It started in the summer with the news that Leslie MacDonald, a role player from last year and the Tar Heels’ best returning 3-point shooter, would miss the year with a torn ACL. We winced, but knew this was a glancing blow. The Heels were supposed to be a juggernaut, and juggernauts don’t flinch when someone cuts off a finger. We would be fine. Students lined up for (not)Late Night With Roy at 4pm. We eagerly read along as ESPN launched a blog just for UNC on its basketball homepage. We soaked up commentary. Optimism reigned supreme.
The season began with great fanfare, highlighted by UNC’s annual pasting of Michigan State in a new, fancy venue – this time, an aircraft carrier. Even when UNC lost to UNLV and then Kentucky, we knew March was when it really mattered. As ACC play rolled around we started to get a sense of the team: they were nice kids. Off the court they loved hanging out together, communicating on Twitter so we could all feel part of their goofy lifestyle. Henson was the class clown, Barnes the businessman, Watts the elder statesman, with Kendall Marshall at the center of it all. This was, after all, the team that played outdoor pick-up against us mere mortals (sometimes spotting teams 9 points in a game to 11). On the court, they occasionally coasted on talent against inferior opponents. They won, mostly, but sometimes seemed uninspired. The Heels went through a lengthy, multi-game shooting slump where they developed a gritty defensive identity. Things started coming together.
Posted in UNC
Tagged basketball, Carolina, Dexter Strickland, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, Leslie Mcdonald, Nate Friedman, NCAA Tournament, Tar Heels, Tyler Zeller, UNC
New readers –
This is launch week on Tobacco Road Blues, the new site dedicated to Duke and UNC sports. This afternoon's post comes from Adrian Atkinson, a contributing writer. He'll be covering UNC sports, and basketball in particular. If you're interested in writing for TRB, follow the contact link to the right. Enjoy.
A Quantitative Look at Defensive Development in the Carolina System
Conventional wisdom declares that experience matters in college basketball, especially on the defensive end of the court. While effective defense is a function of myriad physical traits—lateral quickness, length/wingspan, and strength, to name three—it is also heavily dependent on a player’s mental attributes. The ability to communicate with teammates, to make crisp and timely help rotations, and to execute the nuances of a complicated defensive scheme are all things that can be mastered irrespective of a player’s level of athleticism. But they can rarely be mastered without a healthy dose of experience. Shared court time with teammates—both on the practice floor and in game situations—is essential for developing the type of defensive IQ and chemistry that all championship-caliber teams have.
Moreover, there is an interaction effect between a player’s experience and his physical traits. By reacting instinctively rather than thinking, a defender can gain a half-step of quickness that might be the difference between a successful help rotation and an unsuccessful one. On the other hand, a player who is not yet acclimated with a defensive scheme can often look paralyzed with indecision on the court. This lack of experience and defensive understanding can erroneously manifest itself as a lack of quickness or effort.