As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, this week was telling for the 08-09 Tarheels. They had three conference games in seven days, two on the road. They lost the first one in a particularly ugly game against Wake Forest, a team that will probably emerge with the #1 ranking soon, and then had a couple of marginally-impressive wins against ACC opponents Virginia and Miami (FL).
They will see Virginia and Miami again this season, and either team could beat them, but they won't see Wake again until the ACC tourney, thank goodness.
This stretch has demonstrated a couple of things that every serious long-time college basketball fan knows: (1.) having a number of your starters back from a previously successful season does not guarantee that they will be better this year, or even as good, and (2) pre-season rankings and expectations get more poisonous as one nears the top of such things.
The Tarheels were the unanimous #1 team pre-season, people regarded them as such a sure thing that it almost seemed like a waste of time and money to ask them to play any games before The Final Four. Now, Tarheel fans are anxious about winning the ACC.
Last night, there was one point where Tyler Hanbrough had 20 of the Tarheels 31 points. Hansbrough wasn't a ball hog or mis-matched, he got a lot of those points at the line, this was just a measure of how cold the other shooters were. Bobby Frasior was consistently missing to the right, Lawson wasn't taking any shots, and Ellington couldn't get anything to drop and stopped taking shots. Danny Green was awesome once again, the best 6th man in the country has been impressive as a starter as defensive specialist Marcus Ginyard is still in street clothes with his slow-healing stress fracture in his foot.
They went into the half ahead because Miami didn't score in the last 6 minutes of the first half, then something switched on for Ellington and he went from 0 points to 17 in the first six minutes of the second half That salted the game away for Miami, despite being tough under the boards and mounting some impressive stabs at a run they could never put anything together.
So, where are we?
The Tarheels are a team that has suffered from believing their own press. They accept being behind early far too readily and it takes too much momentum to push them into aggressive play. Coach Williams has been making some inexplicable substitution choices. I don't understand why he is relying so much upon WIll Graves, and I wonder where Deon Thompson's game has gone.
The ACC is going to have at least six teams at the show this year and could end up with four in the sweet sixteen easily. This is a tough conference and the team is going ot have to earn it's expected place at the top of the conference. We still have to play a surprising Duke team twice, and as I indicated above, we are going to have to play a Virginia and a Miami team bent on settling a score before we get there.
This is going to be tough, if the Tarheels go this year, it will be earned. They can do it, but there's work ahead.