clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Carlos Previews The Heels!

H-S | H-S
| Roth
| Roth
| N&O
| N&O
| W-S
| Fayetteville
| Chron | NYDN
It’s odd to think
it, but for the Tar Heels, sitting at 3-4 in the ACC and facing
consecutive road games at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, Thursday
night’s faceoff with Duke may actually constitute a must-win.
Carolina can’t afford to lose a second home game in the league,
especially considering their second half schedule features 5 games on
the road – where they haven’t won a game since December
of 2002. What makes all that so odd, is the less than reserved
enthusiasm emanating from Chapel Hill earlier in the season. The
Heels were the team with the best starting 5 in America, the team
with the self-proclaimed potential to be the best squad ever in
college basketball, and the team with the best coach in the game
coming home to lead them to hammers falling, X’s flashing, and
swagger returning.

It’s that last
one that generated the most optimism from the Tar Heel faithful. In
the years following the retirement of Dean Smith, the direction of
Carolina basketball seems to be in the hands of George Steinbrenner
as the Heels have gone through 3 coaches in 7 years. If the Tar Heel
coaches were James Bond actors then Smith would clearly be Sean
Connery, the gold standard for the role. Bill Guthridge would be
Roger Moore, competent but definitely not the guy for the long term.
The Guthridge/Moore years were followed by Matt Doherty, the Timothy
Dalton of the group, representing the “what the hell were we
thinking” decision. Finally comes the Roy Williams / Pierce
Bronsan era. Bronsan made a name for himself in the lesser medium of
television before moving to the big screen. Williams made a name for
himself in the Big 12 before moving to the ACC. Bronsan has his
roots in the British Isles and brings a perfect accent to the role of
Bond. Williams has his roots in North Carolina and talks like a
goober. Bronsan once turned down the role of Bond and held a big pep
rally to announce his decision…. okay, the analogy doesn’t
go that far.

As the latest savior of
the proud program, Williams inspired legions of fans who were quietly
replacing their “Doherty’s Disciples” t-shirts with
the more trendy “Got Roy” model. Williams tried to
downplay the team’s potential by reminding fans that the Heels
had lost 36 games in 2 years and had only added one recruit who was a
second-team all-state selection. The more perceptive out there would
have noted that 20 of those losses came a year before his predecessor
landed one of the top recruiting classes in the state and that 12 of
the remaining 16 losses occurred when the team was missing the
services of their only low post scoring threat. When the team
started the season with 6 wins before entering league play it seemed
like Williams’ early season claim of “ol’ Roy just
ain’t that good” was nothing more than a transparent
setup for ol’ Roy to look that good as the team turned things
around from last season. All that has changed as the Heels have
struggled through the first half of league play.

If you’re
searching for a reason why a team with all that talent has struggled
so much in the league, the answer can be found in this question:
What do the Tar Heels, UNC, Carolina, Roy Williams, Felton, May,
McCants, Manuel, Noel, and Scott all have in common? The answer –
there’s no D in any of them. The Tar Heels lead the nation in
scoring, but they’re also the most generous team in the ACC.
Carolina ranks last in the league in opponent’s field goal
percentage and next-to-last in three-point percentage. More telling,
ACC foes are shooting over 50% from the field and an astounding 41%
on three-point attempts.

dilemma this season is that offensively, the team is built for a
fast-paced, full court game. Williams has the luxury of a great
point guard, athletic wings, and a center and power forward who can
both nail the open jumper on the secondary break. But in contrast to
that, Williams’ team lacks depth at the point and in the
frontcourt, shortcomings that typically manifest themselves on the
defensive end of the floor and usually in the second half of games.
The Heels’ problem is that if they slow the pace of the game
down to where their lack of depth isn’t an issue they risk
grounding their offense, the strongest part of their game. Thus far
this season Williams and his assistants Uday and Qusay have seemed to
prefer playing the uptempo game and then complaining about the
defense in the post-game press conference.


No player personifies
the delicate balance between offense and defense better than
sophomore center Sean May. At 6-9 and 260 lbs., May can be a
dominant force in the paint. He has the best hands of any big man in
the league and uses his body well in the paint. He has a soft touch
and range out to 15 feet, although the team needs him in the post so
he doesn’t stray far from the basket. What May doesn’t
have is a high level of fitness. Earlier this season May stated that
he was “in the best shape of his life.” He then
mentioned that he “got pretty winded” during the second
half of an exhibition game. The problem for May is that both of
those quotes are likely quite accurate.

May has had problems
with injury and illness for much of his career, including his time
before arriving in Chapel Hill. Williams, in an effort to minimize
the stress on May’s body, limited his conditioning in the
preseason to riding an exercise bike. The gamble has paid benefits
as May is still relatively healthy this season, but he has been
noticeably fatigued in the second half of many games. In the team’s
triple-overtime win loss to Wake Forest he logged a season-high 37
minutes, the last few of which he spent trudging between the top of
each three-point line as the offenses and defenses flew by him.
Several of the more generous Ram’s Club members resting
comfortably in their courtside Barcaloungers looked ready to donate
their Medicare approved scooters to assist the big man in his

He’s joined up
front by 6-9 junior Jawad Williams who was once thought of as being
soft but this season has shown a remarkable nose for the action. A
couple of concussions and a few breaks of the nose have left Williams
wearing a protective mask for much of the season and left the rest of
the league wondering why Carolina couldn’t have found that mask
when Kris Lang was around.

Williams started the
season strongly but has been inconsistent since the UNCW game which,
not coincidentally, was the first of his many shots to the head this
season. He’s been a much better outside shooter this season,
but has also been far more judicious in his selection. He will
mainly work the baseline area from around 10 feet.

Rounding out the
frontcourt is the ultra-talented, ultra-moody Rashad McCants who
provided one of the better soap operas of the early season this year
as the recipient of Coach Williams’ public criticism. Nobody
doubts the talent that the sophomore brings to an offense. But his
coach was very outspoken in his doubts about McCants defensive effort
earlier this season as well as his general attitude. Williams has a
delicate line to walk with McCants – fail to publicly harp on
his defensive efforts and you run the risk of not damaging his draft
status at the end of the year. Harp too much and you run the risk of
making him too attractive to the Trail Blazers.

The McCants / Williams
relationship reached its high point earlier this season when the
coach felt the player wasn’t cheering hard enough while on the
bench. Williams forced McCants to make the perp walk to the locker
room before the half ended where presumably Brian Bersticker and
Michael Brooker were waiting to instruct him in the finer points of
bench cheering.

ACC opponents would
probably be much happier if McCants spent more time on the bench
cheering than on the court. He’s a sound outside shooter if
allowed to spot up, but where he really abuses defenders is on the
inside. Despite being listed at 6-4, McCants has the wingspan of a
condor and is strong enough to crush most guards and small forwards
in the post. He’s not a great ball handler but he has a great
first step, allowing him to attack the basket. He’ll get the
ball on the wing, get in a triple-threat position, and then drive to
the hoop when defenders step out to respect his range.

What little depth there
is up front comes from David Noel, the 6-6 sophomore who originally
came to Chapel Hill as a football player. Offensively he’s not
much of a shooter and doesn’t handle the ball well, but at 230
lbs. Noel has the strength to contribute inside where the team needs
him the most. The other inside reserve is 6-9 sophomore Byron
Sanders who is primarily a warm body. Other slightly less warm
bodies are Damion Grant, Reyshawn Terry, and Justin Bohlander.


If you have the feeling
that 6-0 sophomore Raymond Felton hasn’t lived up to the
expectations it is probably more a result of the unbelievable
reputation he carried with him coming off the AAU circuit. Felton
has struggled some, mainly with his outside shooting, but every other
aspect of his game has been somewhere between great and spectacular.
If there was one compelling reason to play a full court style it
would be Felton. He’s blindingly quick baseline to baseline
and will almost always find the open man on the break. In the
halfcourt set he will get into the lane to set up his teammates and
shoots the ball just well enough to command respect from the outside.

At the off guard the
Heels have been starting Melvin Scott, a 6-2 junior who is the team’s
leading outside shooter. Scott was never a great ball handler but
has improved in that aspect of his game to the point where he can be
used to give Felton some rest at the point.

The backcourt depth is
limited to primarily one player, 6-5 junior Jackie Manuel who is the
one player Williams can count on to come in and shut down an offense.
When Manuel is on the court jump shots are missed, turnovers are
forced, and fouls are committed – and that’s just when
Carolina has the ball. Manuel has earned playing time this season by
following one simple instruction – don’t shoot. The
Carolina coaches don’t want Manuel to pull the trigger unless
he is within 2 feet of the rim – otherwise known as the Haywood
Zone. But for all of his limitations on offense Manuel will force
just as much trouble for opposing players on the other end of the
floor. His long arms and quickness make him the team’s best
perimeter defender.


The danger when looking
at this game is expecting past performance to be indicative of future
results. With very few exceptions, Duke has played better against
all common opponents. The Heels lost to Wake at home, while Duke
defeated the Demon Deacons. Carolina lost at Maryland, while Duke
won in the ComCast Center. The Heels won a close game at home
against NC State, while the Blue Devils comfortably defeated the
Pack. The Heels lost at Clemson, while Duke defeated the Tigers in

What all that means is
that Duke is able to play more consistently than the Tar Heels. That
bodes well for Duke’s chances in the post season, but means
absolutely nothing on Thursday night.

What does mean
something is how Duke plans to defend Rashad McCants. The Tar Heel
forward is a tough matchup for most teams, and an especially
difficult one for a team like Duke that features a three guard
lineup. Neither Daniel Ewing nor JJ Redick are an ideal matchup for
McCants. The best candidate to defend him is Luol Deng but that’s
a matchup unlikely to be seen unless Duke goes with their larger

More importantly than
that individual matchup is the bigger issue of how well Duke can
control the pace of the game. The Blue Devils aren’t like to
relish the idea of getting into a track meet with the Heels. The
best way to prevent that is to control their own offensive glass and
limit Carolina’s opportunities to run. That also ties in with
another focus of attacking the Heels where their depth is weakest.
If the team can get Sean May in foul trouble, or at the very least
make him work harder on defense than he is accustomed, the Tar Heels
become more like the team that struggled through the ACC season last

The game boils down to
the Tar Heels offense against the Duke defense. It’s the
highest scoring offense in the league against the best defense in the
league. It’s the irresistible force against the immovable
object. The hope coming out of Durham is that the adage of defense
being something you can bring every night holds true. The Devils
will need that level of defense to overcome the high scoring Tar
Heels on their home court.