You Can't Replace Chemistry

Sam AbramsContributor INovember 28, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 19:  Larry Drew II #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels controls the ball ahead of David Lighty #23 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during their semifinal game of the 2K Sports Classic on  November 19, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Through six games and two ranked opponents, there are a few basic story lines that have developed so far. 

One, turnovers MUST be cut down. 

Two, the freshman need more time to fully adjust to the pace and strength of the college game. 

Three, role players from last year need more time to step into the spotlight. 

The common thread in all of these problems? Chemistry.

Flashback to the 2008-09 team.  Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, and Bobby Frasor had been living and playing together for four years (Marcus Ginyard too, but is left off of this list due to his medical redshirt).  Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Deon Thompson had been around for three of those years.  Larry Drew and Ed Davis were new, but didn’t carry a significant role except to spell the bigger name players.

Come back to the current day Tar Heels, and Drew and Davis ARE the bigger name players.  Although Davis didn’t come out and dominate from the start, he has come on as of late, producing big numbers against Gardner Webb and Ohio State.

Adjusting to that spotlight has been tough on Drew, who is doing a sufficient job of running Roy’s complicated offense, but the flaws are shown in the form of turnovers.  A lot of turnovers.  Way more turnovers than Roy is happy with. 

A game total of more than 20 turnovers was unheard of with last year’s team, who was more accustomed to forcing that many than committing them themselves.

Look at the Valparaiso game.  The only reason that Valpo was able to stay in the gym with Carolina is turnovers. 

Roy was furious with the amount of turnovers committed.  Even Homer Drew, the senior coach of the Valparaiso program, acknowledged that his team was able to hang around because of the Tar Heels carelessness with ball. 

It’s a given there will be off nights, but when the conference schedule rolls around, an ACC team cannot afford an off night.

Perhaps more shocking than the turnover story is how uncomfortable the freshman seem to be stepping into the ranks of college basketball.  John Henson was more touted than any player of this class, yet seems to struggle on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court.  His length has helped him hang on and stay with more talented opponents (Evan Turner of Ohio State, in particular). 

The Wear twins show the same level of discomfort on the court. It will be interesting to see how the freshmen react to the tough schedule coming up as the Tar Heels face three teams ranked in the Top 5 in the nation.

Another player who seems to struggle in adjusting to his new role as a scorer is Will Graves.  A very capable scorer with a silky smooth shooting stroke, Graves reminds Tar Heel fans of Reyshawn Terry with his ability to slash and create. 

The problem? Graves has never had to create before, despite his ability to do so.  He has always been the guy that slashers (Lawson, Ellington) have kicked the ball out to.  The new role as a scorer is a tough one to adjust to, not just for Graves, but for any player.

Marcus Ginyard has stepped into a new role as a team leader too, and with a passion.  Drawing comparisons to David Noel and his role on the 2005-06 team, Ginyard has relished in the opportunity to help the younger members of the team, and has enjoyed the comparisons to Noel, citing Noel as a “true leader.”

Leadership alone though is not enough to create a championship-caliber team.  A common thread among past champions is chemistry, something that this team lacks in the early stages of the season.

But who can blame them? Thompson and Ginyard have been playing together the longest of any players on the team (David and Travis Wear excluded), but saw very little time together last year due to Ginyard’s injury.  Thompson and Ed Davis played together last season, but their interaction was limited due to Hansbrough’s presence.  Throw in six freshman expected to log major minutes, and it’s basically a brand new team.

A team chemistry like that of last year’s team will not be seen in this group, which should go unsaid.  But there is still a lot of time for them to pull it together. 

Through six games, there have definitely been flashes where they have looked like a team poised to make a deep run into the tournament.  The game now is to cut down on the lapses between those flashes.

As their baptism by fire comes up in the next few weeks, it will be interesting to see how our young Tar Heels adjust to a raised level of competition.  It didn’t go so well against Syracuse, but that was a culture shock for many of these young players who were previously unaccustomed to playing in hostile environments. 

Besides, high school kids and hostile New Yorkers are two very different things.

Right now, Tar Heel fans can only sit back and see what happens.  Obviously, there won’t be a complete meltdown after the Syracuse debacle.  Roy won’t allow it.  His teams are resilient. 

And that resiliency may just be enough to push these young players to become much, much better.