Blog Entry

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

Posted on: February 16, 2009 6:47 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2009 10:46 pm

In another blog post on Toughness we talked about the kind of thinking that makes teams difficult to beat.  This blog has also mentioned that winning is a state of mind, and that psychological preparation , especially visualization, plays an outlandish role in winning.  It is very difficult to win, however that is defined, if the team is not convinced it can be done and the unconscious mind has not been given a chance to dwell on it. The 1993 Tarheel National Championship team developed a lot of toughness over the season.  There are two facts here that are germaine to the 2009 Tarheels .

First, the role of positive imagery must be emphasized.  In 1993 Dean Smith doctored a 1982 picture that said, 'Congratulations North Carolina, 1982 national champions' showing on the scoreboard at the end of the game.  Smith says, "It dawned on me, let's put that in everybody's locker. We won't tell anybody, just our team. We changed the 1982 to 1993 and marked out Georgetown's name so the opponent wasn't visible and the players had that waiting for them when practice started."  Those pictures were in each player's locker all season long.  While many of the 2009 Tarheels have a very negative loss to Kansas to spur them on this year, I hope they have a very positive image which they have been working with throughout this year.  A team's mental prowess does not recover lightly from such a loss.

Second, the 1993 team had to grow into its toughness, especially Donald Williams.  The team was not beset by All Stars or future NBA players eptimomized by the Michigan team.  The good news was their team play.  Scoring was fairly balanced and they benefited from both post and perimeter threats although Donald Williams could not seem to shake his streaky shooting.  They did overcome a 19 point deficit to FSU to win in the Dean Dome but immediately came up flat and lost 2 games in a row.  And while they won the regular season quite handily, Williams shot 4-of-18 in the ACC championship game that year, and 3-of-12 from beyond the three-point line, enroute to a loss to Georgia Tech that surprised everyone.

But the team soldiered on through the tournament.  Each game they stepped up their already steady play.  Perhaps it was really Reese and Lynch who best marked a team that did more than just produce more points than normal on any given night.  They began rebounding and playing defense at key moments when the team really needed it.  And Williams' shot became ever more dependable.

The Tarheels were on fire by the time it met Michigan in the finals.  They did all the little things that make a team tough.  But they also did the big things.  And Williams had become a player oblivious to pressure.  Time after time Williams sunk his shot when he was open.  And there is no doubt in my mind that given the Webber technical or not the game was going to the Tarheels.  They were mentally prepared and would not be denied.

In the Miami vs. UNC game here in 2009 we saw the same kind of toughness developing in this UNC team.  While Hansbrough has always had it, Green just showed up as a tough player this year.  He owes us an explanation on how that occurred.  But on the perimeter it has been Lawson , not Ellington , that is complimenting Green when we most need the 3 pointer.  Like Williams in '93, Lawson's perimeter shot has become more consistent as the year progresses.  And sooner or later every team needs outside pressure, especially when opponents double and triple team Hansbrough.  Last year, shutting down Hansbrough might have beat UNC.  This year Lawson and Green make that strategy a weak one.  And it is Ellington and Frazor and Thompson who are picking up errant rebounds, getting put-backs, and making the extra pass that are rounding out a team that finally trusts each other to step it up when it counts.

The 2009 Tarheels have come a long way this year.  Hopefully their mental progress is positive enough to carry them all the way to the NC.  They had the talent to do it last year but were not mentally ready.  The Miami game shows that at least three of them are ready now.


Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: February 20, 2009 9:48 am

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

There seems to always be at least one game where it seems the refs are determined to get a star player in foul trouble early on. We are in trouble if that person is Lawson.Very true.  This does seem to happen every year.  I think that this bench, if Zeller can get up to game speed, is similiar to the bench in '05.  The good thing is that it was Zeller's wrist so he has been able to run quite a bit recently. Luckily, we shouldn't lose all 7 of our top scorers like we did after '05.  That will give us a chance to repeat Wink.

Since: Oct 18, 2006
Posted on: February 19, 2009 6:44 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?


I agree with the Defensive rebounding concern...I think overall, I do not see as much agressiveness on the boards from Hansbrough lately.  Not that he is the sole reason for the problem...I just think his agressiveness was able to hide this flaw in the past, but not lately.  Gotta shore that up before tourney time.

My concern about bench depth is not so much because of getting tired, but because of potential foul trouble.  There seems to always be at least one game where it seems the refs are determined to get a star player in foul trouble early on.  We are in trouble if that person is Lawson.

Since: Mar 22, 2008
Posted on: February 19, 2009 4:37 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

You make two great points hawksfan.   UNC can not seem to box out especially on the weak side of the basket.  It's an elemental mistake a basketball player learns before they are 15.  The reason must be that we don't practice it.

The bench argument loses credibility as the number of TV time-outs increases.  Commercials are taking over as the media out bids each other to cover games.  It's surprising teams get tired anymore.  Benches become important in tournaments if players get in foul trouble or someone is sick.  So benches matter down the stretch but not as much as in the past.

Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: February 19, 2009 2:37 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

I agree with the others, great blog.  I did want to mention and get feedback on my 2 major concerns with this team: defensive rebounding and perimeter defense.  We lead the nation in rebounding with 42.7 per game.  That sounds good, right? A closer look will show that a lot of this has to do with UNC's pace of play.  More shots for both teams = more rebounds.  What concerns me is the number of offensive rebounds we allow. 

I am worried that this will come back to bite us in the NCAA tournament if we play teams that have monster rebounding machines like Pitt with Blair, UCONN with Thabeet and Oklahoma with Griffin.  Even though UNC is 1st in overall rebounding margin and second in total rebounds we are 10th in defensive rebounding even with our pace of play.  We are allowing 13 offensive rebounds per game.  That is potentionally 26 extra points per game against. 

That being said, one thing that I am not concerned about is the depth on the bench (barring injury).  I recently read a stat that most high school players average over 100 games a year between high school, all-star camps and club (AAU) ball.  That has changed the need for a deep bench.  These kids are used to playing many more games than they do in college.  They are in better shape and trainers are also learning how to manage workouts better.  Of the last 5 NCAA champions, none had a very deep bench.  I think that during the tournament, teams are better off keeping their best 5 players on the floor for the majority of the game.  I think that sometimes having a deep bench makes it harder for the coach to manage that bench.

I like the Heel's chances this year!  GO HEELS!

Since: Sep 25, 2007
Posted on: February 19, 2009 1:33 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

Jim, absolutely love your blogs. You nailed it... we are seeing the exact same things. I try to sit back and dissect the game while I'm watching. This team continues to have the same defensive issues, sagging help leaving the outside shooters open and too many easy lanes to the basket. I'm not concerned offensively, but the defense is going to put me in cardiac arrest before the seasons over. 

Excellent read as usual, please continue.Cool

Since: Mar 13, 2008
Posted on: February 19, 2009 1:29 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?


Good job. One of the best Tar Heel insights ive read. Completely agree with alot of it too.

Since: Mar 22, 2008
Posted on: February 19, 2009 12:35 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

Coach Williams develops athletic, fast teams that don't play defense.  Maybe he doesn't coach defense because he isn't interested in it.  It might be significant that his only NC was a team unexposed to his primary focus of running for four years.

Further evidence might be given in the UNC vs. State game.  Roy was angry after the game because UNC performed so poorly in their double teams.  It was something they had practiced all week.  It begets the question, "Why is the team learning such a basic tenet so late in the season?"  Most teams would have made it second nature by now.  Surely even mediocre defense demands a strategy to meet a great scorer.

There are two reasons I didn't address this issue in the article.  First, sometimes they DO play good defence.  It may be all they need.  Second, statistics show their defensive efficiency puts them in the top 20 teams in the nation.  This is higher than either Conneticut or Pittsburgh which seems irrational until you consider the speed of the Carolina game and the resulting number of touches opponents receive.

I believe their biggest challenge remains mental toughness, which is Roy's Achilles heel.  His teams must soldier on alone even when they can not score for 12 minutes against Georgetown or they get beaten up by Kansas.  It is common sense to believe that his unwillingness to shape mental acuity extends to his approach off the court as well.  Confidence and mental toughness are built by mentors and coaches over a season.  We shall see if UNC has it.  There is evidence they do.

Since: Oct 18, 2006
Posted on: February 19, 2009 9:04 am

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

Whiskey Jim,

5 stars across the board to keep your reputaion up!

Regarding the has been mentioned, bench depth and defense are the keys IMO.  UNC has had huge lapses in defensive intensity...I mean Javi Gonzalez goes for 16 in the first half last night for the Wolfpack!  Guys like Tyrese Rice, Jack McClinton, Jeff Teague are able to be contained by other teams but UNC has no answer with Guinyard out.  Zeller coming back helps the bench depth.  It will be a tough road, but hopefully UNC can win it all!

Since: Jan 21, 2009
Posted on: February 18, 2009 11:40 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

Thoughtful article, I think it was well-written but I think it left the key ingredient out of the recipe of success. Unless the Heels improve their defensive commitment and look at different ways of using even zones at times. A talented team can lose to an awkward team easily at tourney time. We see how well defensive teams do as opposed to offensive minded teams in most cases, Bigger arenas have a little to do with it, but mostly kids get tight. Carolina has their work cut out for them...

Since: Dec 9, 2006
Posted on: February 18, 2009 6:53 pm

Are the Heels tough enough to Win the NC?

  Yes, I agree that North Carolina has a great chance to win the national title, but if the Tar Heels come up against either UConn or Pittsburgh in the tourney then it's hard to say for sure if North Carolina can get the championship.

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