The University of North Carolina men's basketball team got a huge win over seventh-ranked Wisconsin in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night. The win is especially big since Carolina was coming off their first loss of the young season in Las Vegas, and especially considering Carolina's next game is at No.1 Kentucky.
The following slides are ten things I noticed during the 60-57 Tar Heels victory.
Much has been said over the past week or so about how Carolina is a soft basketball team and how their weakness is a lack of strength. UNC has gotten out-rebounded in three games already this young season.
The Wisconsin game Wednesday night proved that, in time of need, Carolina can get as physical as anybody. Carolina out-rebounded Wisconsin 39-26, and blocked six shots to Wisconsin's four.
Throughout the last two seasons, junior guard Dexter Strickland has been under fire as the weak link in the starting lineup. Coach Williams has praised Strickland's ability to play defense on the opponent's best guard, but fans have seen different. Strickland was given the task of guarding Duke guard Nolan Smith in three 2011 games against Duke, and Smith scored over 80 points in those games.
Wednesday night's win proved that Coach Williams knows at least a little of what he is talking about, as Strickland locked down Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor in the second half.
At one point late in the second half Wednesday night, it appeared that Carolina was just going through the motions on the basketball floor and Coach Williams had had enough of it. Williams threw off his jacket with ten minutes left in the game and exploded in an emotional outburst. The Heels responded with a 9-3 run which pushed their lead to 49-41.
The 2010-11 Tar Heels basketball team had one guy coming off the bench who consistently posed a deep threat that extended the opponent's defense. Leslie McDonald hit close to 40% of his three point attempts last year, but unfortunately was lost for probably the entire season this summer with a knee injury.
Carolina has yet to find someone who can consistently soften the zone by hitting big jumpers. Harrison Barnes appears to be the best outside shooter on this team; however, his role seems to be evolving to slasher as Barnes develops his drive to the basket.
Wednesday night, Carolina hit three of their nine three-point attempts. Barnes hit two of those and sophomore guard Reggie Bullock hit one of his three attempts.
The ACC was one of the deepest and most dominant basketball conferences during the eighties and nineties, but things have clearly changed over the last decade.
The ACC had dominated the first 10 Big Ten/ACC Challenges, but the Big Ten has now won the last three.
The Big Ten absolutely destroyed the ACC during this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge, winning eight games and losing just four. The headliner of the event did not live up to the hype, as No. 2 Ohio State drilled No. 4 Duke, 85-63.
Other Big Ten winners included Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota. ACC winners included North Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest and Clemson.
One of North Carolina's major downfalls this year has been their inability to convert on the free throw line. In their loss to UNLV in Las Vegas, UNC converted only 20 of their 33 free throws, a 60.6 percentage. This team can lose a lot of games if they don't improve that number.
Against Wisconsin, however, Carolina showed potential for that improvement, converting 19 of their 24 free throws, or 79.2 percent. Although that is still below-average, it is a major improvement, and was one of the key stats in the three-point win over Wisconsin.
North Carolina jacked up the defensive intensity, as the home crowd got behind the Heels in the win over Wisconsin. The crowd in the second half was full of energy. It appeared that the team picked up on that intensity and the energy helped fuel the win.
North Carolina is obviously loaded with talent and potential throughout their roster. However, in my opinion, Carolina lacks a key ingredient that might keep them from cutting down the nets in New Orleans in April. That key element is a floor leader.
The coaching staff can only do so much from the bench. It is vital to have someone on the floor who is vocal, demanding and aggressive towards teammates who lack focus at times during the game. UNC clearly doesn't have that floor leader.
Dexter Strickland, Tyler Zeller, and Harrison Barnes are quiet players. Kendall Marshall has a chance here to take the leader role and go with it. Up to this point, it is my opinion that Marshall hasn't taken that role quite yet.
Much has been made about the outstanding freshman class UNC introduced to us for the 2011-12 season. For much of the season up to Wednesday night, the freshmen have appeared to make key plays.
But the freshmen were all but invisible for the UNC win over Wisconsin, and appear to have much more learning to do to be considered consistent players at this point.
Only two of the freshmen actually made it on to the court for the game: James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston. The two freshmen combined to hit one of seven shots, and scored two points. The bright spot was three offensive rebounds James McAdoo grabbed, slamming one of them home.
Sophomore forward Harrison Barnes had a severe ankle sprain during last week's UNLV loss, and after missing practice time, was listed as questionable leading up to the Wisconsin game.
It is safe to say that, had Barnes missed this game, there is a very good chance UNC would be sitting on a two-game losing streak heading into Lexington to face No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday.
A hobbling Barnes stepped up when no one else would and put away the Badgers, scoring 14 second-half points and 20 total for the game.
UNC will only go as far as Barnes can take them, in my opinion. If Wednesday night against Wisconsin is any indication of what is to come, Harrison Barnes can take the Tar Heels very far.