The Heels are 19-3, but far from perfect. What do you view as this team’s biggest weakness?
Danny Nowell (@dmnowell): I hate the notion of intangibles, but the answer to this point is clearly discipline. Previous Tar Heels champs have learned how to execute relentlessly, and this team hasn’t shown that. I’m hopeful that the current stretch of excellent games shows the team figuring it out.
Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid): Although it hasn’t been problematic yet, back-up point guard play and/or Kendall Marshall wearing down is an area of concern with the loss of Dexter Strickland. Also, the Heels have not responded well to super-physical play and can be pushed around some by beefy, veteran teams.
Josh Parcell (@JoshParcell): Focus. This team is good enough to win games when they play hard for only 30 minutes and coast the other 10. The 2005 and 2009 teams had the same problem, though. Roy Williams somehow always gets his team to peak at the end of the season.
Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh): Free-throw shooting. Marshall, McAdoo, and Henson all shoot below 70% from the line, Henson by a huge margin at 46.2%. For all the fouls he draws, Barnes shoots a meh, 71.8%, leaving plenty of points on the board. At some point their ability to cash in those freebies will either win or lose them a tournament game.
Josh Riddell (@TheMikanDrill): The lack of an outside shooter. The Heels shoot only 35% from the outside (116th out of 345 D-1 teams), which hurts their bigs posting up, as the defense can sag off the perimeter players and help on the post offense. This also puts them in a big hole if they start slow, and it’s a much bigger hill to climb if you cannot shoot three pointers consistently.
Which big man has more to prove this March, Tyler Zeller or John Henson?
AA: Zeller proved plenty last March, averaging 26 points and 9 rebounds in Carolina’s four NCAA Tournament games. His play has been ACC POY-caliber over the past few games. Henson, who fouled out of UNC’s Elite 8 loss to Kentucky with only 4 points, will be hoping to redeem that performance this March.
JP: Henson has quietly transformed himself from a defensive specialist into an all-around post threat. He’s a tremendous passer with his back to the basket and his leaps as a scorer are easy to see. Once Carolina faces comparable frontcourts to its own (likely not until the Elite Eight), Henson’s progression will truly be put to the test.
IL: I’m not sure either has much to prove. Both are known quantities as far as the NBA Draft is concerned. If we’re talking about Carolina legacies, Barnes has more riding on this team than anyone. Henson and Zeller just need to show up and do their jobs, not put the team on their back.
JR: Henson. I think we know what Zeller is at this point – an athletic big man who can run the floor, has some above average post moves, and is a capable defender. Henson has shown us he is a strong shot blocker but he needs to prove he can play physical on both ends of the court. If he does that in March, he will shoot up many teams’ draft boards.
DN: I think I’ll say Henson. Zeller has shown that he can carry the load for key stretches, and his production almost never dips below a certain point. Henson, however, is much more mercurial; when he’s enjoying himself and getting good shots with aggression, the Heels are extremely tough to beat.
Which player is more vital to UNC’s success, Kendall Marshall or Harrison Barnes?
JP: Marshall and it’s not even close. If it was Marshall who went down in a crumpled heap two weeks ago instead of Strickland, you could have kissed the Tar Heels’ Final Four hopes goodbye. For the record, I think Barnes is poised to go on a late-season tear that will be even more impressive than last year.
IL: No question for me that it’s Marshall. What he does for their offense is irreplaceable. But the bottom line is that the Heels aren’t making a deep tournament run without both playing at a high-level.
JR: Marshall. If Marshall goes out with an injury or foul trouble, is Stillman White going to be able to run the team the same way? I doubt it. UNC gets so many baskets in transition thanks to Marshall firing passes three-quarters of the length of the court to a streaking big man with laser precision, crushing the spirit of the defense and giving UNC quick points. You replace Marshall with White for an extended period of time and this team is in trouble.
DN: Marshall. The Heels aren’t winning a title without Barnes playing to his pedigree, but there is nobody outside of Marshall who could so much as consistently bring the ball up credibly. It’s also no surprise that the Heels’ present dominant look has coincided with a slew of double-digit assist games from Marshall.
AA: Through 22 games, the two players have virtually identical on-court/off-court ratings (UNC is 13.3 points / 100 possessions better with Marshall on the court, 13.2 / 100 better with Barnes). While the Strickland injury has made each more valuable, it makes Marshall truly indispensable; he’s my pick here.
Finish the sentence: The Heels won’t make it to New Orleans because……
IL: …the bus breaks down? They have the talent to play with, and beat, anyone.
JR: …they can’t shoot free throws. The team as a whole shoots 65% from the line, which has the potential to drag them down in a close game. Miss a few free throws late and you either hurt your comeback attempt or you give the opposition the chance to knock you out of the tournament. I’m not sure who the Heels will try to get the ball to when they are up late and the defense is fouling, but they better find somebody they can rely on quickly.
DN: …they fold to a tougher team early in a game where their shots aren’t falling. Barring injuries, the Heels currently have a multifaceted offensive unit with the shooting Bullock and Hairston provide, and they seem increasingly willing to find their defensive ceiling. None of that will matter, though, if they indulge their penchant for shutting it down early in an ugly game.
AA: …they will run into a team that can compete with them on the glass, limit their second-chance opportunities, and contain them in transition. A well-coached, physical, and experienced team could spell doom for UNC — especially if the Heels are cold from behind the arc on a given night.
JP: …they run up against a team who shoots the lights out from three-point range (i.e. UNLV and Florida State), and/or gets in foul trouble early.
How do you think North Carolina will fare this postseason?
JR: Elite Eight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose in the Sweet 16. It’s funny to say that because there was some light chatter of this team going undefeated before the season started but I think this team is too flawed (and a bit unlucky with injuries) to make it to the Final Four. I think they end up with a No. 2 seed and fall to the No. 1 seed in their region.
DN: I’ll say Final Four. This team is not clearly better than any of the other legitimate contenders, but if they can sustain aggression and the discipline to take good shots, there should be enough talent on the roster to get them through to the semifinals.
AA: Final Four. As happened between 2007 (Elite Eight) and 2008 (Final Four), an additional year of experience will earn the Heels an extra win in the NCAA Tournament. If all (Barnes, Henson, and Marshall) return a la Hansbrough/Lawson/Ellington/Green, 2013 could be a sweet repeat of 2009 for Roy Williams.
JP: National Champions. I am so ready for a Carolina-Kentucky National Championship game I can’t sit still. There’s never been as many as 10 future NBA first-round picks on the court at once in a college basketball game, but that’s exactly what we’d get if these two teams meet again. It’s a coin-flip, but I like the Heels.
IL: As I said they have the talent of a Final Four team. I think it comes down to finishing the regular season and conference tournament strong. If they can lock up a No. 1 seed that path will get a whole lot easier.