Youth and lack of experience in college basketball will frequently result in turnovers, bad defense and, ultimately, a fair share of losses.
Unfortunately the North Carolina Tar Heels entered the 2010-11 season with plenty of youth, and therefore plenty of the latter as well.
With two seniors on the roster, and only graduate student Justin Knox receiving any significant time, the Tar Heels are one of the youngest teams in the country and it showed for the first half of the season.
After losing to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 78-58 on January 16th, it became evident that Roy Williams needed to make a change in order to keep his squad on the right track.
Enter Kendall Marshall.
While Marshall had been serving as a backup to much-maligned starting point guard Larry Drew II for the first half of the season he showed flashes of his pass-first, savvy and smart playing style in his stints off of the bench. Since entering the lineup as a starter, Marshall has learned to facilitate the Tar Heel offense with more poise than Larry Drew had in his Carolina career up until that point.
Drew II would soon realize his role as a Tar Heel was quickly becoming concrete, as a backup. Unhappy with the situation, Drew II would do the unthinkable and abandon his team in February.
With Marshall running the show as a true floor general, it enabled North Carolina's scoring weapons to begin to truly showcase their talent. Harrison Barnes began to exhibit his ability to be a go-to scorer, and a clutch performer at that. John Henson continued his development offensively while still using his 7'4'' wingspan to be a constant nuisance on the interior. And Tyler Zeller built on his already solid season in the post.
When North Carolina walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 6th, no one knew what to expect, but most anticipated a Duke victory. While those predicting a Duke victory were not wrong, the Tar Heels were able to gain much-needed experience, and give the Blue Devils a fight until the final buzzer rang out.
Marshall was able to handle the physical, hard-nosed defense the Blue Devils love to harass opponents with in the backcourt, and Henson and Zeller were able to provide a formidable duo in the post that the still developing Plumlee brothers struggled to handle.
With the young starting lineup (two freshman, two sophomores, and a junior) continuing to develop and mesh as a group, Roy Williams has the Tar Heels heading quickly in the right direction at the best possible time. Add in role players like slashing guard Dexter Strickland, and three-point-threats Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock coming off the bench, and North Carolina is adding experience to the talent they bring to the court.
As the season enters its home stretch and the ACC having an uncharacteristically down season, look for the Tar Heels to run the table until they meet the Blue Devils again in the final game of the season on March 5th.
Youth is youth, but experience goes away with each game that is played on the hardwood. Experience is invaluable in the Big Dance. Combine experience with the level of talent the young Tar Heels bring to the court for every game, and the Tar Heels are a team no one will want to see when the madness ensues in March.
Can the North Carolina Tar Heels be the Cinderella squad fans yearn to see when festivities begin?