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Tar Heels lose: Here’s What Happened (and what should next)

January 20, 2008

(looking for talk about the 2008 final four game? go here. This one is about the first UMd game of 08)

As a superstitious old jock I’ve assiduously avoided blogging about the Tar Heels hoops team this season in an irrational fear of derailing their drive towards history. In the back of my mind I knew it was more than likely the time would come when I would no longer bear the responsibility of staying silent as the cracks in the armor have been apparent for months.

The Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl opined a few days ago that the Heels don’t have the stuff (the defense, more specifically) to make it all the way to the final four. I’d disagree in that if they can score more than the other team consistently then who needs that much defense?

Today, perhaps they needed a bit more defense than has been necessary over the course of the season as they’ve averaged over 90 points a game. With Ellington ice cold from the perimeter and Green focused on his desire to compete in Super Chample, the Heels were missing about 20 points from their normal output.

Credit Maryland’s game plan and tough defense. Their plan wasn’t much different from the other teams that have taken Carolina to the wire this year; double and triple down on Hansbrough, make sure Ellington is kept from receiving a kick out. Foul hard when you have to (even when you don’t) and keep Lawson from getting an open lane into the paint at all times. Block out block out block out.

So, how do the Heels beat this game plan they are likely to see again this year? How do they move forward and improve?

1) When Hansbrough gets trapped in the double team, he only looks to pass once. Then he turns to the goal and tries to draw a foul. He needs to have more assists, that means being patient in the paint.  This also means guys have to stop spectating when he gets the ball and move to get open. That means you Deon Thompson (and anyone else).

2)Thompson and Stephenson have to step up. No reason why  these two shouldn’t have more ppg. Green has as many rebounds as Thompson with less minutes and is 5 inches shorter. Unacceptable. Thompson got blocked out too easily against Maryland.

3)Frasor isn’t coming back and he will be missed because of Quentin “My Left Foot” Thomas. I call him “my left foot” because he’s always dribbling the ball off his left foot. He’s got so many moves he fakes himself out and he ends up passing to one of the announcers on the sidelines. That’s his style, I get it, but it isn’t working. He can’t take anyone on one on one at this level, so skip the feints and just run the plays. He’s improved over the last week, though. Yay.
4)Statistically the Tar Heels are a poor defensive team, fine. Still until today they were undefeated. When you’re always looking to run, the other team is going to score, that’s part of having a team focused on the fast break. Greg Barnes pointed out prior to today’s game how well the defense has played in the closing minutes of tight games. That’s served them well in the three close ones they had before the loss. However today it was Maryland’s defense and the inability to adjust that cost the game, not the Heels’ poor defense. When faced with an obstacle, both the players and coaching staff are going to have to come up with a plan. This will be a factor for league play as well as in the tournament.

5) Speaking of defense; Hansbrough. I don’t think he contests shots enough. He’s probably trying to stay out of foul trouble, though I don’t recall that being a problem for him that much in the past. He does everything else defensively, moving his feet, hustling, getting good position. However I think he should be just a little bit more aggressive. He may not be a super intimidating shot blocker at only 6′ 10″ (only, I say) and doesn’t jump well, still a center should have more blocks.

The Heels should be fine and anyone who counts them out of the elite eight at least are off their nut. Still, when the lads aren’t scoring 95 points like today, they need something extra from somewhere, something besides counting on a last second 3 point bomb.

Get well, Dean.

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