There are a lot of perceptions why North Carolina, a top ten preseason pick, is languishing at the bottom of the ACC but one reason they are in such a dire state is they are simply just missing Tyler Hansbrough.
For the previous four years, every time they needed a bucket he was there to pick up the slack. Back in the 2005/06 season on the back of Roy William's first championship the future looked bleak for UNC, as their main contributors either graduated or left for the NBA.
Hansbrough came in and placed the school on his back averaging 19 points 8 rebounds and took them to an unexpected winning season. Every year he increased his production winning almost every major accolades along the way.
Sure they got better through the years, even had a more balanced team but they still relied on Hansbrough.
The guy drew such a large spotlight on him other players got lost in the shadows. Like Deon Thompson. Playing next to a potential college hall of famer, the little Thompson did seemed huge. He did everything right but not exceptional.
Now with Hansborough out of the way it is clear that there isn’t a lot more to Thompson than initially thought. One could argue that he does not play with anyone who is great at feeding the post or getting him the ball in situations that are to his advantage however his drive and motivation has been criticised.
“Coach Rob has been on me about just being more aggressive,” Thompson said after their victory againts North Carolina State. “I’ve been more aggressive in practice and just more determined. As a leader you have to be intense and enthused about things, so I’m just trying to be a better leader.”
You can’t have a leader or senior player who is afraid of going out of his apartment because he does not want to face anyone now that a dream season has turned into a nightmare.
"I go to class, but I just try to leave the house as little as possible." Thompson said before the Duke game last night, in which he scored 10 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in the loss. He only took seven shots!
There are more to Carolina’s woes than Thompson’s performance. His numbers this year are better than last year however he still does not demand the ball as much as he should.
North Carolina has great length and size, but lack balance. Will Greaves turns it on now and again but it is clear that he is a streaky or rhythm shooter.
Over the last decade they had Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, Rashad McCants and Jawad Williams. These guys were just as confident laying the ball up as they were shooting the three. This year UNC just does not have that shooter to stretch the defence. This would give their bigs the space they need to work in the paint.
The shooter principle is not just restricted to UNC – the last four NCAA champions had someone like this. Florida had Lee Humphries both years and Kansas had Brandon Rush in 2008.
In the match up of the ACC last night it was clear that Duke did not respect UNC’s perimeter game in which they finished 5/19 vs. Duke’s 9/18 on three point field goals. The previous loss against Maryland they made a dismal 5/16.
All is not lost for UNC they are more than capable of covering their deficiencies and winning the ACC tournament giving them that coveted birth to the tournament. Syracuse did this a few years back when Gerry McNamara took them on his back and completely bludgeoned his way into a first round defeat.
Larry Drew may not be Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton but he is a capable point guard. There is a case for anyone who argues that he should just restrict himself to shooting only when open and getting the ball over the half line on offense then protecting the fast break.
If John Henson was the last person on earth he still would not get served in a bar (looks so young!) but he is a beast in the paint. It is now clear that playing anything but power forward may be ambitious but he needs to improve his upper body strength.
Tyler Zeller’s rebounding rate for a seven footer may be just average but his scoring ability is unquestionably good. He is currently injured but is expected back shortly.
UNC fans have always applauded Coach William’s ability to dish out the minutes evenly between players but perhaps the time has come for him to start trusting his top performers with increased playing time.
"The freshmen are trying ... but they haven't been through these wars yet," Williams said. "If I live long enough, maybe it will help us a couple of years down the road. But I don't know if I can live through this."