2008-09 North Carolina Basketball Preview: #1
North Carolina Tar Heels
Overall Rank: #1
Conference Rank: #1 ACC
2007-08: 36-3, 14-2, 1st
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
When a team returns their top six scorers from a group that went 36-3 and reached the Final Four, they will be the favorites heading into the season. And for North Carolina it is not even close. The Tar Heels return so much talent that anyone who doesn’t have them as their preseason number one is either lying or a joke. The high expectations are in large part due to the return of Tyler Hansbrough. The 6-9 forward averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds last year en route to National Player of the Year honors. Hansbrough’s toughness and tenacity set a great example for the rest of the team and any time Hansbrough does not get 20 and 10, the opposition should be proud.
Surry Wood and Greg Little are gone, but the big, if you want to call them that, losses are Quentin Thomas and Alex Stephenson. Thomas started nine games during his senior year, but he only averaged 3.1 points per game. Like Thomas, Alex Stephenson played an important role off the bench. The 6-9 center tallied 4.3 points and 4.5 rebounds before opting to continue his career elsewhere. No matter how hard you try to make the departure of Thomas and Stephenson sound important, the Tar Heels will be perfectly fine without them.
The scary thing is UNC is not simply a year older. There is more talent available this year than last year thanks to yet another stellar recruiting class. Ed Davis is the guy who can replace Stephenson’s role off the bench. The 6-10 freshman needs to add some strength, but he is good enough to play a lot more than 15 minutes per game…if only the team needed him to. In a couple of years Tyler Zeller might be better than Davis. The seven-footer will be a featured part of the Tar Heels team soon, but how much the younger, and more highly touted, brother of Luke of Notre Dame plays this year remains to be seen (though he did score 18 on opening day). Larry Drew could turn into an important player this year. The absence of Thomas does create a hole at the back-up point guard position. Drew is one of the players who can fill that role. Justin Watts is the last of the freshmen and if he can find any minutes in this backcourt, everybody else should just go home and let the Tar Heels cut down the nets.
Who to Watch:
Speedster Ty Lawson averaged 12.7 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals last year and led his team to the Final Four…and he has not even reached his full potential. With Lawson back, the Tar Heels will continue to run early, run often and run fast. No point guard in the nation can keep the tempo up as well as Lawson. Like Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green flirted with the NBA. Like Lawson, they are both back. Ellington is the consistent scoring threat besides Hansbrough. The 6-4 junior tallied 16.6 points per game a year ago and hit 40.0 percent of his attempts from long range. Green came off the bench almost exclusively last year, but he still averaged 11.5 points per game. He may move to the bench again since he is an effective shooter, but he should be in the starting lineup until Marcus Ginyard is at full strength. Ginyard will not score as much as the rest of the backcourt, but he is one of the best defenders in the nation. However, the team will have to do without their versatile threat for much of the 2008 calendar year as Ginyard recovers from a foot injury. That should give Bobby Frasor and Will Graves some quality minutes.
Deon Thompson only averaged 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds last year, but much of that is due to his frontcourt mate. If Thompson did not have to play next to Hansbrough day in and day out, he would put up big-time stats. But the numbers do not matter and Thompson complements the Tar Heels superstar very well. He is a solid shot blocker and will get the job done no matter what he has to do.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ty Lawson, Junior, Guard, 12.7 points per game
Wayne Ellington, Junior, Guard, 16.6 points per game
Danny Green, Senior, Forward, 11.5 points per game
Deon Thompson, Junior, Forward, 8.4 points per game
Tyler Hansbrough, Senior, Forward, 22.6 points per game