Why the North Carolina Tar Heels Fell to the UNLV Runnin' Rebels
Last week, when I wrote why the North Carolina Tar Heels would win the 2011 Las Vegas Invitational, one B/R commenter called it an "inane, back-patting article...everyone else sucks." Added another, "Can you say, 'cup cake' city?"
UNC just lost to the UNLV Rebels in the championship game of the 2011 Las Vegas Invitational. Time to eat some crow.
Pull up a chair and join in, there is plenty of criticism to go around.
You Can't Win with: Bad Fouls
On paper, the foul count benefited North Carolina, 26 to 22.
On the court, the Tar Heels were not smart about their fouls. They also did not get the benefit of the doubt on some key calls.
For instance, in the first half, when UNLV guard Anthony Marshall drove to the basket through a completely vacant lane, UNC's John Henson committed a silly foul, attempting to disrupt Marshall's incredible momentum with a feeble attempt to dislodge the ball. Not surprisingly, Henson's attempt had no effect other than prompting a foul call. And one.
Forward Harrison Barnes was one of several Tar Heels who committed a series of ill-advised offensive fouls. Instead of pulling up for a jumper halfway through the first period, Barnes charged right into the chest of UNLV sophomore Mike Moser for an offensive foul and one of UNC's assorted turnovers. Later in the period, he hooked his defender and was called for an offensive foul, taking away an open two-point opportunity for the Tar Heels.
One of the toughest fouls occurred with 8:46 remaining in the first half and just one second on the UNLV shot clock. Rebels forward Carlos Lopez attempted to get off a buzzer-beater when UNC's Tyler Zeller went up for the block. Though replays showed it was a clean block, Zeller was called for the foul, sending Lopez to the line instead of giving UNC the ball on a shot clock violation.
You Can't Win With: Turnovers and Poor Rebounding
Speaking of turnovers, the Tar Heels committed 10 TO and were out-rebounded by nine boards.
North Carolina did not record its first rebound until Kendall Marshall's board two minutes into the game. The UNLV Rebels, on the other hand, took only 18 seconds before securing their first rebound.
Additionally, UNC was not very responsible with the ball.
For instance, Marshall committed North Carolina's first turnover, failing to catch a slightly off-center pass early in the first half.
Though Tyler Zeller committed just one turnover, he set an ominous tone for the Tar Heels: from travels to illegal dribbles, bad passes and quite literally dropping the ball, UNC did not exactly put on a ball-handling clinic.
As substandard as their ball-handling might have been, the Tar Heels suffered even more from poor rebounding.
When Zeller and other Tar Heels rebounders attempted to rebound on both ends of the floor, they seemed to be perpetually out of position. For instance, several caroms were knocked out of bounds by North Carolina, as opposed to being controlled.
UNLV also benefited from 13 offensive rebounds, compared to UNC's nine.
You Can't Win When: You Don't Defend or Are Unable to Defend
UNC forward John Henson and guard P.J. Hairston recorded one blocked shot each, and James Michael McAdoo added three steals as the Tar Heels could do little more than contribute a handful of defensive stats.
The 'Heels gave up open look after open look and unimpeded drive after drive, allowing UNLV plenty of time to set up their vast plethora of successful shot attempts.
UNLV deserves a great amount of credit for making UNC look foolish. From Carlos Lopez to Mike Moser, the Rebels effectively moved the ball and dribbled around some very confused UNC defenders.
Other than recording six steals to the Rebels' three, UNLV trailed in every defensive statistic, from blocks to boards.
You Can't Win When: You Can't Shoot, Poor Shot Selection
If UNC was bad on the defensive side of the ball, they were even worse on offense—especially at the free-throw line.
Though the Tar Heels shot 42.4 percent from the field, they suffered from a 60.6 percent free-throw percentage. Going just 20-of-33 at the charity stripe, North Carolina could have covered the game's 10-point difference had they shot 90 percent at the line.
Even worse, North Carolina shot just 31 percent in the second half, missing nine straight shot attempts to start the final period before Reggie Bullock gave the Tar Heels their first points at the 15:46 mark.
Later in the second half, UNLV unintentionally employed their own "hack-a-Shaq" strategy. In fouling James Michael McAdoo on three consecutive possessions, the Rebels induced the North Carolina freshman into shooting just 3-of-6 from the line.
From air balls to shooting in double- and even triple-coverage, UNC's shot selection was not up to their usual standard, and their shooting percentage suffered as a direct result.
For instance, early in the second half, Tyler Zeller attempted to shoot in heavy traffic. When his initial offering was poked to the floor, Zeller recovered the ball and instead of resetting the offense, went back up with a low probability, double-coverage shot attempt.
UNLV rebounded the ensuing air ball as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas remarked, "It seems like North Carolina is settling for the first shot."
You Will Lose When: The Other Team Is Better Than You
UNLV was the better team in the Las Vegas Invitational's championship game, and they accordingly won the tournament.
With 13 three-point shots made, 46 total rebounds and just three free throws missed, the Rebels simply played superior basketball.
UNLV is an underrated team and it showed.
Though neither team was technically the home team, UNLV traveled just a few miles to play at the Orleans Arena in Paradise, Nevada and brought their legion of passionate fans with them.
When all was said and done and UNLV had defeated No. 1 North Carolina, their fans rushed the court and celebrated with their hometown team.
When the Las Vegas Invitational began, it was North Carolina's tournament to lose and lose they did.
But this was also UNLV's tournament to win. With four out of five starters finishing with 13 or more points and two players recording double-doubles, the Rebels seized their opportunity Saturday night.
In beating a blundering North Carolina team, the Rebels established themselves as relevant and impressive in this early 2011-2012 college basketball season.
Fear not, fans, for North Carolina has a chance at redemption. The Tar Heels travel to Lexington on Dec. 3 to play Kentucky in an anticipated, early-afternoon thriller.
Now that UNC has lost, Kentucky may very well assume the No. 1 spot in men's college basketball.
If UNC is to make a name for itself this season just as UNLV has already done, the Tar Heels must find a way to defeat Kentucky next week.