Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Game Recap: UNC vs. Valparaiso

This was a disappointing game. It was an 11 point victory against the over-matched Crusaders, but it was a pretty disappointing game because, in short, Carolina didn't look like a top-flight team. They didn't dominate. Now, I know this sounds unfair, but everyone knows the deal, everyone knows that's expected against a team like Valparaiso. This is the point where everyone starts to get nervous about what happens when Carolina plays a competitive team.

In all fairness, everything went right for the Crusaders, and their game plan went down about as well as could be hoped. That said, Carolina is going to be playing teams that are hot or lucky or a combination of both. We need to be ready. Let's break down the game:

What went right: Deon, Cortez, and Zeller know what's up and are legitimately scary. They are getting their blocks and rebounds easy. They are shooting at a great clip, getting to the line, and shooting free throws well (all over 80%!). Drew II seems to be for real: He's making great plays, shooting well, and taking the big step. Marcus is Marcus and that's great. Defensively, we held them to under 35% from the field and below 30% from the 3-point line.

What went wrong: In the second-half, Valpo shot 53% from the field and 70% from the 3-point line. Our defense couldn't stop anything and all of the second-team outside of Zeller seemed hopeless. We couldn't put them away, we couldn't ice it, we couldn't snap their necks and insult their mommas and make them cry on the bus ride back. We just sort of ran up and down the court until we won, or whatever, just leave me alone okay. In any case, the lack of focus was fairly disturbing.

What we know: We have to turn the ball over less. We have to defend the perimeter better. We have to focus.

What we don't know: How will this team defend against legit big men? Every team, UNC has played so far has tried to play outside of the point to avoid the bigger UNC players by the basket. The post-defense of the UNC frontcourt has yet to really be tested. How well will this team play against top-notch competition? Can this team consistently make use of the three? How good are the new guys on the second unit? What do we really know about Strickland, McDonald, Watts, and the Wears?

When we find out these questions, we'll find out a lot about our team.

On the small forward position: We started Will Graves at this spot, but lots of other people have been getting minutes at this spot. Notably, John Henson, Marcus, and the Wears. Frankly, these minutes should be going to Henson. Will Graves has some veteran experience, but he's just not showed a lot of game so far: He's supposed to be the teams designated 3-point shooter but is hitting under 30%. Right now he's a specialist who is sucking at his specialty. Marcus Ginyard is great, but his ball-handling skills (Yeah, I know he had five turnovers tonight...), defense, and touch on this guard poor team mean that he's going to have to spend most of his time at shooting guard and even point guard. Now, let's talk about the Wears and the one thing that really clearly seems to not be working: They aren't small forwards. They can't guard other small forwards on the perimeter and they sure don't seem comfortable trying to play that position on the offense. They seem real happy playing up in the front court, and I know Roy wants to make full use of the bench, but for the most part, Wears to the front. So by now, I bet you've guessed where I'm going with this right? Well, if you haven't, you ain't been paying attention: Henson. Henson is the answer at small forward, and he should probably start and plays should be run for him. He has a great shooting touch, he plays smart and wily, he blocks like a crazy man, he runs the floor, and has amazing passing. Roy needs to read up on "point forward" and give Henson the minutes. I can't help, but think that Roy is trying to hide him like he tried for Ed last year.

So, long story short: Play Henson more at small forward and we'll know a lot more about this team after this week. Gulp.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Game Recap: UNC vs. North Carolina Central University

Sorry this is late, but here you go:

No one expected this to be a good game, and at 89-42 it really wasn't. There are always a couple like this at the beginning of the year: warm-up games. These are the games where a few lowly teams are led to the slaughter. In the years past, this would be an opportunity for Carolina to put up over 120, pad the stats for the ESPN color guys who love to mention how many 100 point games Carolina has had in a given season. This year it's different. We haven't put up 100 this year at all. No biscuits yet. This is not a cause for alarm.

In years past, we would put up 120 and let them put up 90. Still a 30 point blow-out, but always cause for the finger-wagging sanctimony of the basketball self-righteous, aghast that a team would have so little self-respect as to give up 90 points. Well, this year may be different. This year, I think that if this team gives up 90 points, it will only be in an unwatchable, catastrophic rout. If it happens at all.

This team is really good defensively. I know it's only Central, but wow. We held them to 26% and unleashed a slew of devastatingly demoralizing blocks. This team will make an offense work and outright prevent baskets. Our offense isn't there yet, and we've yet to play a team with traditionally effective post-up big men, but so far, the defense looks good.

First things first: Marcus looked good. He shot the ball well, he ran the offense and defense well. He looked athletic, and on defense did his Shane Battier hand-in-face impression the whole game-- shooters loved it. Zeller looked good. After the Florida International game, I'd pegged New Tyler as the worst defensively of the Carolina big men, as well as maybe the teams worst passer. Now I feel bad about this. Dude had a good game: no turnovers, lots of points on perfect shooting from the field and three blocks! The worst of the main Carolina big men had three blocks. What a good year this will be.

Ed Davis didn't continue his statistical domination as strongly, but the fact remains: He's going to be ridiculously good. His heart-breaking blocks and complete and utter ability to become unstoppable in the low post were a comforting sight. Jon Henson botched a couple of big plays, including a potentially mind blowing reverse ally-oops that my roommate was sure would get him benched for show-boating, but the idea that these astonishing plays could have happened was enough. He handles the ball well, his limbs are long enough to scare people, and he has a deft passing ability I had underestimated. Even if he couldn't get it all together tonight, the potential is there and I can't wait to see it unleashed. He has some great assists.

Drew II is coming along. I'm happy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Game Recap: UNC vs. Florida International University

The first official game of the hundredth year of the University of North Carolina's men's basketball program was perhaps the first real chance to see exactly how this year was going to shape up as well as the first chance to see some weirdo '57 throwback jerseys with red accents. WEIRD. So though the game ended with a decisive victory, 88-72, against Isiah Thomas's Florida International University Golden Panthers, I couldn't help but feel disappointment: This is one of the best basketball teams in the country?

UNC didn't take care of the ball, turning it over 26 times. By contrast, FIU turned it over only 20 times. Routinely, we looked sloppy and careless, making terrible passes and ill-advised plays. Despite having a huge size advantage, we really failed to capitalize and force the issue. Our offense looked confused and aimless. Guys were clearly making mistakes on defense and it was obvious some guys didn't know the system. It looked like a young team. Which it is. So I guess these things are okay. Still, a little disappointing.

But there were good things. Indeed, there were many, many good things. Drew II is much improved from last year and was killing it with a credible Ty Lawson impression: speed, pinpoint passing, and some sweet on-ball moves including a bad-ass cross-over and at least one ankle breaker. Who would have thought that training with Kobe, one of the hardest working and most skilled basketball players ever, in the off-season would pay dividends? By the way, the answer is everyone. "What about idiots?" you ask. The answer to that is "What about them?"

Deon Thompson looked good. He looked like he looked at the beginning of last season when Tyler was out: ready and willing to get in the trenches and do the dirty work and, oh yeah, score. Currently, Deon looks like the best and most consistent option on offense, and thats more than okay.

Ed Davis played well: A double-double and four blocks in twenty-three minutes bodes well for the future, despite one ill-advised attempt to lead a fast break on his own. Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves looked ready to lead this team after their seasons off: both were all over the place on both ends of the floor and seem more than capable. Ginyard had a big dunk that surprised me, considering that when I think of "Marcus Ginyard" and "dunk" the connecting phrase that comes to mind first is "missed another." Propers to Marcus. Will Graves, incidentally, got the start at small forward, which was also a surprise to me.

I thought John Henson, would start at small forward, but everyone's favorite 6'10" freshmen beanpole came off the bench. He looked good tonight, though not extraordinary, didn't get that many minutes and apparently doesn't really yet have the offense running any plays for him. Imagine this: Henson and Ed Davis pick and roll. That is frightening. In any case, the talent seems clearly there, and with that I will clearly inaugurate the John Henson Breakout Watch, wherein I will devote a section of each recap to noting how far along Henson has come in his quest to come to Earth and destroy our conception of what 6'10", 200 lb beanpoles can do.

Everyone else was fine. Zeller, Watts, McDonald, and Strickland were meh and the Wears were a little disappointing, but all in all-- everything was fine. We shoot more threes than I expected in the first half (12), but only shot one in the second so I felt somewhat indicated. The other shift at the half was when we made a real commitment to getting to the line (6 vs. 13 attempts), which seems like a real reliable way to get points, especially if people are going to be consistently good free throw shooters. I was also surprised to see Roy Williams use some brands and blends of zone defense so early in the season. In the past, it seems like we've lived and died by man to man. It was also cool to see Roy test out our full-court press and trapping, but as it stands now, I'm dubious to the efficacy of these when we run it.

In any case: this is a good team, but maybe not deserving of our ranking yet. There's a lot of raw talent to figure out how to use and a lot of practice to be done. Adding the Henson/Davis pick and roll could go a long way towards making up for any offensive short-comings.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where I Have Been and What Is Coming

Do not despair my children, Love in the Time of Lebron is not dead. We are emerging from our cocoon, stronger than ever. The NBA season has started. Tonight, the University of North Carolina Men's Basketball season will begin. On the 13th of November, the University of North Carolina Women's Basketball season will begin. As of now, I want to go ahead and say that I'm going to make a serious commitment to all three of these topics. Here is what you have to look forward to.

1. I'm finishing the Pre-Season Team Previews. I know the season has started Fuck it. Whatever.
2. UNC men and women's team previews. One of these is actually likely to debut before the season starts.
3. Game previews and recaps for the UNC teams (mostly just recaps with the odd preview).
4. All the inessential basketball information your heart desires (Caron Butler's Mountain Dew problem!)
5. More dumb essays.
6. A column about fantasy basketball.

See you soon, wonderfuls.