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.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this post incorrectly spelled Stilman White’s name as “Stillman.”
Stilman was a late addition to the Heels this past spring, and there’s no mistaking that after the departure of Larry Drew II, he’s the Kendall Marshall Insurance Policy that Roy needed. With only Dexter Strickland capable of running the offense besides Marshall, one injury at PG had the potential of derailing a whole season. I’m not knocking, White. He’s a capable player and even guided the Heels to an offensive outburst in the exhibition against UNC-Pembroke. I’m just putting into context that he’s been recruited as a backup — who will give some depth to the position for the next six years! White will take his Mormon mission next year, and won’t return to the Heels until the 2014-’15 season. It’s actually kind of genius by Ol’ Roy. White will take off for his mission at the same time that a more highly recruited point guard, Marcus Paige, comes in. Paige will presumably learn the ropes under Marshall’s tutelage, then take over in 2014, right when his back-up returns from his Mormon mission.
White seemingly gets along famously with Kendall Marshall, that is if you follow the two’s Twitter feeds. Anything he can soak up from Marshall will be a great asset for those times White gets to play this year. He’ll most likely see some Blue Team duties, and could be something of a crowd favorite. He is from Wilmington, after all. Here’s some wishful thinking: What if White plays on a national champion this year, and then after returning, plays for another title team, assuming Roy keeps up his “contend every three or four years” pattern?
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,
Caroline Leigh, and ramblinWrecker are discussing. Toggle Comments
Yesterday it was confirmed that North Carolina signed Wilmington point guard, Stilman White to play for the Tar Heels next season. This is great news as now Dexter Strickland won’t be forced to play the point when Kendall Marshall is getting a rest. It’s also great news because it will secure the back-up point guard position for the next six years — yes, six years.
White is Mormon – he also had offers from BYU, Utah State and UNC-Wilmington — and will play for the Heels next year, but then take his two-year mission during the following years, and return to play for UNC during the 2014-’15 season. Roy Williams has already secured a top-flight point guard in the class of 2012 in Marcus Paige.
White is a good player, and I’m certainly not ruling out the possibility for leaps in improvement, but he’s likely not the caliber of Marshall or Paige. In essence, he would back up either player if they were on the same roster. He will back up Marshall next year, Marshall’s sophomore year, then take off for his mission. Paige will step in the following year, Marshall’s junior season, and back up Kendall for his final two years at Carolina — all while White is on his mission. White comes back to UNC when Paige is a junior, presumably with tons of experience after backing up Marshall for two years, and White will still have three years of eligibility left in the NCAA. He can back-up Paige for Paige’s junior and senior seasons, and perhaps any other point guard that comes down the pike by his senior year.
Or who knows, maybe White will be starting caliber by his senior year, at which point he could take the reigns of the team. The bottom line is after these past two seasons of anxiousness with Dexter Strickland having to play out of position to run the offense, securing a great back-up point guard for a long period of time was a great move by Roy.
Of course, that’s assuming that Marshall and Paige both stay four years, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
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.
Any game following a Duke game has the potential to be a trap. Saturday’s test at Clemson proved that axiom to be true. While Carolina went up early 15-4, the game sort of creeped back into a competitive affair after some sloppy play, including lots of missed lay-ups by the Heels. Unlike the Duke game, however, when Clemson mounted its comeback UNC responded by going up 61-53 in the final minute. That run was keyed by what could be the play of the year for this Carolina team, with Harrison Barnes taking off from the arc and driving the lane for a one-handed jam.
As was the case with the last Clemson game, Carolina was able to control the paint behind Henson and Zeller, a fact that was never more evident than one play in which Henson blocked Jerai Grant, the rebound went to Andre Young, who was then immediately swatted by Zeller. That wasn’t the only play the duo got the best of Clemson’s best big man and leading rebounder, Grant. He finished with zero points and one rebound.
The game was an important win, and showed how much this year’s team has progressed since the start of the season. Others are taking notice as well, evidenced by the fact that despite the loss to Duke, Carolina moved up to No. 19 in both national polls.
- The Heels missed a ton of open lay-ups. I don’t have the stats on this but it seemed there were quite a few, especially in the first half. One that comes to mind was Reggie Bullock directly under the basket. We’ll chalk the lack of focus up to post-Duke hangover.
- Kendall Marshall drove the ball effectively. He reached the foul line 11 times, hitting 10. He did not shoot well from further out than that, however, missing all three of his 3-point attempts.
- Barnes has arrived. His 20 points led the team for the fourth time in five games. We were trying to be too quick to proclaim this, but it seems he’s finally become the go-to scorer that he was predicted to be in the preseason.
- And most importantly, as we stated above the Heels didn’t buckle under pressure. Despite being on the road in front of a raucous crowd, Carolina stayed in the game and eventually pulled away by enough to secure the win.
Player of the Game: Close one here between Henson (14 pts, 12 rebs) and Barnes (20 pts, 5 rebs). Barnes contributed plenty of scoring while Henson seemingly altered every shot inside the arc and tallied four blocks. The award goes to Barnes for his jaw-dropper with three minutes left that started UNC’s last push. You know Henson will get some love below.
Stat Stuffer (a.k.a. the Danny Green Award): John Henson (14 pts, 12 rebs, 4 blks, 2 asts, 1 stl). Seriously though, when should we rename this the John Henson Award?
Play of the Game: You know you hit rewind after this diddy.
Play of the Game II: The Henson/Zeller double down block party.
There’s been a lot of discussion, and rightfully so, on the subject of Larry Drew II’s sudden departure from the Carolina basketball team Friday morning. Mostly, he’s been panned for his decision, and that might actually be putting it lightly. Read Seth Davis, Gary Parrish and Andy Katz. Larry won’t be getting any sympathy in the media any time soon.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that for the past two seasons, we’ve defended LD numerous times. First and foremost, this is not another defense of Larry Drew II. The manner in which he left the team is not something that deserves defending, and Drew’s cowardice in his departure is not emblematic of Dean Smith’s famous “Carolina Way.”
What we would like to do, however, is try and decipher what could have led to his decision, which seemingly doesn’t make any sense.
Larry Drew Sr. told the News & Observer last week that the decision for LDII to transfer was made before the season even started. That’s bullshit. If you’ve already made your decision, you leave. Drew II had to have originally had the intention of playing out the entire season. By leaving after the start of this semester, he loses roughly a third of a season of eligibility. There’s absolutely no benefit to him leaving now. Some popular theories are 1) that LD is just saying “screw you” to the team and putting his own pride above the team’s well-being and 2) his parents have convinced him he deserves better.
While Davis’ story above reports on the issues that Drew’s mother presented to the coaches and athletic department, and on the surface it does seem LD is just bailing on the team, those theories don’t capture the whole story. Remember, Drew is actually hurting his own basketball future by leaving now. What coach is going to want to pick up LD this offseason? A mediocre point guard with character questions and intrusive parents? No, thanks.
There’s got to be more to it than that. How many regular students do you know who just pick up and leave one month into the Spring semester, let alone student athletes in the middle of their season? The constant harping by the media that Kendall Marshall is a superior point guard — which is true — along with the huge ovations Marshall has been receiving of late must have been taking their toll. The pressure of being UNC’s point guard was taking it’s toll. The pressure he was getting from his parents was taking its toll. The simple fact is Drew was miserable — so miserable, that he couldn’t stay another day.
Coaches had said that Larry took his demotion to the bench well, something that might explain his increased production in a reserve role. Perhaps the temporary relief of not starting was soon thwarted by the praise of Marshall’s recent play, which subsequently requires a comparison to the lesser player Drew.
I won’t even begin to speculate if his misery was rooted in a belief that he was actually deserving of the starting role, or if it was rooted in a feeling of abandonment by his team, but being depressed is not something that anyone deals with well. His demotion instigated the media coverage, parental pressure and personal anguish that must have consumed him. And while his actions were ungraceful, perhaps Larry does deserve a little sympathy.
That being said, Roy Williams and the coaching staff handled his demotion (and don’t let anyone tell you that his demotion wasn’t the impetus for his departure) in the best way possible. Fans had been clamoring for Marshall to start for several weeks before the gradual transition took place in the Georgia Tech game. Roy substituted five for five several times in the game before leaving Marshall on the floor while the rest of the starters came in. The next game, Marshall was the official starter, but was still splitting minutes more or less evenly with Drew. This slow transition was obviously a conscious decision, and probably a decision made to let LD down gently.
While we feel sorry for Drew, we still feel the confusion and betrayal that we did upon his announcement Friday. The fact is, regardless of his reasons and whether those reasons are justified, Drew bailed without warning. He didn’t show his teammates and coaches the respect they deserved, making a bad situation worse. After seeing Drew handle this ordeal with so little class, there will be no love lost here at the Rafters. At the same time, however, we won’t be cursing his name.