The Rafters’ UNC Men’s Basketball Year End Review

We figured that one regular column couldn’t quite sum up this season. Instead we’ve made one mega wrap-up feature. Starting off is a dialouge between your Rafters editors about anything and everything from the season.

Benn Wineka: @TarHeelWire poised this question to their followers Monday, “So where does yesterday rank in terms of “disappointing” NCAA tournament losses for UNC?” You answered, “Near impossible to be disappointed with this team.” A lot of other people here are feeling the same way. This squad started 4-3, lost a starting point guard mid-season and potential starter in Will Graves before the season (when’s the last time you thought about Graves?) but was able to come within a devastating barrage of treys from Kentucky to get to a Final Four. I’ve been saying all season that I would be happy to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAAs. Yet after winning a regular season ACC championship, playing great basketball to close out the season and knowing who was left in the tournament before tip-off Sunday night (VCU, Butler, UConn) I have to say I am more disappointed than I would have been, say, three weeks ago had you told me that UNC would lose in the Elite Eight.

Sam Wineka: Yeah, I think it’s important to distinguish that while this team was tremendous once the calendar turned to 2011, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. It was a loss after all. The disappointment isn’t rooted in how the team played – they were amazing. It’s knowing that the Final Four is wide open and right there for the taking and thinking of what could have been. To digress, there’s a reason a team with as much history as Carolina only has five titles. They’re incredibly hard to get. You think back to the one-point win over Villanova in ’05 and then the championship game against Illinois. Those games were not in hand at all. When you remember that team you think of how great it was and how it “dominated,” but actually it wasn’t a cakewalk. So it’s an interesting question of disappointment. Am I disappointed we lost? Yes. Am I disappointed with the team? Hell, no.

After a one-year hiatus, this group of players finally made it feel like you were watching Carolina basketball again. As Adam Lucas pointed out, they really enjoy each other. It seems like it must be as much fun for them playing the game as it is for us to be watching them. It’s very reminiscent of the 2009 team’s dynamic with each other, and that was definitely missing last year. Now, if I could only pinpoint some exact moment when that change seemed to come over the team? Some moment in mid-February, perhaps?

BW: No need to pussy foot around it — Larry Drew II’s exit. But it’s almost more about the exit of Drew as a person than as a player. Kendall Marshall is by far the better PG of the two anyway, but there was a air about the kid. Back in October, Dexter Strickland said he felt like Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard didn’t want to hang out with him. There was some kind of gloom in that locker room.

SW: Ginyard and Thompson, formerly two quintessential role players for the Heels, arrived at their senior seasons and neither appeared to step into that leadership role. Deon, especially seemed checked out. Maybe Ginyard wished he had graduated with his buds from the ’09 team? Maybe they didn’t like the underclassmen getting more hype than them? Whatever it was, that element should have been gone this year. Instead, Drew took the mantle of always seeming to be a bit out of touch when you read his quotes in game stories. And that look on his face, unconcerned. I think his twitter handle (@LarryAngeles) says a lot about where his mind was during the season. LDII was too concerned with LDII to be worried about the team’s well-being. I’m surprised we didn’t get more flack from readers for defending him at times, but like you said it wasn’t necessarily his play  — which we defended — that was the toxic element at hand. Sure, he was a bit of an erratic PG, but he could put together some good minutes and was actually playing very well coming off the bench before his departure. But as we found out, his demeanor in the locker room must truly have had an ill effect.

BW: Kinda makes you start to wonder what a team like last year’s could have done with legitimate team chemistry. That’s a whole other thing though.

Speaking of last year’s team though, wasn’t it amazing being able to watch John Henson play in his natural position all season? Between that and a healthy Tyler Zeller, UNC may have had the best front court tandem in the country. Even Coach K credited us on that. After last year’s departure of the Wear twins and Ed Davis, I was not ready to rely on those two down low. Luckily I was proved very wrong. And I can’t forget the play of the savior Justin Knox and Justin Watts for stealing minutes at the four all year.

SW: Last year was a case study in bad team chemistry. As far as this year, Watts was great. He didn’t exactly make you feel safe when he came in, because you knew he would be undersized compared to his counterpart, but he always played hard. Dude has some serious hops. Knox gave some quality minutes as well. He was savvy enough to where he didn’t make a ton of dumb errors. How weird as a fan to only experience a player for one year, but that player was a senior rather than a freshman?

As far as this year’s freshmen,  I feel like they’ve aged three years since November.

BW: And we didn’t even get to see Reggie Bullock and his role/potential down the stretch. Reggie only shot 29 percent from down town, but hit 29 threes, good for third most on the team. And he missed ten games. That’s a much-missed offense for this team.

With Barnes and Marshall, they have both already ingrained themselves in Carolina lore that  it feels like we’ve been watching these guys play for three years. Barnes came in with a target on his back, expected to hit game-winning shots before he got on campus. By the end of the season you expected him to go Black Falcon and take over games. Don’t know the last time I watched a UNC player shoot and assume it is going in. But that’s exactly what Barnes has transformed into. If he puts up a shot with under five minutes left to play, I’m shocked if he doesn’t make it.

Marshall. What can be said that hasn’t already? The kid just took care of business all season. When Drewgate went down, Marshall came out the next night like he didn’t even know who Larry Angeles was. Over six assists a game! Almost seven in conference! I don’t even like exclamation points, but damn! I guess you can play this well as a freshman when you’ve been ready for this moment for a long time.

Quick side note: did you see James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston in the McDonald’s All-American game?

East Wins McDonald’s All-American Game by ESPN

SW: Yes, we should definitely touch on potential for next season. McAdoo and Hairston are both studs. They’ll bring some great talent and much-needed depth to the team. Maybe we’ll finally get a consistent long-range game going among the trio of Hairston, McDonald and Bullock? Barnes is also a long-range threat, but if we could get some consistency from deep out of the shooting guard, it would do wonders for our offense. If defenses had to respect a shooter on our team, it would unclog the lane for Barnes, Zeller and Henson to go to work.

Now that I’ve brought up next year, we might as well get to potential departures. The consensus prospects are the big three: Barnes, Henson and Zeller. Barnes was always seen as a possible one-and-done. Henson was thought to be a one-and-done before his freshman year, but after the shaky season – not to mention his skinny stature – he returned to blossom this year. Zeller, I think , only came into the discussion because of his stellar post-season. All three could leave and have potential on the next level now, but I also think they all have something to gain by coming back for another year. Barnes could improve his handle and driving ability, Henson his bulk, and Zeller his toughness. They’d improve in key areas necessary for the next level, but I don’t think it’s absurd to also mention that if they all came back, Carolina would be a pre-season favorite to win the title.

BW: So, you’re saying there’s a chance? But really. I hate to get ahead of things, but the decisions made over the next few weeks will greatly shape UNC and the college basketball landscape. I realize this is the most obvious statement ever, but who would be able to even begin to compete with that team?

This year has been great though. The team that came out in November looking so disjointed really began playing good basketball. Marshall gets major credit for playing a game where everyone else around him and just fall into place. This fun basketball to watch, unlike what we were put through for a lot of last season and even early this one.

SW: Following this team was better than watching the best reality television or maybe even the Mighty Ducks – maybe. The story seemed like it was written for a movie. First, the team begins the season out-of-sync, nobody looks like they’ll pull it together, not even the team’s best player. They might be the worst team in the league. Slowly though, the players start to get it on court, but the ups and downs of their personal lives (Larry Drew) get in the way of the team. Watching that loss to Georgia Tech was like when Gordon Bombay completed his community service and was thinking of going back to being a high-powered lawyer — devastating. But no, what happened? The team recommits after its coach makes a change. Roy changed his PG; Bombay decided his heart was with the Ducks. They make a surge and in the final game of the regular season they play their hated rival, the Dukies (or the Hawks.) The music gets cued as the protagonists win the game.

The Heels didn’t end up winning the championship, but they did advance further than their rivals in the tourney, so that’s a pretty close analogy if you ask me. The most important thing is that this team reaffirmed why we’re Carolina fans; it plays with passion and pride. The Carolina Way is alive and well in Chapel Hill, and appears to be for years to come. We might have deked ’em once this year, but next year the Dukies can expect the triple-deke.

It’s Got to be the Shoes, 2010 – UNC Men’s Basketball Footwear Part III

We’ve been checking in on this periodically this season, but hadn’t since ACC play started. Since our last two check-ins, UNC players wore six new models:

Jordan Pre-Game XT

Jordan CP3.IV

Air Jordan 2011 UNC Player Exclusive

Jordan Evolution ’85

Air Jordan II

(and most excitedly) Air Jordan III “Cement Grey”

There was also some other interesting sneaker news, as Michael Jordan himself called out a certain frosh during the NCAAs, scalding him for not wearing Jordans. Nothing came of this.

Here’s what each player wore for the remainder of the season:

Dexter Strickland – Dex jumped around a bit with his shoes. At Virginia, at NC State, at Florida State and against Maryland he was in the Jordan Icons. He wore the Pre-Game XT at Georgia Tech, at Miami and against Clemson. Against Virginia Tech, NC StateBoston College and Duke he wore the Air Jordan 16.5. Dex wore the CP3.IV for the rest of the ACC games. For the NCAA Dex was in the Air Jordan 2011 but broke out the “Cement Greys” against Kentucky.

Harrison Barnes – Harrison Barnes, aka Black Falcon, aka Barnesbot, spent the entire second half of the season in the Nike Zoom Kobe V, including the ACC and NCAA tournament. He did wear the Pre-Game XT for a twogame stretch though.

John Henson – The Big Smile wore the “Flint” Air Jordan 13s twice more before moving onto the Pre-Game XT like the rest of the team for a spell. John spent the majority of the second half in the Jordan CP3.IV. The end of the season was reserved for the Jordan Hallowed Ground, a shoe he favored last year. The Air Jordan 2011 made an appearance in the NCAAs.

Justin Knox – The Alabama transfer was fairly predictable, being seen in the Air Jordan 2010 Team for the majority of the season. He did go the Jordan Pre-Game XT route too and did wear the Air Jordan 2011 for the NCAA opener.

Justin Watts – Watts was all over the place. He wore the Jordan Ol’ School IV against Virginia and Georgia Tech. He rocked the Pre-Game XT for two games. Spent a pretty big chunk of games in the Jordan CP3.IV. By the end of the year though he was strictly Air Jordan 12Rising Suns.

Kendall Marshall – Beside four games in the Jordan PreGame XT, Kendall Marshall wore the Air Jordan 2010 team all year long, including the ACC tournament games. He did wear the Air Jordan 2011 in the NCAAs though.

Larry Drew II – Fuck him.

Leslie McDonald – Leslie was also all over the place. With the ACC season Leslie brought out the Air Jordan II which he wore quite often. The Jordan Pre-Game XT, Jordan CP3.IV, Jordan Evolution ’85 and Jordan Ol’ School IV. Leslie wore the Air Jordan 2011 in the NCAA games.

Reggie Bullock – Before going down for the season, Reggie was mostly sporting the Air Jordan 2010 Team. He also had a couple games in the Jordan PreGame XT, the Jordan CP3.IV and Air Jordan 16.5.

Tyler Zeller – Tyler Zeller was a model of consistency on the court in both his play and choice of shoes, the Nike Huarache 2010. Zeller experimented with the Jordan Pre-Game XT.

For a full look at the gallery, click here. Photos via News and Observer, Inside Carolina and Tar Heel Blue.

Favorite Moments

Harrison Barnes  threes vs. Florida State and Miami

Black Falcon soars over Clemson, Kentucky

Kendall Marshall dimes

Dexter dunks on Duke

Greatest Mid-Season Distraction

Best Tweets of the Year

More on this formal.