Billy Donovan has his Gators in position for a number one seed.
By Jed McCann
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
When you think of North Carolina Basketball, winning and champions, are a few words that may come to mind. Basketball heroes and legends such as: Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter, Antwan Jamison, Phil Ford, Tyler Hansbrough and many others will certainly be brought up as well. But unfortunately the Tar Heels team this year has not been up to par in producing the same quality of athleticism like many previous teams and teammates that have come from UNC in the years before.
For most teams, a 12-5 start would be excellent, but to North Carolina and their loyal fan base it is a start that is truly uncommon in Chapel Hill. Not even losing their 5th game last year until March 11th, in the ACC tournament. It is most definitely hard to swallow as a Tar Heel fan, to say the least, and many of them are learning quickly to embrace any win that comes their way.
Why are the Tar Heels struggling this year?
There really is no clear and straight forward answer. Losing four of your five starters and over 80% of your scoring to the NBA certainly does not help, but instead it aids in leading a team to a struggle.
The Tar Heels aren't nearly as big as they have been in the past. With no comparative players from former years, such as ACC All American's Tyler Hansbrough and Tyler Zeller, sporting that Carolina Blue in their lineup for the 2012-2013 season it most definitely shows. Not having key players who could do absolutely everything for you and the clear lack of a solid frontcourt has hurt the Heels this season and is something that the team and fans are battling with.
The Tar Heels are averaging 13.9 turnovers per game, 160th in the nation. For a young team this average is not bad, but it contributes so much to a struggling team. Taking care of the ball is so vital to being able to produce on the offensive end and when you fail to do that, your defense becomes an immediate consequence.
Are their turnovers the biggest reason to the struggles? No, that is far from the truth.
This team is lacking a key aspect, aggressiveness. Attempting 311 free throws and converting only 63.7% leads to having a national ranking of 237 and 304, respectively. The Tar Heels ranked 5th in free throw attempts just one year ago. It starts at the top with James Michael McAdoo, a projected top 5 NBA pick last season. He may lead the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game, but its only on 46% shooting. JMM is not the most aggressive player on the Tar Heel team, but he needs to be. Averaging about 5.1 free throws per game is unacceptable for a player of his caliber. He has the potential to be something special and has a chance to leave a good mark on his UNC career, but in order to do that he needs to become a leader and make a name for himself.
A guy like Dexter Strickland, who everyone thought would be the leader on this team, has struggled himself to put a solid year together. Yes, he is coming off ACL surgery, but off the court leadership seems to missing, not only from the senior, but from everyone else as well. Being a leader isn't easy, but it is something that Dexter is capable of.
With a young and inexperienced team like Carolina and a lot of lacked confidence there is a lot to be worried about short term, but lots to learn about being aggressive and assertive on the court which is something to make everyone, including the fans, happy long term.
Carolinas struggles go beyond stats though. Having only one true PG in freshman Marcus Paige, no set starting five, and no true leader, constitutes their problems that will only come together with maturation.
Look for P.J. Hairston to get a shot in the starting lineup to help make some struggles go away with his excellent play on the court in his 20 minutes a game, which needs to go up to give this team more experience, and get them to be more aggressive and that 'will' to win.
These Tar Heels have a lot to learn and an extremely high ceiling for improvement. With the team they have this year they are built for 3-4 years with no one and done type players. Along with an emerging leader in Reggie Bullock, who called a players only meeting after their let down against Virginia and his stellar play of late, makes for the rest of the year to turn around and become more positive. Bullocks play has brought this team together and has started to turn things around with two fantastic wins in a row against Florida State, and Maryland.
Building their confidence and getting a designated leader will help this team improve their game and give them that much needed spark. When the Tar Heels come together playing more like a team and prove to everyone, including themselves, that they want to win, then favorable spots in the ACC and a trip to the NCAA Tournament will come to them like the many teams and players who have worn the legendary Carolina Blue before them.