Zeller somehow falls into the category of under-hyped 7-footer that runs the floor, employs a killer hook shot, has a stable of post moves, has led an Elite Eight team in scoring and produces in the clutch. How does this happen? You have players like Harrison Barnes on the same team that divert away the attention. The soft-spoken senior did have a very productive NCAA tourney that got more people talking, but still people seem more concerned with Zeller’s younger brother Cody, a freshman at Indiana.
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Benn: Zeller gets more credit than is made out above and it’s obvious opposing coaches pay attention to him. Thing is, not many teams have a legitimate big man to throw against him. With Kendall Marshall handling the ball and scorers on the wings, Zeller is going to be getting more looks than last year. Even with his plethora of talent I see Barnes leading the team in scoring outright this season. Believe when those shots aren’t falling though that Zeller will be the go-to. Would like to see him pull down more rebounds. Probably hard to do that with Henson in the front court with you.Sam: People started to notice Zeller in the tournament because of his prolific scoring, but he’s also dependable in the clutch. Barnes gets tabbed as the clutch performer, and rightfully so, but without Zeller’s last-second perfectly put-up layup, UNC loses to Miami in the ACC tournament last year. He’s ultra-dependable, and like Benn said, practically unguardable on the block with that hook-shot. Definitely the silent killer.
The consensus about Marshall seems to be he’s quite possibly the perfect point guard for this Carolina team. With an NBA first-round-talent frontcourt, the team needs a distributor who can find his playmakers in their ideal spots. Luke Winn’s preseason power rankings illustrate just how “pass-first” a point guard Marshall is, and if you watched him at all last year, you know this is true:Sam: Like most of the prognosticators, I agree that with so much talent around him, Marshall is perfect for this team. There are so many mouths to feed that it’d be difficult for a scoring-minded PG to really facilitate the kind of dominating force this team can be. That being said, I disagree with some of the experts who say that Marshall lacks the elite talent that his fellow Wooden Watch teammates possess. Roy Williams has compared Marshall to Jason Kidd, and I think that’s an apt comparison. Making passes is easy, even Larry Drew II could do that. The real art of passing is getting it to your teammates in the right spot, something that Marshall does exceptionally. Harrison Barnes was a can’t-miss superstar prospect entering college, yet before Marshall took over at point, he didn’t live up to those expectations. We all know what happened after Kendall stepped into the starter’s role. Coincidence? Just to reiterate my point, you try hurling a 90-foot lob just over a team of defenders to a streaking 7-foot big man so that he doesn’t even have to dribble before putting down the deuce, then tell me that Marshall doesn’t have elite talent.Benn: I agree on the talent argument. People seem to think that just because he’s a pass-first type of player it must mean that he lacks the tools to score. Marshall is not the current breed of point guard like Derrick Rose. He does create more and make players around him better, but we’ve all seen him get into the lane and make lay-ups in traffic:Not to mention he hit 3s at a 38 percent clip. The turnaround he facilitated after becoming a starter and the gaudy assist numbers makes us forget what else he brings to the table. With that being said, if Marshall develops any injuries this season – the back spasms are frightening – this team steps back. A lot.
All snark aside, the final score of UNC’s recent dominating exhibition win didn’t reflect what was apparently a sloppy game for a half.
I was traveling — to Chapel Hill, in fact — and unable to watch the game, which was available on TarHeelBlue.com, but all accounts (N&O, DTH, AP) concur that the starting five struggled from the gun, then came to their senses in the second half. The rally was sparked, however, by an unlikely cast, sophomore Reggie Bullock and four freshmen, P.J. Hairston(above), Jackson Simmons, Stillman White and Desmond Hubert, went on a 14-0 tear to put the Heels up 11 at the break after trailing for most of the first half.
Hairston’s stat line, in particular, was very encouraging: 17 points on 4 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc. With Leslie McDonald being out for most if not all of the season, a deep-shooting threat is the most glaring hole in the Heels offense. Hopefully Hairston can keep up that kind of production. Most freshmen that come into college touted as “shooters” usually take a year or two to develop. Wayne Ellington shot 37 percent from 3 his freshman year, a stat that improved to almost 42 percent in his last season at Carolina. Bullock, entering his second season, could also provide some needed firepower from outside to help take the pressure off Barnes.
Not that Barnes won’t be taking plenty of those ill-advised 3-pointers again this year; he went 0-3 in the exhibition. We know that Harrison loves to shoot it, but what is encouraging is that he took 10 free throws in the contest, possibly signifying more aggressiveness near the basket. He made nine of those. Barnes has bulked up a bit over the off-season and has mentioned in interviews the he is trying to drive the hoop more often. This is good. This is very good.
Barnes will take his jumpshots, 2-8 on the game, but going to the hoop will be a strength of the Heels’ this year, and once he learns to utilize his size the points will start to pile up.
Is it November 11 yet?
While we get our shit together on some more thoughtful stuff, here’s some links:
- Seriously, that SLAM magazine cover is awesome, and so it this:
- The News & Observer is all over it this week. Here’s one on Harrison Barnes, who says “But it’s not national championship or bust for us.”
- Ummm, yes it is.
- N&O has media day pictures here, and a story on media day and how Heels’ players “dominated” the ACC preseason voting. Here’s one on some more general ACC stuff, with a enlightening comment on the Tar Heels. “UNC will win…..a lot.” Insightful stuff, Mr. Giglio.
- If you’re a Carolina fan, you probably already noticed that UNC will open the season at No. 1 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Oddly enough, USA Today noticed, TOO! They ran an ass ton of stories on college basketball yesterday! You’ll like this one, and this one and just maybe, this one.
- This Durham Herald-Sun story is about a week old, but I hadn’t seen it yet! ZOMG! But it is interesting in that it has some of Roy’s take on conference expansion.
It’s been a while. Nice to see you! We hope you haven’t given your blog loyalty to someone else! Have no fear, we’re back. We’re back and better than ever.
Truth be told, it’s been pretty busy for us Rafters bloggers the past couple of weeks, and aside from some technical log-in difficulties, we’re finally ready to start the season — only five days after practice began. We had such plans! We meant to start back mid-September, then we rolled it back to beginning of October, then we said, “OK, we’re going to do it for Late Night with Roy. We’re SO going to do it then!”
Turns out both Benn and I were out of town, working too much, or in my case, getting engaged (#humblebrag) the past few weeks. So, what we meant the whole time was we’re going to start right now.
Not sure why it took so much effort to get us started this year. I mean, have you seen the preseason projections?
When Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all turned down staying at home during the NBA lockout, college basketball suddenly gained an elite team, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since say, 2008-’09.
In fact, it’s eerily familiar to that other special season, when a different Tyler, and some fellows named Ty, Wayne and Danny all decided to come back for one more shot. We all know what Barnes said about his reasons for coming back. Hansbrough said the same, one-track-mind kind of thing.
The Heels return all five starters from an Elite 8 squad that was No. 1 in the country in rebounding, 24th in points-per-game and 30th in assists-per-game. According to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, UNC was the 6th best defensive team in the country last year. Roy Williams’ hallmark has never been defense, but with the length of UNC’s frontcourt, particularly Henson, and the speed of guards like Dexter Strickland, that sentiment appears to be changing.
Don’t let us forget to mention the daggum passin’est, tweetin’est, sneaker headin’est Tar Heel we’ve seen in Ol’ Roy’s tenure, Kendall Marshall. And also, the crop of top recruits coming to Chapel Hill, headlined by James Michael McAdoo and the Tar Heel bred P.J. Hairston.
We might not have gotten started blogging when we originally planned, but man, is it ever going to be easy to get excited. To get you just as excited, here are some links from around the web that are worth shrugging off work for a little while today:
- Grantland is doing a weeklong series on college basketball. You’ll probably be most interested in this one on UNC, but just to get that hatred flowing, you should probably read this one in defense of, who else, Duke.
- As we mentioned earlier, Midnight Madness hit last Friday with the official start of practice for teams around the country. Here’s a round-up of a bunch of different teams’ activities, and here’s the down low on Late Night with Roy.
- This is probably the most underrated news of the offseason. Roy Williams has signed an extension through 2018.
- So, Carolina is supposed to be pretty good this year. Probably why it has four players on the preseason Wooden Watch list. Who’s No. 1? #BlackFalconStrikesAgain
- UNC will wear some of those sweat-back-looking uniforms this year, a la Duke’s hideous Singler-sweat-backs from last year. Maybe they won’t look so bad?
See you this year,
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We’ve been pretty quiet around The Rafters world headquarters concerning Harrison Barnes’ decision whether to go to the NBA or return for his sophomore year. Call it superstition or whatever you want – it worked. Today, Barnes announced via press release that he’d be coming back to Chapel Hill for another year of Black Falcon strikes and Based God bludgeoning.
For Carolina fans, this high might last all week. For me it isn’t quite the same as when Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green decided to return for the 2008-’09 season in a few ways, and very much like it in one, big way. It’s different in that we were kind of held on edge for all three of those players, not really knowing just how good Carolina would be the next year until they decided to return. With Barnes’ decision, we knew the Heels will be good regardless, but it didn’t feel like a title season was in reach until he came back, and that’s the way it feels the same as ’09, that a title season is certainly in reach.
While Carolina would have been a Top 10 team without Barnes, adding his seemingly ceilingless ability to the squad makes the team a prohibitive favorite.
Next year could also become a legendary season thanks to Carolina’s schedule. UNC has an annual match-up with another title contender next year in Kentucky. It’s first game of the season will be on an aircraft carrier. And if the ACC/Big 10 Challenge continues be scheduled in efforts to create the best match-ups, Carolina could potentially be facing another Top 5 team in Ohio State all before the conference season begins. Duke, also, did not miss a beat and will have a very talented team to provide what could be another season with three UNC/Duke games.
There will be plenty of speculation between now and November for what Barnes referred to in the press release as a “special season,” but I’ll just let him say it in his own words:
“As a team, we’re preparing for a special season. My off-season plans are to diligently work on honing my basketball skills in all areas with one team-goal in mind — to bring the 2012 national championship home to UNC.”
Welcome back, Harrison.
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UNC 81, Duke 67
You might have heard that over the weekend the Tar Heels handed No. 4 Duke an emphatic loss in the Smith Center to claim the regular-season ACC title. You also might have heard that despite a short-lived Duke run to bring its deficit to five in the second half, the game was never in doubt. UNC dominated the devils behind a commanding performance from its freshman point guard, Kendall Marshall. Lastly, it’s possible you heard that after Saturday’s romp, the Tar Heels are seen as potential Final Four contenders while the Blue Devils merely have questions surrounding their team that was once considered a lock to play in April.
In the almost 16-month history of the Rafters, this is the first time we’ve been able to write about a Duke win. How sweet is it? Let’s just say my fingers are shaking. Despite the fact that the most recent AP rankings rank Duke No. 5 and Carolina No. 6, it’s safe to say that those numbers could easily be reversed. A potential rubber match on Sunday has already kept me awake at night. Forget the holidays, this is the most wonderful time of the year.
But back to the game that has already taken place. Watching at a bar with dozens of other Carolina fans, every basket, miss, steal, free-throw, whistle, assist, foul and turnover was met with cheers or jeers. Speaking of turnovers, Nolan smith had five to just three assists, but I digress. While every possession felt like life and death in the moment, the reality was Carolina controlled the game for the majority of the match. In many ways, it was a mirror of the first match-up, minus the second half Duke rally. Smith and Seth Curry got plenty of points, but when two players score literally 75 percent of the team’s total (50 of 67 total points), the rest of team has to contribute in any way it can, and the Devils didn’t respond.
Carolina on the other hand delivered a balanced attack, perhaps evidenced by Marshall’s 11 assists and no player topping 20 points. Barnes had his routine 18 points to lead the team, and Henson notched his routine double-double. March has just begun, but it’s already given us a reason to remember why we love it so much.
- Kendall Marshall is a serious player. In case you didn’t already hold this notion, Saturday cemented the fact that Marshall is one of the top point guards in the ACC, and that he shows up for big games. He’s the driving force behind the Heels turnaround this year. I think the title of this YouTube video sums it up:
- Roy Williams is the ACC Coach of the Year. Whether or not he actually wins the award, Roy has done an amazing job getting this year’s team to buy in to his team-first philosophy. It makes sense that after all the departures, dismissals and preseason hype that Roy would have to sell the players on the fact that Carolina basketball is bigger than any one player. Anyone who watched the debacle last year knows that Roy has actually changed his system to suit his personnel this time around. It’s worked and now he just needs them to stay focused for a few more weeks.
- Tradition rules on Senior Day. Roy kept with tradition and started three senior walk-ons, Justin Knox and Marshall even though the game was for the ACC title and even though it was against a hated rival. What some might have seen as a mistake wasn’t for several reasons. 1) How could Roy keep telling his players that the team comes first if he balked on this great Carolina tradition and 2) when Van Hatchell, D.J. Johnston and Daniel Bolick left the game, the Heels were leading 3-0.
- Tyler Zeller is still there, y’all. Because of their elevated play, Henson, Barnes and Marshall have been garnering — justifiably — more attention from opposing teams and the press recently. All Tyler Zeller does is go out and score double digit points and grab at least five or six rebounds per game. He had 14 and five against Duke and was solid — per ususal — in the post. Zeller’s consistency will be invaluable in the post-season.
Player of the Game: Kendall Marshall (15 pts, 11 asts, 2 rebs ) All that stylin’ and only two turnovers while playing 36 minutes against what is typically a very good defensive team.
Stat Stuffer (a.k.a. The John Henson Award): Henson (10 pts, 12 rebs, 1 blk, 1 stl)
Play of the Game: While he didn’t have a great overall game, Dexter Strickland’s dunk with about a minute remaining was the nail in the coffin. Really wish I could have heard the roar in person.
UNC 72, Florida State 70
Pretty much everything that was predicted about the Florida State game came true. It was a close game, Derwin Kitchen led the ‘Noles and Carolin
a pulled out the win.
Oh, and Harrison Barnes “Sheened” all over Tallahassee.
In what has become a regular occurrence for the Heels in the Sunshine State, they won on a last second shot. FSU, which hadn’t lost an ACC game at home, came to play, hanging with Carolina for the entire game. But after Kitchen’s free throws put the ‘Noles up one with 18 seconds to go, it came down to Harrison Barnes to pull off the final shot in his typically heroic fashion.
After a timeout, Marshall drove the entire length of the floor and tossed up a prayer of a lay-up that was easily swatted out of bounds under the Heels’ offensive end — 11 seconds to go. The inbound came back to Marshall, who then passed it to Barnes who nonchalantly hung out at the top of the key.
Holy shit, he’s going to shoot it.
Yes, Barnes did shoot it — from behind the arc when only down one — and swished it. It wasn’t quite the play Roy had drawn up, but it went in. Barnes would later tell the media that he was supposed to drive, but saw that it was more open to take the trey. Who’s a freshman?
- This was probably the Heels best game of the year. Beating Kentucky was nice, sure, but it was at home and Kentucky has shown that they can’t play on the road in the SEC, let alone in Chapel Hill. This was a true road game that really mattered to both teams late in the year. Duke didn’t pull it off down in Tallahassee, but Carolina found a way. Impressive.
- You might think we’re getting too excited about a game that was very close to a loss, well, get used to it. Every game from here until the end of the season is going to be a grudge match, and this team keeps finding a way to win. Not every team that will be dancing this month has that skill or tenacity, and this team has both.
- Kendall Marshall had a couple of freshman moments at the end of the game, turning the ball over on a downcourt pass with maybe two minutes left and also tossing it up for grabs in the corner with less than a minute left rather than calling a timeout. It’s true, that Dean Smith’s Carolina teams were coached not to call timeouts on their own, but in his after-game press conference, Roy Williams indicated he would have liked Marshall to do that. I guess you have to change your ways. At this point we know Kendall learns a ton every game, let’s hope he learned a little bit about handling the end of a tight one last night.
- Marshall only had half the number of assists he did in his first meeting with FSU, but there isn’t much sweeter than that one-handed bounce pass to Henson through traffic. Beautiful.
- If you didn’t click on it above already, read Adam Lucas’ account of the locker room after the game. This team gets along about as well as the ’09 team, and that’s saying something.
Player of the Game: The Black Falcon (18 pts, 4 rebs) After seemingly dissappearing in the second half, Barnes reasserted himself as the go-to player on the Tar Heels. He. Is. Based.
Stat Stuffer (a.k.a. the John Henson Award): #seewhatididthere (19 pts, 12 rebs, 2 asts, 3 blks)
Stat of the Game: OK, it’s two games worth, but in both his meetings with Florida State this year combined, Kendall Marshall has 24 assists to six turnovers. Suck on that, Nolan.
Almost-fight of the Game: Deividas Dulkys of Florida State said a few words to Henson after a rough play under the baskest. Henson seemed to have more than a few for him in return, and Dulkys shut up immediately. Only about a half foot height difference in those two, and I’d say Henson has him on the reach.
(Pic from N&O)
UNC 48, Boston College 46 – Box Score
UNC 75, N.C. State 63 – Box Score
Apologies, fair readers for my laziness this week in getting you the esteemed Tar Heel analysis you crave. In the interest of efficiency I’m going to combine the BC and State wrap-ups with some generalizations that have come to me over the past two games. Both games were similar in that they were closer than most of us would have preferred, but I’m not ready to say they were necessarily failures on the part of Carolina.
While shooting woes continue to plague the entire team for what has seemed like the entire season (except maybe against Hofstra and BC version 1.0), we seem to have forgotten that the Heels are now a Top 20 team (No. 19), and the “we’re playing Carolina so give them our best shot” factor is back in full force. BC version 2.0 was a game in which the Eagles were playing for their NCAA tourney lives, and State, well, they always try pitifully to beat the Heels in the rivalry game, but don’t tell Harrison Barnes it’s a rivalry.
The point is, the lowest amount of points scored in the Dean Dome didn’t derail this team, and neither did a feisty nearby rival on the road. It might not be pretty, but UNC knows how to win.
- Let’s just forget that BC game.
- State was obviously fired up for a shot at Carolina on its home floor. Even C.J. Leslie decided to take time away from his poetry to play some ball have a team-high 13 points for State. They were a tough out, but we found out – yet again – that this year’s Tar Heels are resilient as hell. Do you think they would have won that game last year?
- Barnes is a man child. He’s also an action figure.
- John Henson wasn’t especially active on the offensive end against State, but how can you complain about 15 boards and 6 blocks? We’ll say it for the 100th time, but his presence is key to almost everything UNC does with the ball and without the ball. A great athlete with great timing. What a weapon.
Superlatives (sort of)
So maybe I was a little light on the analysis this week, but at least I have some nice links for you above. Basically, I just wanted to get to this point.
Harrison Barnes is who we thought he was before the season started.
He might have started slow, but Barnes is visibly becoming a leader of this team. While I would not have awarded a player of the game to anyone in the BC game, Barnes gets it hands down for his momentum-killing dunks and trey in the final minutes of the second half against N.C. State. The run felt similar to the one he had in the first half against Kentucky earlier this year. Barnes is finally getting it and at the right times. He doesn’t disappear anymore and wants to be the man in crunch time. His instincts will be valuable in the tournament this year, and Carolina is going to be a tough “out” in a few short weeks when it heads to the dance again. With Henson’s defensive presence, Barnes’ knack for heroics,Marshall’s cerebral passing, Zeller’s consistent production and all the other fine pieces in place in Chapel Hill, it’s going to be a fun March.
UNC 78, Wake Forest 64
If you read our preview, you read our prediction that “as long as UNC plays a mediocre game, this will be a win.” Well, it was a mediocre game, and UNC won, so I guess that was a pretty accurate statement. And while we’re on the subject of educated guesses, we have to give a tip o’ the hat to Rafters Editor Benn Wineka, who’s score estimation(80-66, UNC) was the closest we’ve had on the blog to date.
Now that you’ve fully realized our powers of prediction, let’s get back to that lackadaisical game Carolina put in last night. Things started off well, with the Heels more or less doubling up Wake for most of the first half. Despite some horrific shooting, the bigs’ dominated the offensive glass and put in a lot of second (and third) chances. In fact, 20 of UNC’s 50 rebounds were offensive in the game.
The shooting slump continued in the second half. There’s not much to say about it other than Carolina was just not clicking with its shots. Most were wide open looks as Wake was stuck in a somewhat inactive zone defense. Carolina had been playing well during an emotional four-game stretch since Larry Drew II’s departure, and it seemed to catch up with the team yesterday night when the Deacons whittled the their deficit to eight in the second half before UNC pulled away again. Hopefully a one-game slump is all it will be.
- John Henson is consistent. Henson tallied another double double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks. His recent stellar output seems to be his new norm, and we’re definitely OK with that.
- Harrison Barnes’ shooting woes returned. Barnes gets a break here because the whole team shot poorly, and because most of his 3-pointers were wide open looks. Still, 1-8 from beyond the arc with mostly wide-open looks is the opposite of good. He’s at least stopped taking all those contested treys, but UNC needs him to knock them down when they’re open.
- More on Barnes. Harrison had about three highlight-reel caliber dunks in the second half Tuesday, with our favorite being his swooping elevation through the lane in traffic for the “And 1.” Honestly, if he just stuck to two-pointers he could dominate some statistical categories. He loves those treys though.
- UNC shot 27 3-pointers on the game, making five (18.5%). Carolina does not need to be shooting that many threes period, let alone when they’re not going in. Its strength is inside with rebounding and on the break with its speed and finishing — not stroking it.
- There was a Leslie McDonald sighting. McDonald hit a couple of long-range shots and drove the basket on his way to 5-6 from the charity stripe, finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds. He didn’t shoot a fantastic percentage, but was a great presence in some quality minutes.
- More on McDonald. Sometimes it feels like Leslie is forcing some shots, almost like he’s looking to get his while he’s on the floor. Sometimes I think he’s trying too hard and trying to impress Roy. It could be because he’s worried about Reggie Bullock eating into his PT. I could also be making all this up, but maybe I’m not.
Player of the Game & Stat Stuffer: Both go to the Big Smile, John Henson (14 pts, 13 rebs, 5 blks, 2 asts, 1 stl). If Henson’s newly Rafters-bestowed nickname left you a little puzzled, it’s a play on another famous nickname for a Carolina player with long arms. (see: The Big Smooth)
Honorable Mention: Harrison Barnes (17 pts, 4 rebs, 4 asts, 1 blk, 1 stl) I had to mention Barnes because he had ZERO turnovers. He didn’t quite make player of the game because he didn’t disrupt nearly every shot in the paint like Henson, and he shot that dismal 1-8 from three.