Friday, November 20, 2009

UNC is 'Big'

Ever since the NCAA basketball schedules were set, I've been looking forward to watching North Carolina take on Ohio State in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament, particularly to see the development of Ed Davis and get a glimpse of freshman John Henson. Immediately upon laying eyes on the Tar Heels, one thing stands out above the rest: This team is big.

UNC right now has six legitimate talented players in their rotation with power forward/center size: senior Deon Thompson, sophomores Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller, and freshmen David and Travis Wear and John Henson. Add in senior leader Marcus Ginyard, who goes around 6'6" and Will Graves (also 6'6"), and this team clearly has an abundance of size and skill in the frontcourt.

And believe it or not, from what I saw last night the 2009-10 version of the Tar Heels reflects Tom Hanks' character in the movie "Big." In the movie, Josh Baskin, whom Hanks played, wishes to break from what he's known his whole life and become big. His wish is granted, as he awakens the next morning in the body of a full-grown adult. He's excited, thrilled and freaked out about his new body, and for a long while, he's extremely awkward and trying to find his way in his transformed, bigger body.

This is not unlike this Tar Heels squad. For the past three seasons, North Carolina — despite always having good size — was dominated by tremendous guard play, led by the smallest man on the floor most nights, Ty Lawson. And Wayne Ellington provided more excellent guard play, to combine with Tyler Hansbrough for an efficient, lethal team.

The team wished to win a national championship, and that wish was granted. But the next day (this season), UNC woke up in an entirely new body. The familiarity of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green was gone. A transformation has taken place, from a guard-oriented team to one dominated by the frontcourt. With all the talent and newfound size on the front line, the Tar Heels were ranked No. 4 nationally, as people were excited, thrilled and a bit freaked out. But just as Hanks struggled to adjust initially, so too are these Tar Heels.

Yes, they won the game last night 77-73 to remain unbeaten in the early going, but this team is clearly awkward and still finding itself. The new body isn't quite as familiar and efficient as the old one just yet, which is understandable when you lose the top four players from the year before. At times, UNC looked dominant, building an 18-point lead. But turnovers and shoddy guard play, not to mention more missed free throws, allowed Ohio State to creep back into it and forced the Tar Heels to really turn it on the final minutes to prevent blowing what was once an enormous lead.

North Carolina is no longer a team with the most reliable backcourt in America. In fact, their guards are the biggest weakness. Lawson and Ellington were two players who took care of the basketball, ran the team incredibly well, and could score and create shots for themselves or others routinely. This year's backcourt is not there yet, evident by the team's 20 turnovers a game average, and the 19 last night that kept them on such a pace. Sophomore Larry Drew II and freshman Dexter Strickland are clearly still trying to adjust to the college game, and they don't resemble Lawson in the least. Last night, it was evident that neither could generate their own shot when they had too, at least not yet, and the Tar Heels don't seem to have that guy on the team. The size is plentiful, but this team will be a work in progress, just like it was a work in progress for Josh Baskin to get used to being big. The Tar Heels must do the same thing … learn to adjust their game and style to fit their new, big body.

At the end of the movie, Josh realizes that he wasn't quite ready to be big and wanted to return to his old form. He wanted that familiarity back. Hopefully the Tar Heels can be successful this season the way Josh was in his job at the toy company, and just like in "Big," the Tar Heels will go back to resembling a squad that more closely reflects their old self, with the arrival of Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock to reload the backcourt, giving Roy Williams the opportunity to get back to his up-tempo, push, push, push style.

In the meantime, UNC will have to adjust and adapt in its new body, and find a way to make it work, just as Josh did until he returned to form.

BallHype: hype it up!

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