University of North Carolina Progress Report

Michael ParkerContributor INovember 21, 2008

The Tar Heels have only played two games in this young season, but it's still not too early to analyze how the season is going so far.  The Tar Heels are this season's most scrutinized team, so what's another article or two analyzing their season so far?

Only two games in, Carolina's season could be described as injury prone.

Before the season even began, their best player, Tyler Hansbrough, was on the bench, rocking a nice jacket and turtleneck combo.  Their best defender and the team's overall glue guy, Marcus Ginyard, also started the season on the bench, opting instead for a classic suit and tie combo. Two-fifths of Carolina's starting five were already injured before November. 

These injuries have had an impact in both of Carolina's early games.

Against Penn, the Tar Heels had a tough time on the boards, outrebounding a height-challenged Ivy League team by only 10.  Last year, Carolina outrebounded the Quakers by 25. 

Against Kentucky, the Tar Heels were outrebounded by two.  Last season, rebounding was one of Carolina's biggest strengths, outrebounding opponents by a double digit advantage. 

Wayne Ellington has most suffered because of Hansbrough and Ginyard's absence.  The team's second leading scorer last season, Hansbrough's early absence increased the pressure on him to score more, and he hasn't responded well.  His scoring average isn't too bad, at 14.5 a game, but he's only shooting 10 of 29 to start the season.  That must change.

It's not all bad news for Carolina though.  Hansbrough's absence left an opening in the post, and Carolina's other big men have stepped up to fill the void.

Deon Thompson is playing his best basketball yet for Carolina.  Though he never had the breakthrough season many expected him to have last season, he's been excellent so far, averaging almost 19 points and eight rebounds a game and shooting over 60% from the floor.   He managed to score 20 points against one of the game's best power forwards, Patrick Patterson.

Two freshmen, Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller, have made the most of their increased playing time.  Davis has been a force on the boards, grabbing 14 and 10 in his first two college games.  Even when Hansbrough returns, Davis will be a key player for the Tar Heels, providing a strong inside presence. 

Zeller, starting in place of Hansbrough, has displayed quickness and ball skills not found in many seven-footers.  He had a great game against Penn, leading the team in scoring. 

Carolina's injury tendencies have only persisted as the season began.  Though Hansbrough is quickly recovering, maybe even early enough to see action tonight against UC-Santa Barbara, another key post player went down for the Tar Heels.  Zeller suffered a broken wrist in the final minute of the Kentucky game, and he is out for the rest of the season. 

Though plagued by injuries, Carolina has enjoyed a good early season opening. 

Hansbrough's injury allowed Thompson more shots and space in the post, and his early success will boost his confidence for the rest of the season.  Thompson's improvement will really help the Tar Heels, preventing double and triple teams of Hansbrough.

Davis has been a pleasant surprise for Carolina in Hansbrough's absence.  Though already loaded at the post with Hansbrough and Thompson, Davis' early performance is a great sign, as he can help Hansbrough or Thompson from wearing down as the season progresses.  He's been a great replacement for transfer Alex Stepheson.

Overall, Carolina has showcased why they are the overwhelming favorites to cut down the nets in April.  They have ridiculous depth, as they can still win easily without one of the five best players in the country and their best defender.  When Hansbrough and Ginyard return to this lineup, Carolina will have few challenges in their march towards Detroit.