Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Looking ahead to UNC

GT will be in the Dean Dome Wednesday night (with my family in attendance wearing light blue) for a matchup of the two youngest teams in the ACC. GT leads the league in starts by underclassmen by a huge margin, and while UNC actually gets 40+% of their minutes from upperclass players they also lean heavily on 4 freshmen and have little experience anywhere on the roster. Of course, with as many as 10 freshman and sophmores expected to see the court for major minutes between the two teams anything can be expected, and the over/under on combined turnovers is probably right around 30.

Both teams are playing fairly well right now, though UNC has the clear edge by entering the game having won 4 of 5 while GT has lost 4 of our last 5. If you look a bit closer, that's not as ugly as it seems because three of those losses were by a combined 4 points and the last game was a solid win over #16 North Carolina State. This game starts a two game road trip for GT, and if there is any shot at the N.I.T this year it is basically a "must win" for the Jackets.

Considering that I grew up in a UNC family and still follow the team pretty closely, I figured that a detailed preview of the UNC game would be in order. I've been very impressed with the job that Roy Williams has done in Chapel Hill this year - this year's UNC team has a few noticable holes, but he's got them playing very hard and the effort level covers up a lot mistakes. While I sort of broke this preview down by position, keep in mind that many of these matchups will be flexible on the defensive end and remember also that both coaches use their benches frequently this year, so the starting lineups aren't neccessarily an indicator of who will be on the court the majority of the game.

Point Guard:
Bobby Frasor v. Mario West

The Jacket offense has looked much better with West running the point, not because of anything specific he's doing per se, but moreso because it frees up Zam Fredrick to play off the ball. Frasor isn't a true PG either, he and Zam are actually fairly similar players - though Frasor is a bit better ball handler. Frasor is a pretty solid offensive player, he can penetrate a bit, shoot it with range out the three point line and has solid court vision. He's not nearly as large or athletic as West (there's no way he could do this), and he's not the same class of defender - in fact I don't expect to see them matched up much on the offensive end for UNC, West will probably draw Terry on that end for most of the game.

This is a tough comparison, just because the roles are so different. Frasor is the primary ball handler for UNC, and West really isn't - GT doesn't have a primary ball handler recently, it's been a distributed role. West is GT's best wing defender, and a rather poor offensive player. Frasor is an average offensive player, and a bit below average on the defensive end (for now). West's game will be a success if he keep the turnovers down and frustrates Terry on the defensive end of the court, Frasor will be a success if he can keep UNC's offense running and effectively feed Hansbrough in the post.

Edge: Even (maybe slight advantage to Frasor if he can limit his TO's)

Shooting Guard:
Wes Miller v. Lewis Clinch

UNC fans love Wes Miller for all the obvious reasons, he's a guy with a great story and he doesn't "look" like someone who could be starting for North Carolina - he's got a bit of Rudy syndrom going on as a guy who's earned his playing time by working his butt off. He also happens to be able to shoot the ball from 3 quite well if he's ignored, and that's nothing to be sneezed at. Clinch is basically the exact opposite - a highly recruited freshman who struggled at the beginning of the year and had to fight through a nagging injury for a while. Recently though he's really started to round into form, and his athleticism and quick release on his jumpshot have made him much more of a consistent scoring threat in recent weeks.

Neither Miller or Clinch are anything special as defenders, Clinch has much more natural ability while Miller tries very hard but his physical weaknesses just can't be completely overcome. Outside of his terrific game against FSU (6 made 3 pointers), Miller hasn't shown he can be a huge impact player - he's basically a one trick pony on the offensive end, though a dangerous one who requires constant attention. With Clinch really stepping up his game recently, and with UNC's perimeter defense probably focused more on Anthony Morrow I expect him to have a solid 10-15 point outing.

Edge: Lewis Clinch

Small Forward:
Reyshawn Terry v. Anthony Morrow

Tech doesn't have a true small forward, though Mario West fulfills that role on the defensive end. Offensively it's more of a three guard set, and Morrow is the centerpiece of the offensive threat. Quite simply, he's one of the very best shooters in the country and leads the ACC in 3pt % at just over 44% on a large number (145) of attempts. Morrow's size and hair trigger release allow him to get his shot off in situations most shooters couldn't, and he has range well out past the NBA line. Morrow is an explosive scorer and has 3 different games of 28 points or more on the season, he's going to be the #1 priority of UNC's defense just like every other team GT has faced. Morrow's biggest weakness is that he turns it over too much, UNC will try to keep constant pressure on him and probably try to deny him the ball as much as possible - I also expect to see Terry, Ginyard and Green all rotated on Morrow to try and wear him down as much as UNC can.

Terry is much more of a typical SF with NBA size and athleticism (he's possibly the best NBA prospect on their team actually). He can shoot the 3, put the ball on the floor, get to the rim and is a decent defender. Terry is most dangerous in the open court where he can trail the break and hit jumpers or finish at the basket in traffic. He is also a solid rebounder, though it's not as large a difference between him and Morrow as you would think (5.2rpg / 4.4 rpg) because Morrow is also effective on the glass. Terry has been streaky and when the "Good Terry" shows up UNC is very tough to beat, he's just a very difficult matchup for most teams. GT actually has an advantage here that most teams in the ACC don't have, and that is Mario West - an athlete that can match Terry on the defensive end of the court and keep pressure on him.

I think West can frustrate Terry a bit, and GT is a solid team on the glass so he won't get as many easy close-in opportunities, but he's still a tough matchup. On the other side of the floor, Morrow is simply one of the best scorers in the conference and despite UNC's defensive efforts I expect that he will get his 16-20 points. As long as Morrow doesn't get 25 or more points, I think Roy will be happy with the job they do on him.

Edge: Anthony Morrow in a squeaker

Power Forward:
David Noel v. Jeremis Smith

Theodus Tarver actually starts for GT, but Smith will see the lion's share of the minutes at the PF spot so I'm putting him here, you'll see Tarver and Dickey tag teaming on Hansbrough most of the game. Noel and Smith would actually be a good heavyweight fight, both look more like football players than basketball players and they both are explosive and lethal finishers in the open court (GT fans, if you didn't see Noel's windmill against NCSU you missed out). Noel has a more polished halfcourt offensive game, Smith basically gets his points off broken plays, dunks and offensive putbacks while Noel has as solid jumper that can reach to the three point line.

Noel is UNC's best defender (he might even be on Morrow a bit during the game), and is a better defender than Smith - who is no slouch in his own right. Smith is a markedly better rebounder and that is no insult to Noel, there just isn't anyone in the conference better than Smith on the glass. This has the makings of an extremely physical game to begin with, and these two guys will be right in the middle of it, they don't back down from anyone.

Edge: Even - Noel for his scoring and defense, Smith for his rebounding and junkyard dog mentality

Center: Tyler "Salamander" Hansbrough v. Ra'Sean Dickey

GT is going to use Dickey, Tarver and probably the tuba player from the band to try and slow Hansbrough down. I'm not sure it's going to matter much, the kid is just a tank and plays harder than anyone I can remember watching in a long time. GT has a very athletic and physical front line, and Hansbrough will earn anything he gets - but he's going to get his, the kid is just that good. Hansbrough is relentless on the offensive glass, has a varied array of offensive post moves and is flat-out tenacious. An entire team made up of players with Jeremis Smith and Tyler Hansbrough level effort would be nearly unbeatable.

(Hansbrough before tip-off)

GT's best shot might be for Dickey to get Hansbrough in some foul trouble on the other end of the court, he's extremely efficient in his own right (61% FG, 71% FT) and is the type of player that could give Hansbrough some trouble in the blocks. Dickey has played much better during the second part of the conference season, and when he's exerting maximum effort he can be a load down low. Tarver will provide some solid defensive assistance on Hansbrough in the post as well, but poses not much threat on the other end.

Edge: Hansbrough

Bench: Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green, Byron Sanders and Quentin Thomas v. Theodus Tarver, Zam Fredrick II, and D'Andre Bell

"Hotel Hewitt" has actually fallen a bit out of favor in Atlanta this year, with only 3 players getting a lot of minutes off the bench - this is the least used GT bench in years. Tarver is actually starting right now, though he plays bench type minutes so I included him here. Ginyard has started for UNC at times this year as well, and Zam Fredrick was GT's starting PG until two games ago - so these two benches contribute a lot. The benches are an interesting contrast, because UNC's is more defensive minded and GT brings some firepower compared to the starting lineups.

Ginyard and Green are freshman wing players, with Ginyard being the defensive specialist and Green the jack of all trades. Green is quietly having a terrific season, but since he doesn't have the eye popping scoring numbers he seems a bit under the radar - make no mistake, he's a heck of a player. Expect to see both Green and Ginyard a lot as they try to frustrate GT's perimeter scorers and spell Miller and Terry on the wings. Thomas and Sanders won't play as much, and both are still fairly big weaknesses when they are on the court. Thomas actually doesn't look lost this year, but he's still not an ACC caliber PG and Sanders has actually become a competent backup, but neither are game changers by any stretch of the imagination.

Off the GT bench, Zam Fredrick II is easily the highest impact player having scored 41 points in the past two games and providing a much needed scoring punch and ball handling for an erratic GT backcourt. He struggled running the point, but now that he's playing in his natural SG position he's started to shine and show the skills that made him SC's all time high school scorer. He can shoot the 3, put the ball on the floor and penetrate and makes good decisions a fair percentage of the time. If Fredrick plays well again, GT has a shot in this game. For UNC fans, his game is basically what Bobby Frasor will probably be doing next year - playing as a true combo guard and backing up both the PG and SG spots. D'Andre Bell has been playing less and less recently, but he's a solid defender and decent ball handler who can contribute some on the offensive end with a smooth left handed jumper. Bell is a freshman coming off a fairly severe injury in his senior year of high school, so he still has a fair amount of improvement to do in his overall game. Tarver is the one senior on GT's team, and is the post defensive specialist - a solid shot blocker and rebounder, but not much of an offensive threat. He's going to be on Hansbrough a lot, and that's a tall task for him.

Edge: North Carolina. Right now Fredrick is the best player off the bench for either team, but Green and Ginyard are very solid players and contribute a ton. Roy has gotten excellent play out of his bench this year, and that should continue.

I wish this game was in the Thriller Dome so GT had chance to build off the nice win over NCSU, but it's in the Dean Dome and against a hot UNC team. While GT has the talent to compete with UNC (heck, the Jackets might actually have more talent right now) - the players UNC has fit together better and are a better "team" at the moment. GT could really use a Wes Miller type in the backcourt to handle the ball against pressure and provide some leadership, for example. Hewitt has had success against UNC and Roy Williams recently (WILL BYNUM!) going 3-3 the past 3 seasons, but none of that has come in the Dean Dome.

This is going to be a very physical game, and probably a bit sloppy as well. If GT continues to shoot well from the perimeter and Dickey at least provides a counter to Hansbrough in the paint, the Jackets could pull this off. Unfortunately my head tells me UNC wins a close hard fought game at home, they just have a couple of older players they can depend on down the stretch and the best overall player in the game (Hansbrough). This is just a very young GT team, and expecting them to win road games in the conference, especially at places like the Dean Dome is probably too much to ask.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

anthony morrow is not better than reyshawn terry.

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice write up. I'm very impressed with your site.

4:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anthony morrow IS better than terry and most other players in the ACC. period.

12:12 PM  

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