clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ACC Preview # 3 - UNC

N.C. State | Wake Forest | UNC | Maryland | Clemson | Virginia | Virginia Tech | Georgia Tech | Florida State | B.C. | Miami | Duke

Everyone is conceding the title to UNC this year, and to an extent it's understandable.  They're deep, they're experienced, and very talented.  But maybe it'd be a good idea to play the season first, particularly considering UNC's recent tournament losses.

In the last three years, UNC has lost to George Mason, Georgetown, and Kansas, all of them ugly losses in one way or another.

George Mason is a CAA team, and no matter how good they were, you don't expect to see UNC losing to a CAA team.  And in fact, they could have won that game and probably should have.

The following year, they had the Georgetown game in hand  before collapsing. They gave up an 11 point lead and ended up losing by 12.

No. Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Yr.
40 Mike Copeland 6-7 235 F SR
4 Bobby Frasor 6-3 210 G SR
1 Marcus Ginyard 6-5 220 G/F SR
14 Danny Green 6-6 210 F/G SR
50 Tyler Hansbrough 6-9 250 F SR
22 Wayne Ellington 6-4 200 G JR
5 Ty Lawson 5-11 195 G JR
21 Deon Thompson 6-8 245 F JR
13 Will Graves 6-6 245 F/G SO
24 Justin Watts 6-4 205 G FR
32 Ed Davis 6-10 215 F FR
11 Larry Drew II 6-1 180 G FR
44 Tyler Zeller 7-0 220 F FR

It was stunning, but not nearly as stunning as their complete meltdown against Kansas last spring.  Duke had a couple of rough outings in the final four, going down to Maryland by 22 in 2001 before winning, and being nuked by Vegas in 1990.

That game, though, was basically decided by two runs where UNLV just ate Duke alive.  It wasn't like they rolled over in the first half.

UNC and Kansas should have been evenly matched, and while KU had the emotional advantage, with a long-awaited payback to Roy Williams for his defection back to UNC, there was no excuse for showing up unprepared, much less being unprepared with a deeply talented team.

The theme continued in the off-season, with unrealistic assessments of their NBA prospects by Danny Green and Wayne Ellington.  Ty Lawson also put his name in, more realistically, but said recently that he ruined his chances of being a first-round pick when he was arrested on an alcohol-related charge (driving with alcohol in his system while underage, but not a DWI).

This would be the same Lawson who has admitted to not much liking practice and not being obsessed with defense.

One of UNC's biggest problems last season was the early loss of Bobby Frasor, who Roy Williams used to keep Lawson's attention focused.  Frasor is not the talent that Lawson is, but he is a hard-nosed defender. In Durham, when Lawson was a freshman and Duke rallied late, Williams immediately put Frasor in and the rally fizzled. He's really critical for the Heels, and if Lawson's attention wanders defensively, Williams won't hesitate to run Frazor in for him.

It should go without saying by now that UNC's best player is Tyler Hansbrough.  Famed for his intensity, Hansbrough is one of UNC's best players, as in ever.  He's odd in some ways - he has a herky-jerky game offensively, he is not particularly gifted, and his lateral quickness is suspect.  Yet he's immensely effective, mostly because he just outworks everyone else.  He's also pretty brilliant about getting people off their feet.  It's not a perfect comparison, but his game has echoes of Don Nelson's back when he was a Celtic.  He was in no way qualified physically for the NBA, but he had a knack for besting players who were far more talented.

Hansbrough is probably not going to be a perennial All-Star, but he's going to be a pain for 10-12 years and someone who drives a lot of NBA players nuts.  He's made a living in college by shooting the ball when everyone else is coming down, which will be harder to do in the league.  But he's a great, great college player, and he's been brilliant for the Heels.

Mostly, anyway. He pretty much disappeared as a sophomore when Georgetown made their huge comeback, and he wasn't as effective against Kansas as probably Williams wanted him to be.

As great as he's been personally, Hansbrough has always seemed, from a distance anyway, to be a bit shy as as a leader.  He's very quiet on the court and seems to prefer leading by example.  About the only time we can recall him getting visibly emotional was when Gerald Henderson came down across his face.

But put this into perspective: the worst you can say about the guy is that he's not wildly gifted and that he isn't a big talker on the court.  Given what he does bring, most coaches would be thrilled.

He's supported up front by Deon Thompson, who has had some tremendous moments for UNC.  At 6'8", and 245, he's ideally suited for a power forward, not a luxury everyone has these days.  He's a good defender, but could be a better rebounder - Green outrebounded him and Marcus Ginyard nearly did.  He's a solid player though and will be hard to dislodge from the starting lineup.

It's hard to go this far into a UNC preview without considering the admirable Ginyard more thoroughly.  He's not going to get a ton of headlines, but with a team of mostly offensive-minded performers, having a defensive specialist is pretty key, and Ginyard is excellent. He's not as good as his predecessor, Jacky Manuel, but he's not far off, either.

With Ginyard and Lawson on the perimeter, UNC really needs a shooter, and that's where Ellington comes in.

A former high school teammate of Duke's Henderson, Ellington has a beautiful stroke.  But currently, he's a somewhat one-dimensional player.  As a potential draftee, he was told that he would need to have point guard skills, and that his ball-handling and related skills would have to improve.   But he's a deadly weapon even now, as he showed down in Clemson last year, when he hit one of the great clutch shots of the entire 2007-08 season to break hearts in Death Valley at the last possible second.  And by the way, don't expect the longer three point shot to bother him, either.

Danny Green is the last regular to discuss.  He's been really valuable to the Heels as a sixth man, able to come in at either forward spot.  It's hard not to have empathy for him in light of his father's situation (he was arrested and served time on cocaine charges and it was a very public situation, and was no doubt keenly embarrassing), but his father probably didn't do him any favors when it came to the draft.

The elder Green involved himself heavily in the process, making public comments about how his son was in the draft to stay, like this: “Danny Green is not just testing the waters. Everybody’s put that out there, that he’s just testing the waters. Well he’s not. If Danny is going to get drafted and we think he’s going to be able to get a contract, he is going to the NBA. No questions asked. Let’s make that clear.”

When reality set in, he said this: “From the beginning, Danny told Coach Williams he was in this for the experience. And he had a great experience going through the process.

“Danny was never trying to run away from Chapel Hill. He loves school down there, he loves playing basketball there and I think the right decision for him now is to go back to school.”


His son is a fine college basketball player, but there's not much of a market for 6'6" forwards any more, at least not in the NBA, and he clearly hasn't shown guard skills yet.  But he's been great for UNC - he's given them depth and versatility, and he's shown a desire to step up in big games.  People get too caught up in the whole NBA hype.  He's an excellent college basketball player.

UNC also returns Mike Copeland, a senior who hasn't show much, and Will Graves, who is a redshirt sophomore and who could still become a good player. He shot .442 from three point range last year, though that's based on only 43 shots and obviously doesn't speak to the rest of his game.

UNC's gotten a lot of attention for their recent recruiting success, which has been phenomenal, but less mentioned has been how much help they're likely to need:  With Copeland, Frasor, Ginyard, Green, and and Hansbrough all set to graduate, and Ellington and Lawson very likely to follow them, UNC can really only count on having Thompson and Graves back next year.  That's where the freshman class comes in.

The only somewhat under-the-radar-guy is Justin Watts, out of Jordan in Durham, and he was good enough to be on Stanford's short list.  He's a promising guy who will probably take a couple of years to get up to speed.

That won't be the case for the rest.  Ed Davis is going to be a force from the beginning.  He's 6'10" and a gifted rebounder. He will push for time immediately.

So will Tyler Zeller.  At 7'0", Zeller is incrediby good at running the floor, and will fit right in with UNC's running game.  He's a bit of a prodigy in that regard and will make life difficult for everyone who has to keep up with him.

And finally, there's Larry Drew II.  The son of former NBA star Larry Drew, the younger Drew is not a profoundly gifted point guard, but is an extremely smart guard, a guy who can probably be reasonably compared to former UNC great Derrick Phelps, who was one of our favorite UNC players.

With guys like his classmates to pass to, and then Dexter Strickland, Leslie McDonald, 6'9" twins Travis and David Wear, and most of all 6'10" John Henson, who might be the perfect compliment to Zeller, he'll have lots of guys to work with.

They're going to be good. And in a sense, they might be better than their new teammates:  as good as UNC is - and being a consensus pick to win the national title is pretty damn good - it's also a team of guys with individual flaws.  The whole point of a team of course is that the group is greater than the individual, and the ability to do that is what makes great coaches great.

On the other hand, other great coaches find ways to attack those flaws:  with a backcourt that's not particularly religious about defense, you can expect to see them targeted.  UNC has good three point shooting from Wellington, Frasor, and Green, but it falls off pretty quickly after that. You can't guaranteed that you'll shut them all down at the same time, but they won't all be in at the same time very often, either. And when they are, UNC loses the quickness that Lawson brings.

None of this means that UNC won't be really good. They'll be extremely good, and they deserve to be the favorite going in.  But like all teams, they have weaknesses and flaws, and for the last three years, teams have figured them out by the end. Given that, and understanding that as great as Roy Williams is, defense is not his forte, it's probably better not to give them the trophy at the beginning of the season.