcourt combined. UNC got their act together in a closer-than-expected
win against Clemson where Sutton was on the bench due to injury. The wheels
really started coming off against Georgia Tech, where UNC was routed at
home and outrebounded by 25. Sutton played but was still hobbling, and
was no match for Sonja Mallory. Worse, Teasley scratched the face of
Tech guard Nina Barlin after the game in a rather flagrant show of poor
sportsmanship. A UNC official noticed and Teasley was suspended for the
next game, which turned out to be a disastrous loss to doormat Wake Forest.
The Heels shot just 32% as Sutton once again was a non-factor. That
left UNC with a 4-3 record in the ACC with a game against archrival Duke
coming up.

Teasley did not start that game, but it didn't matter as Duke quickly
blew the Heels off the court, going over 100 points--the only time all
year a Tar Heel opponent managed that feat. This prompted Hatchell to
make some changes. She moved Teasley back to point guard after letting
Brown run the team for much of the year and put Brown back on the wing.
The ball in her hands again, Teasley snapped out of her funk and played
brilliant basketball the rest of the season. It began with a great show
of leadership in a crucial game against Virginia. Teasley only took 5
shots, but she made sure that Sutton and Brown got plenty of open looks
as the Heels easily handled one of the better teams in the league. Routine
wins against Maryland and Florida State were followed by a near-disaster
against Villanova. In a 49-45 uglyfest, Brown saved the team by being
the only player who could find the basket. The win did prove that the
Heels could find a way to pull out wins even when their shooting was off.

That set up a rematch with NC State in Raleigh, with the Heels winning
easily on the strength of their rebounding and the dynamic duo of Brown
& Teasley. After disposing of a tough Clemson squad, the Heels went on
the road and scored decisive victories against Georgia Tech and Virginia.
UNC had ripped off 8 straight wins and was now 11-4 in the ACC and looking
to secure an NCAA hosting bid. Duke came in and played an even first half
against UNC before pulling away in the second half, thanks to poor shooting
and worse defense on UNC's part. Hatchell and Teasley had to be looking
forward to the ACC tournament, because both were well known for their
performances in the conference's biggest weekend.

The Heels easily dispatched Maryland in their first game and managed
to survive an awful first half against State to eke out a close win. They
had Duke on the ropes in the second half before the Devils came from
behind for the win. Despite the loss, the Heels had rarely looked better.
The promise of the early season was all coming together as Sutton dominated
inside, Teasley was a perfect leader and everyone seemed to fit into their
roles. The Heels got the weakest #1 seed in Vanderbilt in their bracket,
though they had to win a couple of games at home to reach them. Beating
Harvard was no problem, but they barely overcame bad shooting, bad defense
and mediocre rebounding to barely edge a tough Minnesota team. (That
team was coached by the then-Brenda Oldfield, who takes over Maryland
this year and has changed her name back to Frese.) They got their chance
against Vandy, but a 1-14 shooting performance from Teasley wound up
dooming the Heels.

Still, the Heels had come together after some adversity and found ways
to consistently harness their talent. Teasley is their only significant
personnel loss, and on the face of things it's a big one. The rollercoaster
ride known as the Nikki Teasley era has finally come to an end, and it will be
interesting to see how the Heels adjust. Teasley's well-publicized struggle
with depression obviously led to a career that was rather bumpy, to put it
mildly. While the team struggled to win during her frequent absences
(including an absurd 3-year losing streak to Wake Forest on the road), it
remains to be seen if her permanent absence will lift the veil of uncertainty
that's been hanging over the program since 1999 or if losing her talent will
set the Heels back.

The leader of the Heels will be Coretta Brown, a player long in the
shadow of Teasley but a talented and prolific scorer/playmaker in her
own right. The biggest concern the Heels have about her is that her record
as starting point guard isn't the best; in fact, the Heels didn't begin
their big late-season turnaround last year until Teasley moved back to
point guard. That said, Brown did put up some impressive numbers. She
was the third leading scorer in the ACC, was fifth in assist/turnover ratio,
ninth in FG% (impressive for a guard), first in three point %, and ninth
in assists. Brown is not a great defender, nor did she even manage a large
number of steals. She will not be the starting point guard this year,
allowing her to take as many shots as she wants from three. However, she
will still pick up plenty of assists.

Metcalf is probably the best choice to play at point if she can hack it;
she was second on the team in assists though she did lead the Heels in
turnovers. Brown and Metcalf will form the backbone of UNC's three point
shooting attack this year, and will need another player to step up. Especially
since whoever plays point will likely take fewer shots. Sell is the most
logical candidate, though she did spend a lot of time playing on the wing
and slashing to the cup. A top 75 player, she has a real chance to make
an impact off the bench. At this point, Metcalf, Sell & Atkinson have all
seen time at point, but it's not the natural position for any of these players.
Courtney Chambers also saw some minutes at guard last year, though her 11%
shooting percentage from three didn't exactly frighten anyone. Also at guard
is benchwarmer Elizabeth Coughran, who scored all of 2 points last year.

Wing is UNC's most interesting position this year, both because it
could be crucial to their overall efforts and because of the three-player
race for the starting job. The incumbents are sophs Nikki Bell and Kenya
McBee. Bell was a much-hyped high school player whose stats last year
were quite modest. McBee is several inches taller but put up much the
same numbers. The favorite to win the spot is ultra-athletic La'Tangela
Atkinson, a top ten frosh who has been hailed by some as having Teasley-
like talent. Her game is much different and less skilled--she's a slashing
forward who loves to mix it up inside, but isn't an exceptional shooter.
Hatchell has raved about her passing, defense and overall intensity, saying
that she could start at any one of three positions this year. Someone in this
group is going to have to develop an outside shot, or else UNC will see a lot
of junk defenses thrown at them. A player who shows some promise as a
darkhorse in this group is Jenni Laaksonen. A late signee, she was
occasionally effective in limited action. Of this bunch, Hatchell claims that
Bell has really improved and will challenge for a starting spot.

The post is stacked with three veterans who have had varying degrees of
effectiveness and dominance throughout their careers. At center is Sutton,
an excellent scorer/shotblocker when healthy. Sutton doesn't have much
range on her shot, but within five feet of the basket, she has an impressive
array of moves and is quite adept at getting to the foul line. In addition
to being a top 20 scorer, she was a top 10 rebounder, 4th in FG%, and 2nd
in blocked shots. The Heels stumbled badly when she was injured, and
excelled when they remembered to get her the ball. For UNC to be
successful, they will have to be patient on offense and get high
percentage shots for Sutton, especially since she's added muscle in the
offseason.

The other post veterans are senior Jennifer Thomas and junior Chrystal
Baptist. Thomas has been a bit of a disappointment in her career at UNC,
though she's certainly a decent role player. How much of a senior leader she
can be is another matter, and leadership in general may be a significant issue
for the Heels in 2003. Baptist, on the other hand, is one of the most
underrated players in the ACC. She was the sixth leading rebounder in the
league and led it in offensive boards. While her offensive skills are
limited, she excelled at the stickback, grabbing a lot of the misfires that
the guards put up. She's also a solid defender and converted at the foul
line. Bench players include 6-5 Tiffany Tucker and 6-4 Carrie Davis; they
are projects.

UNC will have size, experience and talent, and might have considerable depth
if its young players step up; as it is, expect an eight or nine player
rotation. Their quickness and scoring ability make them a threat to beat
anyone. Sutton's shot-blocking also provides them with some cushion inside.
The Heels like an uptempo game, even if it meant finishing next to last in
points allowed in the ACC last year. Their shot selection was not always the
best either, finishing 6th in the league in field goal percentage. Still,
they forced a ton of turnovers, took care of the ball and were accurate from
the three point line. The most important question for them will be: who is
the leader of this team? If they can successfully answer this question,
they could have a big year. Other questions surround who will play point
guard, who will step up at wing, who will be a third long-range presence,
and which of the sophomores will be able to step up. UNC definitely has the
goods to challenge Duke for the league crown and more, but it will require
patience, diligence on defense and discipline. As it is, I think they'll
fall short of Duke, but not by much.

  • Strength of Schedule: 1.87 (Fourth in the ACC.)
  • Marquee Matchups: Oklahoma/Fordham, UConn (potentially), Old Dominion,
    @ South Carolina
  • Mid-Majors: DePaul
  • Tune-Ups: Davidson, ETSU, Appalachian State, Elon, Charleston Southern,
    American, Coastal Carolina
  • Predicted finish: Second