SI.com’s Luke Winn, who is multiple levels better than his colleague Seth Davis, has an excellent article previewing the Heels this season. Winn puts the primary focus for any success UNC might enjoy this season on the shoulders of Ty Lawson and rightfully so. Several other players on this team are going to do wildly productive things on both ends of the court but Lawson is the one who will pressure opposing defenses and set the pace for the offense.
In Chapel Hill, the 5-foot-11 Lawson occupies a far more central role, that of sophomore pilot for a national-title contender and supporting actor to junior forward Tyler Hansbrough’s Wooden Award campaign. The race to cut down the nets in San Antonio boasts a field of speedy point guards — what with UCLA’s Darren Collison, the son of two Guyanese track stars, Memphis’ lightning-quick freshman Derrick Rose and Kansas’ steal-happy duo of Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers — but Lawson might be the fastest of them all off the dribble. He surely operates the fleetest attack of any elite team: last season North Carolina ranked ninth nationally in possessions per game, at 73.1, and as Lawson puts it, “Coach [Roy] Williams will never say we’re going too fast.” Williams thinks the Heels can up the pace in ’07-08, mainly because, “I don’t think [Lawson] was playing anywhere close to as fast as he can play on a consistent basis.”
Lawson did some major conditioning work over the summer admitting he was exhausted at the end of the Georgetown game last March. Winn also highlights over aspects of the Heels team including Tyler Hansbrough, who he calls the “heart and soul” of the team and Deon Thompson and his obvious improvements, not the least of which is his dropping down to 240 pounds and toning up his physique. Marcus Ginyard is called the “glue” of the 07-08 Heels and also the best defender on the team. I also think calling Danny Green an “X factor” is spot on for both his defensive prowess and his rebounding. According to Winn, Green had the most deflections during the practice he watched and he will be key to making the defense better.
The most astute observation Winn makes is one that sort of answers critics who say losing Brandan Wright is a huge blow to the team. Winn points out that everyone who might be a title contender has lost someone(except for Memphis) and the distance from Wright to Thompson/Stepheson is not all that far:
Bottom Line: UNC lost a major talent when Brandan Wright and his pterodactyl-like wingspan left for the NBA after one season. But the Heels are far more equipped to replace him than, say, UCLA is after losing Arron Afflalo, Georgetown is without Jeff Green or Ohio State is without Mike Conley Jr. Thompson isn’t a huge drop-off offensively, and Stepheson can pick up the defensive slack. If Lawson continues playing as he did during March, he’ll be an All-America candidate, and Hansbrough is the frontrunner for the Wooden Award. This is the most well-positioned team to win the national championship — and my pick for preseason No. 1.
Great points all around. Hope you enjoyed your visit to Chapel Hill, Luke.