I am now in the first period of clarification in the college basketball season. I am finding out who has raw talent, who plays together as a team, and who has a concept that hasn't quite come together. The next tipping point is in about two to three weeks, when a team that might have struggled early still has a chance to get things together for conference play (which is important for tournament invites and seeding). That will also be the last time that many high profile programs play each other who don't regularly meet otherwise in the regular season
For example, the Tar Heels, the program of which I am a fan, will be playing my Alma Mater, The University of Texas at Austin on December 19th in Austin. I used to think I would have to struggle with divided loyalties in this annual game, but I don't. Go Heels. I worked for the athletic department as a tutor when I was a UT student, but I wasn't a big Texas sports fan during that period of my life. In fact, I was a student at UT when I became a fan of the Tar Heels, but that's another story.
In any case, if either the Tar Heels or the Longhorns reveal serious flaws in this game, those flaws are likely (but not guaranteed) to persist through the winter. Things that can be fixed quickly should be fixed by this point.
But that's not where we are now.
The Tar Heels have some raw talent, and they have clearly bought the Tar Heels system. They play and move like Tar Heels. The shift together, move well, execute plays competently, particularly for a relatively young team. The play man defense well, help-side movement is quick, isolations are rare enough and on the perimeter for the most part.
They can't hit the broad side of a barn with the basketball. They don't shoot well, and they don't choose shots well. Several of our young players think they are Kobe Bryant. The poor performance at the line from last year persists, and once conference opponents get a whiff of that, they are going to get banged-up inside.
I used to wonder why Roy Williams, the coach, doesn't make people shoot free throws until they improve. Now I just want him to stay after practice and shoot 2000 of them every day himself as punishment for how bad the Tar Heels are at the line.
The Tar Heels just got shelled by Indiana, the Number 1 team in the country, Indiana has Cody Zeller, a phenom, (and one of these players like Tyler Hansbrough, who might well play all four years of his NCAA eligibility). Indiana right now looks very likely to be the team of this season. They are quite good at both ends of the court, and Cody Zeller is unanswerable, much like Anthony Davis was for Kentucky last year.,
I thought the North Carolina State Wolfpack was going to shine in the ACC this year, but it's not happening so far. This is one of those teams that we need to see play for the next three weeks to find out where they are actually going to end up. They have talent, they have a good system, but they don't look that good.
Duke has Mason Plumlee, and Coach K always makes the best of the cards he is dealt, so I expect they will be at the top of the ACC this year and a four-seed or better in March. As a Tar Heel, the only other thing I can say is that Duke has one of those teams this year that makes it sweet to be a Tar Heel, and not because they are easy to beat, they aren't, but because they are easy to despise. The smug is thick this year in Durham. Plumlee has that signature Duke basketball countenance of false humility, that "take one for the team" display of faux-character. Do it for The Troops, Duke.
Obviously, I have seen Butler play well, they utterly humiliated the Tar Heels in the first half of a game at a pre-season tournament in Maui. The Tar Heels played quite well in the second half, which was really important, and they beat Butler in that second half, but they lost the game. Butler is one of those programs like Xavier and Gonzaga now. You have to take them seriously.