No. 4 Tar Heels ready to prove themselves in ACCs
Posted March 5, 2012
Updated March 6, 2012
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina didn't look much like a preseason No. 1 when it lost by 33 at Florida State or blew a big lead to lose at home to Duke.
The question now is whether a dominant performance against the Blue Devils to clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title was just one game or the start of something more.
When the All-ACC teams were announced Monday, the Tar Heels led the way by getting three first-team honorees. Notably left off that first team was guard Kendall Marshall who missed out to teammate Harrison Barnes by a mere two points. Head coach Roy Williams insists that Marshall, on the verge of setting the all-time ACC assists in a single season record, is one of the programs best.
“I’ve never felt as comfortable with the guy making decisions, as I am with Kendall making decisions," Williams said. "I nit-pick him all the time and pick on him if he makes one bad decision. But he makes better decisions with the basketball than any point guard I’ve ever had.”
Williams doesn't throw out that kind of praise often and Marshall knows it. He does however, hold reciprocal feelings.
“First of all, I’ve never been more comfortable with a coach on the sidelines as I am with Coach Williams,” Marshall said.
But UNC is not nearly as comfortable when Marshall’s on the bench which is why he’s averaging more than 35 minutes per game in conference play. By his own admission, Marshall wore down at this point last season - especially when playing three games in three days at the ACC Tournament.
“I was just out there playing, I wasn’t thinking," Marshall said. "I’m a lot more mature when I’m on the court this year (with) just little things such as breathing technique. Coach does a great job of utilizing time outs to get me extra rest.”
UNC's starting five are all playing big minutes again this year. Managing their time and avoiding fatigue are now top priorities for Williams.
“Our practices have been cut back really short," Williams said. "It’s for all the guys, but Kendall probably more so than the rest. I would say for the last three or four weeks our practices have been cut back maybe shorter than at any time I can ever remember.”
Williams said his players didn't have a great practice Monday, though that was "human nature" after the emotional win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Still, big man Tyler Zeller says the players have gone from just expecting to win to increasing their intensity and concentration to get it done.
The fourth-ranked Tar Heels begin play in the ACC tournament in Atlanta on Friday against the Wake Forest-Maryland winner.