Forward Tyler Zeller leaps high and slams one home
Twenty and 17.
That record is what North Carolina Tar Heel basketball fans endured throughout the 2009-2010 college basketball season. The Heels went just 5-11 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and missed the NCAA tournament for first time since 2002-2003. In addition, the 17 losses were the most by a Roy Williams team in his coaching career.
What caused a national championship team to fall off their pedestal so quickly?
First of all, there are several reasons that are clear just by examining the statistics. Last year, the Tar Heels averaged just 75 points per game, the lowest number in that category since the 2002-2003 season. In addition, North Carolina shot just 65 percent from the free-throw line, the team's lowest percentage of the decade.
Another problem for the Tar Heels is that they could not shoot—inside or out. North Carolina shot 44 percent from the field on the season, their lowest mark since—you guessed it—2002-2003. The Heels' three-point percentage was also low, hovering around 33 percent. This mark is the worst of the decade in Chapel Hill.
Several things were wrong with the 2009-2010 North Carolina basketball squad. Aside from not being able to score, the Heels also lacked leadership and decision-making in the backcourt. Point guard Larry Drew II resembled former team leader Ty Lawson, whose speed and decision-making were nearly unmatched in his time at Carolina.
How far will North Carolina advance in the NCAA Tournament?
Although Drew had the speed, he could not control it. He turned the ball over an average of 3.2 times per game last season, second-most among individuals in the ACC to Greivis Vasquez of the Maryland Terrapins.
But Vasquez could light up the scoreboard, while Drew could not. Freshman Dexter Strickland turned the ball over 1.7 times per game and dished out just two assists per contest. The Tar Heels were just too inexperienced to be able to be competitive.
However, many think that 2010-2011 will be different. Sure, North Carolina lost big men Ed Davis and Deon Thompson, but all of the talented freshmen would have a chance to mature. Plus, the Heels brought in another great recruiting class, led by the top recruit in the country, Harrison Barnes. Another Final Four run, right?
Eh, maybe not.
There are many things that are very similar between the last season's and this season's Tar Heels. Once again, there is a lack of leadership in the backcourt. Drew II is probably not the future of this team, even if he is getting the most minutes thus far. Freshman Kendall Marshall has potential, but it is rare freshmen can take the reins of any college basketball team.
That leaves Strickland, who is just a sophomore and likely not ready to fully take the responsibility of leading North Carolina. So the Heels ultimately have a toss-up at arguably the biggest position of leadership on the squad.
In addition, there is still an issue of shooting percentage. After their second game against Hofstra, the Tar Heels went ice cold in losses against Vanderbilt and Minnesota, shooting just 38.5 percent from the field, 24.8 percent from the three-point line and only 63.4 percent from the charity stripe.
The Heels are not physical enough nor deep enough on the front line. There are many talented players like Tyler Zeller and John Henson who can block shots and put up points. However, neither is going to put a body on anyone. They do not have the build and endurance to bang with the best down low, like Tyler Hansbrough was able to do in his time at Chapel Hill. Justin Knox will give them more of an inside presence, but he may not be as skilled as Zeller or Henson.
Finally, there is Harrison Barnes. He is obviously a phenomenal talent. Otherwise, he would not have been 2010's top overall recruit. But he cannot be forced to be the hero of the Heels. Fans can't forget that he is still in his first year in college and will not be a Kevin Durant right away. In North Carolina's losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt, Barnes was a combined 4 of 24 from the field for a whopping 16.7 percent.
Clearly, there are some issues to be sorted out in Chapel Hill this season. However, the Tar Heels are very young and very talented, so improvement should be seen throughout the season. But don't expect North Carolina to be back to the Final Four, or maybe even the Sweet Sixteen anytime soon.