Posts Tagged ‘ Kendall Marshall ’

Kendall Marshall’s wrist, Creighton, and the #PassFir5t movement

Silly as it seems, especially to the generation of Carolina fans who do not use Twitter, I would be lying if I said I had not been tempted to draw a 5 on my right wrist. The #PassFir5t movement has grown so large that I will refrain from addressing it at length until we know its conclusion, but without question, the events of the past week related to Kendall Marshall’s broken wrist will be seared into the collective memory of Carolina basketball history.

It remains to be seen how large a place in that history it will eventually claim; that depends, of course, on whether he plays and whether we win. Needless to say, it has the potential to rightly make Marshall one of Carolina’s most memorable and beloved players ever. Part of the reason I wanted to draw that 5 reflects how great of a teammate and likeable of a guy Marshall is, and how genuinely he seems to draw support from the movement. It is one of those moments I wish I was experiencing as a student, or at least a North Carolina resident.

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The (potentially) post-Marshall tournament

If not for one fleeting moment in Sunday’s game against Creighton, we would be reading stories this week on how North Carolina was the only team in the tournament to look as impressive as Kentucky in the opening weekend. Drowned out by the annoying group-think hysteria surrounding the Wildcats is the fact that for a few minutes in the second half against Iowa State Kentucky actually looked vulnerable. Kentucky made an impressive run that prompted the media to conveniently forget that part of the narrative, but nonetheless, Kentucky, like every other top team in the tournament looked, at least for a few moments, like it could possibly lose a game.

Every other top team, that is, except North Carolina. We jumped all over Creighton early and afforded ourselves the luxury of letting them back in the game – only in a relative sense – before burying them down the stretch. At no point did it appear that we could possibly lose the game. We were not vulnerable.

Most in the media have only made passing reference to this truth as they wish farewell to our chances at winning the national title, and for some even our chances at advancing to the Final Four. To their credit, a small minority have recognized that a logical conclusion of our outstanding showing this weekend is that we retain more than enough talent to win the matchups before us and continue to advance without Kendall Marshall. But I haven’t seen anyone write that we looked as good or better than Kentucky on Sunday; to most there is an ever-widening gulf between the Wildcats and the rest.

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Random early March thoughts on college basketball

I stated at the outset that I was leaving the x’s and o’s and comprehensive analysis to the ESPN folks; this blog really is merely a personal journal of sorts recording experiences that are among the most important to me. However, since it is now March, when we are deluged with material to discuss, analyze and pick apart, some of it quite stupid, I will no doubt indulge my outlet here to share a random collection of thoughts on the season and the national landscape at regular season’s end.

The all-conference teams and the Sporting News All-America teams came out this week, and I hesitate to write too much on this since several more All-America teams are soon to follow. But a few glaring thoughts. I was surprised by the ACC media leaving Kendall Marshall off of the first-team (even barely), but only because of how much the conversation had shifted in his direction over the past two weeks. The tide of media opinion tends to sway in a massive exercise of group-think weeks before the votes, and on that measure, many were calling for Marshall to be in the POY conversation. Ultimately, Tyler Zeller turned in too many increasingly impressive performances for that to be an issue, but all the same, voting for Marshall for All-ACC, and even first-team All-America, was trending.

In hindsight, though, his second team appearance should not be surprising. None of the players in ACC history with similarly historic assist totals made the first team except Bobby Hurley, and he only made it his senior season with a 17 points per game average. I think the media got it right – Henson’s double-double average and status as the conference’s premiere defender and Barnes’ status as our leading scorer made them impossible to leave off. What Marshall is accomplishing this year is unprecedented and truly remarkable, but a guy who averages 7 points per game cannot match the production of Henson and Barnes. Marshall’s classy response indicates he understands that’s the way it works.

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On this team’s underrated toughness and ACC road record

When the ACC is as bad as it is this season, it is understandable that no one is handing out much praise to Carolina for surviving the ACC season without what could be termed a bad loss. It wasn’t until we soundly defeated Duke to end the regular season that the national media (excluding Jay Bilas, who seemed to never leave our camp) finally jumped back on the UNC bandwagon as a legitimate national title contender. But there are a few observations to be made that validate the accomplishment.

After we trounced Duke to clinch the ACC regular season title, it was easy to focus on that as the deciding game. In reality, that is a game Carolina expected to win, and the regular season title was ultimately won back in January when Duke dropped two bad losses at home to Florida State and Miami. They made one of them up by beating FSU in Tallahassee, a great win that UNC could not get, but needed UNC to help out with a bad loss of its own. A season split of the Duke-UNC series should have led to a tie between the two, but Carolina made it through unscathed.

We weren’t without plenty of opportunities. Much was made in the media about the inequity of the conference schedules of Duke and Carolina, especially down the stretch, and when the title hunt was still a three-team race, most agreed that over the final month of the season, UNC faced a more difficult series of games, especially on the road, than either Duke or FSU. A simple comparison of which games Duke and UNC did not have to play this year illustrates the disparity. We missed out on second games with each of the anemic bottom three, BC, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech; Duke played all three twice, which means that three of their eight ACC road games were automatic (though they almost lost two of them). Duke, meanwhile, missed out on second games with Miami, State, and Virginia, and faced each of them at home in that one game. Again, they played FSU twice to our once, but our one game with them was on the road. We played a road game against every team that finished in the top half of the conference while Duke played at only FSU, and each of those road games came in one two week span to close the season.

This is an inevitable byproduct of a twelve team league about which the conference can do absolutely nothing. I point this out not to complain, but to tout the underrated achievement of our team. After we beat Wake Forest in an ugly but easy affair, I felt uncomfortable with the false security of our 6-1 ACC record. We had no road wins against legitimate opponents and that brutal non-Duke schedule still ahead with two games against UVA and three other tough road games; I silently predicted that we would drop at least one, since even the 2009 team had that unfortunate loss at Maryland.

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After losing to Florida State by 33…

It has been a busy week, but given the purpose here of recording my experience of Carolina basketball, I thought it was important to write a quick post before we moved on from Saturday’s disaster against Florida State.

As bad as the ACC is, tonight’s game against Virginia Tech will be our final chance for a significant ACC win prior to hosting Duke on February 8 (this game itself is only significant for being on the road, where we are 0 for our last 3). A loss tonight almost ensures that we enter that game with lingering doubts about the caliber and character of this team, and it would be difficult to shake those doubts, especially as they relate to our status as a national title contender, without an emphatic victory in that game.

So to avoid that sort of monumental pressure for a team that doesn’t seem to handle those situations that well yet, we need this win tonight in Blacksburg, and it would be great if it were decisive. If its not decisive, perhaps we play well but require a late score by Harrison Barnes to win, a staple of last season, and of the team’s personality, that has not appeared this year.

For the record, I think its highly unlikely that we lose tonight, even though Blacksburg is a tough place to play and Virginia Tech, like us, has been underwhelming and badly needs a statement win. But I also don’t think we get the corner-turning closure to Saturday. Reality is likely in between, mostly because that seems to be where this team is stuck: UNC has far too much talent playing in a lousy league to fall too far, yet we lack the toughness to escape the doubts and rise above the rest of the league even though our talent says we should. My prediction: Virginia Tech is not good enough to beat us unless we forget to show up on defense for a second game in a row, but we aren’t confident and angry enough to bury them. We will go through some offensive struggles at times – mostly due to lack of focus – that deprive us of an inspiring win.

Some observations on the team:

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Mid-season thoughts

Carolina hits the halfway point of the regular season during tomorrow’s conference opener against Boston College, and I figured it is a fitting time to look at the contrasting assumptions preseason and mid-season that underlie our outlook for the remainder of the year. Luke Winn at CNNSI wrote a similar post a few days ago focused on the national landscape, and one of his preseason assumptions that he now significantly alters was that Carolina was a tier above the rest of the teams in college basketball.

That this has changed is unquestionably true, and its true on a deeper level than is reflected simply by having fallen to #3 in the AP poll. Virtually no one actually thinks Syracuse is the best team in the country, much less the favorite to win the national title; but most of the country now follows Kentucky as the expected favorite and nearly unanimously declared most talented team. Carolina even made a list of “biggest disappointments” of the season’s first two months; their crime was falling from lofty expectations into a four-team top tier including the three teams above and Ohio State.

Those lofty expectations were certainly reflected in the tone of this blog preseason, when much of what I wrote lauded the preeminent status of our program above others as we embarked on yet another season in which Carolina was the team facing national title or major bust circumstances. I did caution that while this year’s team shared that burden in common with the 2009 team, it was not nearly as good or experienced, and that has unfortunately proven too true.

It’s worth considering what exactly has not materialized for Carolina thus far, because it truly is a case of the Heels not meeting expectations; the country expected Syracuse, Ohio State, and especially Kentucky to form the core of a strong national field, and we came down to their level rather than those teams rising to ours. The other, individual assumptions that haven’t yet been confirmed provide the answers to our relative “struggle” and offer hope for significant hope for major improvement, which many seem to think is a possibility reserved only for youthful Kentucky.

Harrison Barnes will be a man among boys as the best player in the nation. If the season ended today, Barnes would not find his name anywhere near the list of  POY candidates, leaving this assumption unfulfilled. He is our leading scorer at 17 ppg and is making nearly half of his attempts behind the arc, but he isn’t carrying our offense and our team in the manner expected of a player who is supposed to be too good for college ball. Part of this is the balanced scoring provided by the boosts in output from John Henson and our reserve guard position. Another reason may be that he just hasn’t yet had enough opportunities, and it may only take the onset of the ACC season to correct that. Barnes was a late bloomer last year, and he could make a similar mid-season surge given the chance to do what he does best, which is make game-changing plays in close contests.

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On the Carrier Classic, UNCA, and the 2-0 start

As many have already written, the Carrier Classic never actually stopped feeling like an exhibition game with the surrounding spectacle as the main event. Fortunately for Carolina we came out with the win, since a loss would have certainly brought home the realization that it was, in fact, a real season opener, and launched a bevy of frustrated accusations that the conditions prevented a legitimate contest. All parties involved should be glad that the team that was supposed to win won.

It is true that the spectacle, the slippery floor, the strange sight lines,  and perhaps the wind and the temperature, too, prevented either team from ever getting into the flow of the game. The Heels pulled away because we were finally able to get into our transition for a few isolated stretches, but for most of the game, we looked out of sync, evidenced by Kendall Marshall’s stat line of five assists and five turnovers.

But as SI’s Seth Davis wrote after the game, the collective experience of the event is one that should be continued, even if the basketball component of it unsurprisingly did not measure up. As a fan watching on television you still had clear views of the water and skyline in many of the angles on the game, so at no point did you forget that you were watching a game played outdoors. The most enjoyable aspect to me remains that the entire nation fixated on a particular regular season college basketball game for a day, and that the game involved North Carolina. To have the President introduce the game, and even to have celebrities in the audience and participating in halftime events, are generally thrills reserved for the high levels of professional sports, but Friday night it was college basketball, and specifically UNC.

UNC 67, Michigan State 55

There are many things one can attribute to the strange conditions, but the enormous rebounding advantage we surrendered to Michigan State, especially on their offensive boards, wouldn’t seem to be one of them. Tom Izzo-coached teams are typically among the nation’s best at rebounding, but so are we given last year’s performance by Henson and the significant height advantage we have over almost every team we will face. Hopefully we can write this off as an anomaly moving forward into the season.

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