Eight games in and the Heels are presently undefeated with secure grasp on the #1 ranking following a loss last week by UCLA to Texas. They have won big over a few cupcakes and ugly over some good teams. Through eight games UNC has show a streak of toughness augmented by the will/ability to finish a game which was suspect last season. If I had one complaint it is that I think UNC has failed to really assemble a full game where everything clicked. This past week versus Penn was probably the closest they have come to playing solid defense and running the offense like Roy envisions it should be run. Prior to that things have been a bit out of sync, owed partially to the injury to Ty Lawson which forced UNC to play two games with a somewhat altered offense. In those games the defense stepped up and after Lawson’s return versus Kentucky in which UNC was a tad shaky on offense, they seemed to mesh better versus Penn. Now UNC is in the midst of a 12 day break from the game schedule which will afford Lawson the rest to completely heal up and also the chance to iron out a list of issues Roy and his staff undoubtedly have been keeping through the first set of games. Here is my take on each player so far this season after the jump.
Impression: Is it just me or does Tyler appear to be seriously pissed off about something? A quick list of potential individuals or things that might be provoking him include:
The sub-prime mortgage crisis
His sociology professor
People who say he travels and it is not called
The Johnson Lexus Badger
Whatever the case, Hansbrough seems focused. And I am well aware that his intense focus has been known to burn holes in inflammable objects but this focus seems to be on a larger scale like he is on a season long mission to do everything from win a national title to simply dominate. He spoke during the offseason of being more of a leader and we all wondered what that might look like considering his quieter demeanor. The answer is before us now. Hansbrough is setting the tone and the mission to bring home a national title to Chapel Hill.
Stat Check: 21.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 77% from the FT line.
This is clearly his most dominant offensive performance. He is very close to averaging a double-double and for as much as was made what to do without Brandan Wright, the answer from Hansbrough is to pick up some of that slack himself. Also, how many big men do you know shoot close to 80% from the FT line.
Impression: It’s about dang time. Okay, maybe I am being unfair and was a little harsh on him last season but part of my frustration stemmed from the hype that surrounded him not coming to fruition on the court. This season Ellington has been all the things we thought he would be and then some. The shot selection has been good for the most part. His defense has been perfectly acceptable and I have gone from being surprised when he hits a big shot to being shocked if he doesn’t. The main concern most fans had heading into the season was where the perimeter shooting would come from. Ellington has been the answer in a huge way.
Stat Check: 17.4 ppg, 47% on 3-pointers, 87% from FT line
Ellington is not out there shooting at will from the perimeter. His shot selection has been more measured this season and it shows in his scoring and shooting percentages. Ellington takes slightly fewer than five three pointers per game which is about right for the way UNC’s offense flows. I would like to see Ellington get to the line more but he also leading the team in FGs attempted which means he is getting his touches and hitting his shots at close 50%.
Impression: Wow. Heading into the season I pegged Green as being a part of a tandem with Ginyard where those two combined would snag some key rebounds and generally play great defense in the spirit of Jackie Manuel. I had no idea he was going to turn into a cross between Jawad and Marvin Williams. Green has been in all the right places at the right time along with a knack with hit a key shot when the Heels need it. His offensive production is the biggest news here and has makes him a definite X factor off the bench mainly because he plays all over the floor. And I have read on IC that some folks would like to see Green starting. I disagree. I think his effectiveness is tied to him coming off the bench and I also think Roy prefers putting the better defender in Marcus Ginyard on the court to start the game.
Stat Check: 14.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 13 steals, 87% from FT line
Green leads the team in steal highlighting his efforts on defense. Offensively he is shooting 55% from the floor which includes 40% from behind the arc. As I have said before it is not so much the number of points he score but when he scores them. The Davidson game set a tone in this respect when Green scored eight straight points for UNC to keep them in the game. From that point on Green has played with confidence and given the Heels an unexpected offensive threat.
Impression: It is difficult to know how much the ankle injury threw Lawson out of sync. The first three games had been a bit of a struggle and Lawson has shown a propensity for foul trouble. Beginning in the game versus Old Dominio, Lawson’s offensive game was coming on but the rolled ankle against BYU briefly sidetracked that. In the two games back, Lawson’s speed has been very good despite the bad ankle and the offense is very much finding it’s groove again.
Stat Check: 11.0 ppg, 4.2 apg, 59% FG, 1.61 A/TO.
The 59% FG shooting is shocking considering Lawson is the smallest guy on the court. This speaks volume to his ability to not only penetrate to get a closer look at the basket but also the separation he is creating from his defender. The A/TO is well below the 2.2 A/TO from last season and the 3+ ratio Lawson posted over the final ten games last March. It is really the turnovers that concern me the most since I think the offense will eventually mesh and the number of assists will go up. The need to take care of the ball cannot be underscored enough, especially from the PG and I think Lawson will eventually cut down on the turnovers as the season progresses.
Impression: A little disappointing. I think most observers agree that Thompson has not played at the level most of us thought he would. In my case, perhaps I placed too much value on his performances on the U19 team. However the Arizona and Georgetown games last season showed he was very capable of being a significant scorer and rebounder. I essentially assumed we would see more of that this season but that has not been the case. It could be something as simple as Thompson adjusting to the starting role and playing alongside Hansbrough, who honestly, is casting a big freaking shadow right now. Thompson has shown signs of how good he could be and his play in solving the OSU zone was key in winning that game when Hansbrough was blanketed. And I do not think it will take much to get Thompson into some kind of groove where he is producing more on offense and rebounding better.
Stat Check: 8.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 21 personal fouls, 17 turnovers
21 fouls is more than any other Tar Heel and 17 turnovers is 3rd on the team behind Lawson and Hansbrough. The put all that in proper perspective Lawson and Hansbrough both handle the ball far more often than Thompson does so his turnover total it a tad alarming. Obviously this might be the reason his offensive production off if he is prone to give the ball up. Realistically if he can raise the scoring and rebound about 2-3 points and 2-3 rebounds per game, the Heels will be even tougher on the frontline.
Impression: Doing what we thought he would do. Ginyard is playing great defense as always and provides solid play across the board. It would be nice if he had better production on offense but that would also be a bonus considering his role on team.
Stat Check: 7.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 35% FG
Ginyard has not shot well which explains why his scoring average is low. Ginyard is second on the team in offensive rebounds with 16 illustrating his willingness to go after the ball and contribute to the offense even though he is generally not a scorer. Since Ginyard’s best work comes as a defender, stats are really not that helpful.
Impression: Stepheson is basically pulling some of the rebounding weight and combining with Thompson to form a two headed monster in the four spot. He strikes me as a tad slow and still a little out of sorts at times but I expect him to come around.
Stat Check: 3.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 15.4 mpg
The rebounding total is close to what Brandan Wright was pulling down and this is with Stepheson playing an average of 15 minutes per game. Much like Ginyard, Stepheson is expected to do certain things on the defensive/rebounding side and if anything in the way of offense happens, it is a bonus.
Impression: Frasor is healthy and does a great job backing up Lawson, mainly because he gives it all he has and plays good defense. I am a tad disappointed the threes are not falling for him because I think he can fill either guard spot depending on who is in the game.
Stat Check: 3.5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 2.1 rpg, 2.8 A/TO
Aside from the good defense Frasor plays he also takes care of the ball when running the point and has a very good 2.8 A/TO ratio. The three point shooting at 33% needs the most work and if Frasor can become a consistent shooter it will help tremendously taking pressure of Hansbrough and Ellington.
Impression: Thomas has been decent when running the point but also looks like someone trying to find his niche. Thomas can run the break the way Roy wants to run it. There are also moments Thomas presses too much and gets himself in trouble. In short he has been sufficient.
Stat Check: 1.8 ppg, 1.9 apg, 11 turnovers
Thomas averages about 10 minutes per game so his stats do not say much. The turnover total is a little high for the playing time he gets.
In the final analysis, UNC strikes me as a team that is slowly gelling which is perfectly fine. Elite teams who come in with copious talent and a great coach sometimes blow the doors off from the very start and still others come to it much more deliberately. UNC winning has been deliberate and while crushing other teams is enjoyable from a fan perspective I am personally fine if the Heels are working through some tough games and progressing to make sure you are playing at top level when conference play starts and trying to peak late February into March and April. UNC is still attempting to strike balance on both ends of the floor and getting the offensive clicking at full speed. Hopefully 12 days off will make the process easier. So far I like most of what I have seen.