Ryan Craig

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.

Apparently not.

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.

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  • slayerhil Jan 13, 1:04 p.m.

    I rest my case. I think I've been pretty cordial, myself. My above post was meant in jest but take it how you will. The point is UNC fans are already labeled as smug and arrogant and usually are guilty of such until proven innocent. I think you may take this a bit too seriously or personally. It's just a game and the fans (including myself) don't think we're better than anyone else. It's just harmless smack talk, brother. :)

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Jan 13, 9:31 a.m.

    Sorry for you not having a clue, slayer. Wearing UNC clothing and flying the UNC flag doesn't make you smug and arrogant. But you already know that. Thanks for playing.

  • slayerhil Jan 12, 5:32 p.m.

    I hear ya.
    Being a Carolina fan ain't easy. Especially when you can't walk out in public wearing your favorite UNC gear without someone hating on you or giving you the evil eye...lol. You can't even sport a sticker on your car or fly a UNC flag without being called an arrogant, condescending UNC fan. Makes you wonder. Kind of makes you want to throw it back in the Duke, State, etc fans' faces.
    You have to be a UNC fan to see it, I suppose. ;)

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Jan 12, 5:17 p.m.

    Just to clarify, the obnoxious, smug, arrogant fans are the reason I hate Carolina and want them to lose EVERY game. I don't hate the people. I just want them to feel glum after their "chosen" team loses, and they can't be so smug.

    It doesn't bother me when a Wake fan is happy that their team won. Most fanbases are just so different than Carolina's fan base. It's hard to explain. You have to be a State, Duke or Wake fan to see it.

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Jan 12, 5:15 p.m.

    The Carolina fans are the REASON I hate Carolina. It's only about the fans.

    I don't hate their fans. I think most of them are kinda pitiful, actually. Some people have to pull for "a winner". Who are you going to pull for if you fall into that category? Most likely Carolina or Duke, if you're from the Triangle. It's just their arrogance that gets under my skin. I'm not bitter. I'm just tired of it. And so many of them either didn't go to college at all, or didn't go to Carolina. They're usually the worst of all.

  • slayerhil Jan 12, 4:33 p.m.

    You sound very bitter, TruthBKnown. I'm beginning to think that some of you here are more determined to hate the UNC fans than the UNC sports teams. It's kind of strange but funny all the same. Anybody But Carolina Fans! lol. Of course, I jest.

  • Dr. Smooth Jan 12, 12:30 p.m.

    Good analysis, Ryan. I thought that Hansbrough 3 was really strange, too. It's been tough watching the Heels over those two games. They never got their offense in rhythm, and they weren't finishing at the rim. That Thompson missed dunk last night was just the most noticeable incident, but how many layups and putbacks did they miss? Way too many. Making a nice move to shake your defender at the perimeter is great, but when you drive the lane, FINISH!

    I thought it was strange, too, how Ty Lawson was passing up open shots from the outside. It's like he's afraid to shoot it. I still think he's one of the more dangerous outside shooters Carolina's got, and if he doesn't get 12-14 points a night, Carolina's not going to contend for a title.

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Jan 12, 11:09 a.m.

    (Reposted)

    "Everyone always play their hardest when they play the tarheels. Always!"

    If you can understand this, this type of comment is the reason so-called "ABC'ers" exist. It's this smug, arrogant attitude that makes us hate the Heels and want them to lose every time they set foot on the court. We want fans like you to be put in your place.

    This comment is very telling. You really think that there is Carolina, and then there is everyone else. Carolina is the end-all, be-all of basketball, and everyone else just gets fired up and gives Carolina their best shot night in and night out. Carolina never gives anyone THEIR best shot. They just play the great basketball that *is* Carolina basketball. Other teams, playing their brand of basketball would NEVER, EVER beat Carolina unless they got fired up and played over their head, and "gave Carolina their best shot".

    Hopefully this soapbox rant help put you in your place. If it didn't, then at least BC and Wake Forest did.

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