2011-2012 College Basketball Series Preview: UNC

Yes, yes, I know the season has already started. But since I haven’t watched Carolina play any games yet, I think I can still slip this in on the eve of the big game on the carrier against Tom “Roy’s my Daddy” Izzo’s team.

So, to get started, I would like to indulge my inner homer. UNC: All starters return. Giraffes will be slapped. 40-0.

USS Carl Vinson all decked out and ready for the Heels and Spartans

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business. Analysts and fans alike are very excited about this UNC team and, for that reason, UNC is ranked No. 1 in the pre-season polls, the eighth time they have earned that preseason ranking since its inception. My inner hater is happy to report that that is one more time than Duke (another thing we now dominate them in), and ties us with UCLA, which is also very nice. It cements that blueblood label that bluebloods are proud of and that any team that isn’t one denigrates.

Last season’s results
29-8
14-2 ACC
ACC Regular Season Champions – the real ACC championship
Lost 56-55 to Kentucky in the Elite Eight

Returning players that will make an impact/slap giraffes
Does anyone really not know? Okay, just in case:
Tyler Zeller
Harrison Barnes
Kendall Marshall
John Henson
Dexter Strickland
Reggie Bullock

Freshmen to watch
James McAdoo
P.J. Hairston

I have now muzzled my inner homer so that I can write with the slight pessimism that many long-time Tar Heel fans exhibit, especially alumni. I really shouldn’t be a pessimist because I’ve been alive for and watched 4 of UNC’s national championships (and my father was at UNC for their first).

Strengths
This team really does have what it takes to win it all. Harrison Barnes has the kind of work ethic that makes him keep trying to improve his game even when others might feel he’s on top of it already. Reggie Bullock is back and he’s the team’s dark horse, but I’ve had a good feeling about the guy since I saw some youtube clips of his performance when he was still in high school in Kinston. I also hear he played well in games over the summer. Kendall Marshall has adapted to the intense pressure that Roy Williams puts on his point guards faster than I think I’ve ever seen one adapt. So, he might not have the speed of Ty Lawson, but he got the savvy faster than Ty or even Raymond Felton.

Look for some awesome long-armed antics from John Henson, who has put on a few pounds in the weight room, but still has the wingspan of an aircraft carrier (what an amazing coincidence) and the amazing ability to know just when to block a shot. There’s been some questions about Tyler Zeller and some analysts feel that he has not lived up his recruitment hype, but people tend to forget that he’s been seriously injured two times and those injuries have not been ones that it is easy to come back from. He really stepped up at the end of 2010-2011 and, if he doesn’t get hurt again, I think he is the key to the possibility that the Tar Heels could win it all.

James McAdoo and PJ Hairston also have the talent and promise to contribute off the bench. I don’t really like to make predictions about freshmen based on their recruitment because college ball is different from high school ball and kids that look great in high school don’t always transition well to college and kids that were maybe 2 or 3 star recruits out of high school often end up thriving in the college environment and upping their talent and play antes.

Then there’s the 2011 ACC Coach of the Year, Roy Williams. He’s won two National Championships in a span of four years and has demonstrated what many other excellent coaches (especially the young ones) have been unable to: he knows how to coach a team to a championship—and we’re not talking conference tournaments here—we’re talking the real deal.

Weaknesses
Losing Leslie McDonald to injury is a blow. That makes UNC very thin at the point guard position, so I know that a lot of Tar Heels are hoping, praying, rubbing lucky stones or whatever that Kendall Marshall doesn’t get hurt. Also, except for Justin Watts, our bench is kind of an unknown. The freshmen could be great or they could make a lot of mistakes. However, as I see it, our biggest weakness is also our strength: Roy Williams and his substitutions. The guy substitutes like he’s the coach of an NHL hockey team instead of a basketball team. His crazy substitution patterns were why we lost games that we shouldn’t have in the 2006-2007 season. He just doesn’t always seem to understand that although a team should be the sum of interchangeable parts to a certain extent, a rhythm is often established on the court during the game and incessant substituting breaks the rhythm and causes mistakes.

Predictions
I hate this. I really do. I’m afraid to predict that we’ll win it all in case we don’t. I’m afraid to say we won’t win because that doesn’t show support for my team. What is also hard is that everyone knows that a UNC National Championship is difficult to come by without a loss to Wake Forest (the only time we haven’t lost to them before winning it all was in 1957 and that’s probably because we went undefeated that season) and possibly Georgia Tech (we lost to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech in 1993, 2005 and 2009). As you can see, we Tar Heels take our superstitions seriously. However, with Paul Hewitt out at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest slated to be at the bottom of the conference and with a new coach, losing to either team won’t be easy. However, I can guarantee a loss to Seth “Cry Me a River” Greenberg’s team at Blacksburg, because he has to have some kind of argument for getting them into the tournament even though a win over us is their only decent win in their whole schedule.

I guess the best I can do is to say, once again, that there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t win it all, barring an injury to Kendall Marshall or Tyler Zeller. The ACC is down this year, with only Duke being a threat (and mostly because of the rivalry and not because K has assembled a set of formidable opponents—except maybe mouthy Austin Rivers and Seth “I Flop Like an Italian Soccer Player” Curry). The rest of basketball is down, too, but we have a tough game against Kentucky at Kentucky, which I don’t see us winning.

Final record: 36-4
ACC Regular Season Champs
ACC Tournament: Who cares? That’s for also-rans
National Champions, I think. GAH!

The Five Stages of the UNC Fan Experience: 2009-2010 Edition

Stage 1: Excitement

The best thing about being a UNC fan in October of 2009 had to be the expectations, or lack thereof. For the first time in three years we weren’t going to be considered epic failures if we didn’t railroad every team on our schedule. With the 2009 National Championship team we had to listen to the haters’ pour insults down upon us from all directions after beating teams like Valparaiso by a mere 18 points. Even when we did win the National Championship (a game I attended), I didn’t really feel much in the way of excitement. I just felt an overwhelming sense of relief. We weren’t going to become the laughing stock of the NCAA.

Going into this season was entirely different. We had tons of inexperience. We had veteran role players who were going to have to step up and lead this team. Who knew what to expect out of this group?  Of course the media didn’t hesitate to label us a final four contender. I can’t speak for all the fans, but I simply ignored these benign expectations. I was excited. I was excited to see young players developing again. I was excited to see our veterans become real leaders. I was excited to see our coaching staff step up to new challenges. Nobody knew what to expect. So let’s just play some ball.

Stage 2: Understanding

Stage 2 set in just after the 68-66 loss* to Kentucky. The loss came shortly after the Syracuse massacre. I understood where this team was coming from. We had some good players who were going to contribute, but we were going to have to endure some massive runs from our opponents for a while. But, over time our players would learn how to shorten the runs thrown at us. We weren’t going to be a top 10 team this year, but we certainly deserved to be in the top 25. By the end of the year we could be fighting our way through the tournament again. I understood that we were going to have a few “what the hell” moments, but ultimately, we were going to continue to enjoy the success of our program under Roy Williams.

Stage 3: Not Understanding

The beginning of this stage had a very definitive moment. It started with a pass from Donovan Monroe to Jeremy Simmons on an inbounds play in overtime versus College of Charleston. There was two minutes left on the clock when Deon Thompson decided to double team the scrub freshman Willis Hall on the perimeter rather than follow his man (Simmons) under the basket. The play resulted in an easy layup and put the Cougars up by four. It was inexplicable. How could our senior leader make such a stupid mistake? The whole team looked as though they had just given up. Nobody was playing with the kind of heart I was used to seeing from UNC players at this point in the season.

Things just snowballed from there. They should have sown pockets onto our shorts. Everybody, including our coaches, adopted a ho-hum attitude about the season. “We just need to work harder” seemed to be the common theme. I kept waiting for the bleeding to stop, but it never did. Some people thought the win against North Carolina State was an indication that we were turning things around. Well, and I mean this with absolutely the most disrespect possible, N.C. State is terrible. Nobody should be losing to us by more than ten points this year, twice. I can’t really fathom how a team can be that much worse than we are currently. Somehow they have managed to reach a new, wholly undiscovered, level of sucking.

Stage 4: Meltdown

This was really a private stage for me. I tried to separate myself from those that I cared about out of fear that I may inflict physical or emotional damage upon them. It all started during the UVA loss at the Smith Center when Will Graves was given the responsibility of guarding Sylven Landesberg. Just writing that last sentence was difficult. I am using a bold font right now as an indication of how hard I am pressing down on the keys. Will Graves couldn’t guard a gay octogenarian playing in their socks. Who in their right mind thought he could guard one of the ACC’s most prolific scorers? I am telling you, I lost it. I started swearing at everything. “F@#K YOU, COUCH.”

Now, I know that I am not a coach. I don’t know as much about basketball as the UNC coaching staff (or any other coaching staff for that matter), but somebody must have been slipping them stupid pills this season. Every decision seemed to be exponentially worse then the preceding decision. John Henson gets put out on the perimeter. Marcus Ginyard’s punishment for playing like a freshman in high school is more playing time. Leslie McDonald’s reward for being the only guard to limit himself to one turnover in ACC play is less playing time.

I could go on like this for pages, but I won’t. It’s too damned embarrassing. Too many things contributed to the meltdown. However, there is one thing that trumps all others, free throws. I could literally sit in a gym for 48 straight hours, with no food, water or sleep, shooting free throws continuously, and never shoot up an air ball. Whenever one of our players steps up to the free throw line, I can’t help but think about Chris Farley tearing apart that dinner roll in Tommy Boy. We are a complete disaster…..strike that, catastrophe.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Believe it or not, I am at peace with our suckage. I have managed to find a strange comedic value to the whole season. I have joked with friends about how God is punishing us for Roy’s decision to throw a Presbyterian fan out of a game. It makes some sense. Did we get too smug? Is there some validity to the “holier than though” sentiment that gets thrown at us on a near daily basis? Maybe God is putting us in our place. How else do you explain the injuries, the depth at which Roy’s foot is positioned in his mouth, the free throw air balls, etc? The only thing that seems to have carried over from last year is the womanly play of Deon Thompson. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it may be the thing I miss the most from this season. I get a good laugh every time he gets rejected by somebody half his size. I catch myself having a hearty chuckle every time he shoots a fade away shot from 18 feet.

The season is figuratively over and I am still a fan. I am still going to support the team in the future. This is a comforting feeling. It reaffirms what I learned after the 2001-2002 season. I am not a fair-weather fan. I can handle us sucking. I like knowing that. I have accepted that this season did not go well, and I’m okay. Just don’t let it happen again next year, God.

Duke Sucks!