The North Carolina Tar Heels are 5-1 to start their 2011-12 campaign, cruising through their early non-conference games and winning by fairly comfortable margins.
They made it to the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational, beating out Mississippi Valley State, Tennessee State and South Carolina before falling to the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV 90-80 in a fairly stunning upset.
Prior to UNLV, none of the Tar Heels' early opponents posed much of a threat, and it's entirely possible that we can chalk up the loss to the Rebels as one of those freak games where the opponent was really good.
And the Tar Heels were simply flat.
We'll really find out what the Tar Heels are made of come ACC play in January. That being said, we're beginning to have enough of a sample size to be able to judge each player on their performances.
Let's take a look at each Tar Heel's performance this year and what they need to work on before the toughest stretch of their schedule begins.
.487 FG percentage
Through six games, Barnes has already improved his points per game (17.3 from 15.7 last year) and his shooting percentage (.487 from.423).
Barnes has begun to show greater restraint in his shot selection, taking fewer shots per game than last season. This translates into more points and a higher shooting percentage, and has no doubt helped the Tar Heels get out to their quick start.
His improved shot selection will pay huge dividends in ACC play as well, especially in tight games when big buckets can mean the difference between winning and losing (and in the case of a game against Duke, bragging rights).
Although he's grabbing one fewer rebound per game this year (4.8 from 5.8 last season), this can be forgiven due to the powerful frontcourt he plays with.
I wouldn't mind seeing him grab a few extra boards per game to supplement the work done by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but as it stands, his mid-range shooting makes up for his slight decrease in rebounding.
Barnes's one major problem so far has been turnovers—he has 16 so far to his name. He'll need to limit them down the stretch if the Tar Heels want to be the best they can be.
Barnes is coming off a lackluster effort against UNLV, shooting 6-for-16 from the field for 15 points. He's also nursing a sprained ankle, although he was spotted without crutches as the team was preparing to return to Chapel Hill. Hopefully, a sprain is all it is, as the Heels will need his services against upcoming foes Wisconsin and Kentucky.
After becoming North Carolina's starting point guard midway through last season following the departure of Larry Drew II, Kendall Marshall helped spur the Tar Heels to a 14-2 ACC regular season championship and Elite Eight appearance in March.
This year, he's continued his meteoric rise to become one of the nation's most unselfish point guards, dishing out an average of 10.8 assists per game so far.
He's scoring slightly less than last year (4.8 PPG from 6.2 PPG), but this can largely be attributed to his passing the ball more rather than simply taking it himself. However, his shooting percentage is only .357 through six games this year.
He must improve that number in order to truly cement his status as an elite point guard. It's not so much the number of points he scores but rather the efficiency with which he needs to score.
Like Harrison Barnes, he turns the ball over a lot, with 15 turnovers so far this year.
He, too, needs to gain greater ball control down the stretch, as the elite teams in the ACC and the tournament will exploit this lack of control and turn such opportunities into points.
Zeller's numbers have come down slightly this year, averaging 15.7 points per game last year and only 13.5 this year. His rebounding numbers are the same, with 7.2 boards per game both this year and last.
So far, Tyler Zeller has shown himself to be the frontcourt presence the Tar Heels need in the post-Hansbrough era.
Zeller and John Henson have emerged as a premier paint defenders, as well as efficient scorers and rebounders. Zeller has done his part, especially on defense by way of taking charges, and on offense by perfecting his now-signature baseline jump hook.
In continuing the theme of turnovers, Zeller has turned the ball over 10 times through six games. Once again, he needs to limit these and learn to control the ball in order to be the most efficient player possible.
That being said, he's made up for it through his scoring, rebounding and defense.
One could argue fairly successfully that John Henson is the most efficient all-around player on this year's Tar Heels squad. He's averaging nearly a double-double in points and rebounds and is averaging three blocks per game. He's also shooting .562 from the field.
This combination makes him extremely valuable at both ends of the court, and along with Tyler Zeller, he anchors the Tar Heels' frontcourt and can cause huge problems for opponents.
Henson's only major weakness comes at the charity stripe. He's shooting .500 from the free throw line this year, which is a slight improvement from his .476 performance last year but still not stellar.
I can't really go after Henson for this, however, as the whole teams suffers from a major free throw shooting deficiency. As a team, the Tar Heels shoot only .604 from the charity stripe.
A major plus for Henson is he does not suffer from the turnover bug that the rest of team does, with only 1.5 turnovers per game compared to 2.1 last year.
.612 FG percentage
Dexter Strickland strikes me as a bit of an enigma. He's being played as a shooting guard but possesses such a skill set that he could be used as a point guard if need be.
This is the reason, I think, Strickland hasn't quite lived up to his true potential in Chapel Hill. He's averaging 8.3 points, three rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, but I think he could do so much more, especially in the way of scoring.
With a .613 field goal percentage this year, he could very easily averaging double figures for scoring if he a took a few more shots.
Strickland was five-for-eight with 12 points against UNLV and four-for-five against Mississippi Valley State with 13 points.
If he could consistently put up even these numbers, he could be a great supplement to the scoring of Zeller, Henson and Barnes.
Strickland is sort of the "odd man out" in the starting lineup, as the other four starters all have their clearly defined roles. Strickland is sort of stuck between another point guard and an under-performing shooting guard.
Reggie Bullock was one of three 5-star recruits hauled in by North Carolina in its 2010 recruiting class, alongside Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall. Unfortunately, Bullock was forced to watch Barnes and Marshall lead the Tar Heels to the Elite Eight from the sidelines, as he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Maryland last February.
This year, Bullock is back to full health and out to prove he can perform at the level he was expected to when he was recruited.
Looking at box scores from last year's games, we can see Bullock was very inconsistent. One night, he would be phenomenal, such as on January 18 when he scored 18 points against Clemson.
But he could also be dangerously lackluster. He scored only eight points against Miami and none against Boston College.
Such performances have continued in the early going this year, with one huge game against Tennessee State in which Bullock scored 23 points while hitting six of seven three-pointers.
In the very next game against South Carolina, he scored none, and against UNLV, he scored only eight.
Bullock was recruited by North Carolina to be a scorer, specifically a three-point shooter. Bullock is an over-sized shooting guard, who has the potential to cause huge matchup problems for defenders.
He has the shooting prowess of a smaller, more traditional guard but with the body type of a power forward who can power through opponents and get to the hoop if need be.
But Bullock has been under-performing as a reserve player, and it is unclear where he goes from here, especially with so much talent ahead of him in the starting five.
Despite limited minutes this year, McAdoo is already beginning to showcase his talent and potential as yet another big man in the Tar Heels' arsenal.
Although he's yet to have a breakout game for North Carolina, he's averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game while only playing just over 15 minutes per game.
Once McAdoo gets more minutes, either this season or in the future, he'll no doubt contribute more in the frontcourt.
For the time being, he's being overshadowed by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but once their time in Chapel Hill is over, McAdoo will emerge as a force to be reckoned with in the paint.
.486 FG percentage
Much like McAdoo, P.J. Hairston has seen only limited minutes through six games so far but has averaged 9.7 points in limited time.
Most of this scoring has come in the Tar Heels' two most recent contests, with Hairston scoring 19 points against South Carolina (five-for-eight beyond the arc) and 15 points in the loss to UNLV ( five-for-eight on the night and three-for-six in three-pointers).
Hairston, like Reggie Bullock, is a more pure shooter who is adept at hitting the long-range shots. Despite averaging only 12 minutes of play, Hairston has already demonstrated his shooting prowess and potential to lead the team once this current group of starters has departed.
With more experience and time to develop, P.J. Hairston will be giving perimeter defenders serious problems down the road.
The rest of the team is composed of freshmen Stilman White, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons, as well as seniors David Dupont, Justin Watts, Patrick Crouch and Stewart Cooper.
Leslie McDonald is out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury.
The bench has only seen playing time through "garbage minutes" in North Carolina's five comfortable victories. Maybe one day they'll see more meaningful minutes, but for now, they're at the end of the bench surrounded by a ton of talent and established veterans.