Thursday, November 30, 2006

UNC 98, OSU 89 – Closer than it Appears

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I would provide analysis on the Wednesday night ACC-Big 10 Challenge match-ups, however, taking into consideration that blogging is not my full time job, I actually wanted to eat dinner. Last night between 7pm – 9pm I began to feel pretty Somalian, which was awful, and knowing full well that I have more than a bowl of fly infested rice in my fridge, I decided to take a stand. Plus, I need to finish the 900 pieces of leftover Thanksgiving dishes before they start to ferment. With that said, I did not completely disregarding the rest of this tournament, I just decided to take the low rode and comment solely on the Ohio State at North Carolina game.

When schedules were announced in the early Fall, this was the type of game you mark on your calendars along with last Saturday’s Kansas-Florida dual. Much of the pre-season hype was generated due to a number of factors:

For North Carolina
- Return top 4 scorers from last years team including potential POY Tyler Hansbrough
- The incoming freshman class rated no less than number two overall including the top ranked point guard (Tywon Lawson), the top ranked shooting guard (Wayne Ellington) and, the diamond of the class, the top ranked power forward in Brandon Wright

For Ohio State
- Return a very senior laden core lead by junior point-guard Jamar Butler and senior shooting-guard Ron Lewis
- The incoming class rated no less than number two overall including three McDonalds All-Americans in Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and possibly the best center to enter college basketball in the past 20 years, Greg Oden
- Did I mention Greg Oden?
- Oh yes, and don’t let me forget…Greg Oden

Now that the season is well underway, this game has remained highly anticipated as Ohio State is off to a nice start with Cook leading the team in points (almost 18 per) while the other freshman, Conley, leads the team in assists with a 6.3 average. The one piece of the Buckeye machine that is missing is Oden – out with a surgically repaired right wrist until conference play begins in January. For UNC, Hansbrough has picked up where he left off last year averaging 22pts/8rebounds with the three highly touted freshman just behind him with averages of 16, 12 and 10 (Brandon Wright also contributes on the glass with 7 boards per). Coming into the game, Ohio State was generously voted number one overall by majority of the polls while UNC holds the sixth position. Now to the game!

Both teams excel in transition basketball and the start of the game did not dissapoint. Ohio State came out firing on all cylinders scoring 16 quick points to UNC’s 9. At this point, OSU was on pace to score over 120 pointss for the game!!! Proving that the advent of the shot-clock was meaningless, shots were hoisted at a frenetic pace with UNC typically getting a shot off with about 20 seconds left on the shot clock. To me, their transition offense is unmatched in college basketball. They also do a nice job of getting into their secondary break and if that doesn’t work, they can always dump it in to “Psycho T”.

About halfway through the first half it was evident that Ohio State was finding soft spots in the Carolina defense for easy lay-ups and kick-outs, mounting a 10 point lead. However, just as I finished writing that sentence, the heels stepped up their defense and canned a few big three’s to cut Ohio State’s lead to just two (40-38) with four minutes to go in the half. This tempo continued until intermission with Ohio State leading at the half by a score of 48-44.

In just one half, the excitement, skill level, intensity and overall quality of play had already surpassed that of any of the previous ACC-Big 10 tournament games this year. At the half, there were 18 players who entered the game and 16 of them scored (Ron Lewis with 13 for OSU and Hansbrough with 7 for UNC), Ohio State shot 61% from behind the arc connecting on 8 three’s, and UNC held a +4 rebounding margin.

The second half was much of the same regarding tempo, however it was apparent that UNC made several defensive adjustments, continued to attack the glass and began forcing the ball inside (and essentially taking back the lead with a 9-0 run). As we all know, basketball is a game of runs, and Ohio State made one of their own by the 10 minute mark to take the lead back. This pace remained consistent throughout however the second half Hansbrough-Ellington combination proved too much to contend with (Ellington scoring 17 second half points scoring 19 total on his nineteenth birthday!). Hansbrough ended the game with a stellar 21 point/14 rebound performance. The Ohio State freshman struggled a bit down the stretch as they simply ran out of steam trying to keep up with what seemed to waves upon waves of fresh UNC bodies. With that said, there’s no need for OSU to be disappointed. Senior guard Ron Lewis netted 31 points, Daeqaun Cook scored 14 points and point guard Mike Conley showed glimpses of brilliance with his ability to get to the rim and manage the game.

With only 8 scholarship players available for this game and having Oden sidelined as well, who knows what the possible outcome would have been. It will be interesting to see how OSU’s style changes when Oden is inserted into the lineup. Currently they’re a run and gun, transition team where the bigs aren’t traditional post players. I’m also a bit worried that Oden is receiving too much hype before ever stepping foot on the court at this level. I realize that he was only the 4th 2-time national high school player of the year and already has an NBA-ready body, I’m just not sure he will live up to expectations so quickly. Having said that, I do see him contributing immediately on the defensive end which should help propel the Buckeye’s to at least an Elite 8 birth.

There has been recent concern about the Tar Heels having too much talent and whether or not that would hurt team chemistry. To me, having too much talent is a problem that I’m sure most coaches wouldn’t mind having. Their up-temp, transition offense creates more possessions than the average team which equates into enough touches for those players who need them. The way in which Coach Williams has been subbing also allows for each player to play at their highest level without having to endure much fatigue. UNC certainly has the talent to make the Elite 8 of the big dance and should no doubt take home the ACC crown.


Anonymous pbrods said...

Where's the new column? I figured that you'd have something to say about Duke's lovely 20 turnover, 48% free throw shooting performance against Holy Cross.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What sort of basketball blog goes 8 days w/o an update. I hope your bias as a duke fan doesn't stop you from writing about how much trouble these guys are in and how bad they looked against Holy Cross.

1:33 PM  

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