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Scouting North Carolina

Remember that star-studded North Carolina squad that all but coasted to a national title last season? Yeah, these aren't those same Tar Heels. Not even close.

North Carolina (13-9) is off to a 2-5 start in ACC play in large part because its current starters are struggling mightily to fill the shoes of their predecessors. The Tar Heels are young and inexperienced and, right now, not very good.

“I’ve told them that I have never had to coach concentration and effort as much as I feel like I'm trying to coach that now,” seventh-year Coach Roy Williams said at a press conference earlier this week. “They should be able to supply that. In saying, ‘they' should be able to supply that, I've got to figure out a way to help them get that done. Evidently, I haven't done a very good job of it.”

The Tar Heels will enter Comcast Center on Sunday afternoon riding a two-game losing streak, including a four-point loss Thursday night at Virginia Tech. North Carolina flew back to Chapel Hill in the early Friday morning hours and then boarded another plane to BWI Friday afternoon. These are, to say the least, not fun times to be a Tar Heel basketball player/fan/coach.

The primary issue that is holding North Carolina back right now is its guard play. The Tar Heels rank last in the ACC in turnover margin (-4.1) in conference play by a significant margin. Boston College ranks No. 11 with a -2.9 turnover margin.

Sophomore guard Larry Drew II (6-foot-2, 180 lbs.) runs the point for the Tar Heels. He is tied with Greivis Vasquez for first in assists per game in ACC play (6.3 apg), but -- also like Vasquez -- he has a tendency to turn the ball over a good amount, as well. Drew is averaging 9.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 43.9 percent from three-point range.

Redshirt junior guard Will Graves (6-foot-6, 240 lbs.) serves as the Tar Heels' primary long-range shooter, though he is only connecting on 38.5 percent of his three-point attempts. He is averaging 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

And then there is Alexandria native Marcus Ginyard, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound redshirt senior swingman. Ginyard was hobbled earlier this season by a sprained right ankle, and Williams has said he's not certain Ginyard has returned to 100 percent. Ginyard is averaging 8.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from three-point range. Offense, though, has never been Ginyard's calling card. He built his reputation more as a perimeter defender and rebounder.

North Carolina's top two players reside in its frontcourt. Senior forward Deon Thompson (6-foot-9, 245 lbs.) and sophomore forward Ed Davis (6-foot-10, 225 lbs.) are the only two Tar Heels averaging double figures in scoring these days, and they'd be doing even more damage if North Carolina's guards could get them the ball more often.

Thompson is averaging 14.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He also has tallied a team-high 27 steals. Davis, who many observers thought could have been a lottery pick in last spring's NBA draft had he made himself eligible to be picked, is averaging 14.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 59.0 percent from the field. He is averaging an ACC-best 2.3 blocks per game in conference play.

North Carolina's top five options off the bench are all freshmen. Dexter Strickland (6-foot-3, 180 lbs.) is being used to spell Drew, though Strickland is naturally a two-guard. He is averaging 5.8 points per game and shooting 45.8 percent from the field. Leslie McDonald (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.) is North Carolina's other reserve guard. He is averaging 3.2 points per game and shooting 36.2 percent from the field.

The Tar Heels' frontcourt reserves consist of Travis Wear (6-foot-10, 235 lbs.), his brother, David Wear (6-foot-10, 225 lbs.) and John Henson (6-foot-10, 195 lbs.). So size is not really an issue. Production, however, is.

Travis Wear is averaging 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 44.0 percent from the field. David Wear is averaging 3.0 points and 1.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.4 percent from the field. And Henson is averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds, while shooting 48.4 percent from the field.

Hampering North Carolina's frontcourt depth was a right foot injury to sophomore forward Tyler Zeller (7-foot-0, 240 lbs.). Zeller is expected to be out until at least the middle of February.

As a team, the Tar Heels are shooting 47.3 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from three-point range and 66.9 percent from the free throw line.

They typically prefer a high-possession game that leads to high-scoring affairs. But North Carolina has not often been able to force that sort of tempo this season. Part of that can be attributed to young players not being comfortable with an offensive system. Part of that also can be attributed to a defense incapable of forcing the high number of turnovers that leads to an up-and-down pace.

The Tar Heels used to play a high-risk, high-reward style of defense. Lately, it's just been high-risk. North Carolina is allowing opponents to score an average of 73.4 points per game in conference play, which ranks No. 11 in the ACC.

North Carolina does, however, offer the conference's top rebounding unit (+4.3 rebounding margin).

By Steve Yanda  |  February 6, 2010; 9:46 AM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Next: A coach's view on the Tar Heels


What a difference a year makes. The challenge for the Terps this year is not to take the game for granted. It's hard to fathom that they would. Another way of thinking about it is that, of all years, this would be a horrible one to lose.

We can bet that UNC will really be ready to play. Another loss at VTech, travel nightmare, cooped up in the hotel on College Park in the middle of a blizzard. Last years loss doesn't mean much to more than a few Tar Heels as most weren't there. They will probably come out with a lot of energy.

This is a good challenge: Win a game we should be expected to win against a school that has a long history of expecting to win. Role reversal... something our guys should relish... a chance to prove themselves in a different way.

Bring it on!

Posted by: petecard | February 6, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

ok pete. tomorrow is must win.

Posted by: jpfterps | February 6, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

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