Veteran Heels play like younger team against Wake
Posted January 12, 2009
One of the reasons North Carolina was picked to win the national title this season, and perhaps go undefeated along the way, was the experienced talent coming back to Chapel Hill.
With Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Danny Green bypassing the NBA, and Deon Thomspon and Marcus Ginyard still on campus, the Heels returned all five starters from last year’s Final Four team and its top sixth man.
That combination of talent and experience was supposed to be the intangible that could the team could lean on in the rare case of a close contest.
Instead, this year’s edition of the Tar Heels has been anything but a group of savvy veterans down the stretch, and the loss against Wake Forest was the second example of this in the last week.
Sporting a starting lineup consisting of two seniors and three juniors (Green has taken the injured Marcus Ginyard’s place in the starting lineup), compared to Wake's one freshman, two sophomores and two juniors, one would surmise that Roy Williams’ team would be the one to remain calm, cool and collected in a tight game.
For the second time in as many ACC contests, Carolina panicked down the stretch of a close game, choosing to force shots when they were behind instead of running its offense.
Against Boston College, the panic reared its ugly head during a 14-second span with just under two and a half minutes remaining in the game.
Carolina trailed by eight when Ellington, Will Graves and Lawson missed back to back to back threes on a single possession. At no time did the Heels try to work the ball in to their three-time All-American (who's almost as good as a three-point shooter down the stretch because of his ability to finish around the rim and get fouled).
At no time did they make more than one or two passes in a row in the sequence.
Missed free throws down the stretch didn’t help Carolina’s cause against the Eagles at home, but taking that many rushed three pointers with so much time still on the clock made me wonder what the hurry was.
In my opinion, the breakdown was more noticeable, and egregious, in the game against the Demon Deacons.
Down just four with 1:45 left in the game and 30 seconds still to go on the shot clock, the Heels were on a 7-3 run and looking to make it a one possession game.
Wake Forest, being the young team that they are, you would think, might be rattled if Carolina was able to pull within one or two points.
But then it all came apart for the unanimous preseason number one.
Ellington bypassed a wide open Graves under the basket to get the ball to Hansbrough at the top of the key.; After getting his defender in the air with a nice shot fake, Psycho-T, inexplicably, attempted a three.
Here is a guy that has literally made a collegiate Hall of Fame career for himself by driving to the basket, and yet he’s launching a shot from 20 plus feet away. Naturally, the shot came up short and Chas McFarland went coast to coast with the long rebound for a layup that all but sealed the game.
I honestly can’t decide what caught me more off guard about that decision. Was it the fact that Hansbrough was shooting a three? Was it that there was still 28 seconds on the shot clock when he threw it up? Was it that the Heels seemed in such a hurry even though there was almost two minutes left in a two possession game?
I understand that number 50 has been working on his ever-improving jumper, but you can’t tell me there wasn’t a higher percentage option on that trip down the court.
I understand that these are only two possessions plucked from eighty minutes of action, but I think they are very telling about a team that some were thinking could be, and might still end up being, one of the greatest of all-time.
In tight games, especially in conference, one would expect that a Hall of Fame coach and a gaggle of future NBA players would be able to slow things down, in their minds at least if not on the court, and make the proper decisions at the critical junctures.
Instead we’re talking about a Carolina team that has lost to the preseason 11th-ranked team in the conference and a young, albeit talented and very athletic, Wake Forest team.
It’s not so incredible that the Heels have lost two games this early in the season, especially when one of them is to the fourth-ranked Demon Deacons, it’s the way in which they lost them.
As time ran down in both contests, it was almost as though Carolina was scared of losing rather than confident in its ability to pull off the win.
Down, but not out of either game by any stretch of the imagination, the way the team panicked made it seem like the weight of being the runaway favorites to cut down the nets in March began to take its toll.
Sure, Wake is a very, very good team that just might make a Final Four run of its own, but If the Heels aren't more productive and efficient in tight spots in the future, they won’t have to worry about packing their scissors for Detroit.