North Carolina More Dominant Against UNC Asheville Than It SeemedPosted by KCarpenter on November 14th, 2011
Kimmel Arena opened up in style. The UNC Asheville Bulldogs hosted the North Carolina Tar Heels in a brand new building that was packed with loud and enthusiastic fans. Bruce Hornsby, whose son, Keith, plays for Asheville, kicked things off with a jazzy piano rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The second he stopped, the Bulldogs’ fans cheered as consistently loud and as hard as any crowd in college sports can in an effort to inspire the upset against the nation’s #1 team. As well as the defending Big South champions played, however, and as fantastic as the crowd was on this Sunday afternoon, Eddie Biedenbach‘s team was just overmatched.
Still, like North Carolina‘s win over Michigan State Friday night on the USS Carl Vinson, the victory over the Bulldogs was fine, but not good enough. When Roy Williams finally sat the starters with less than two minutes remaining, there wasn’t a lot of smiling on his bench. This is where the Tar Heels are: They won 91-75 (though the margin felt even bigger than it was), and the Asheville student section chanted “overrated.” It seems a silly thing to do when your team is losing by double figures, but the frowns on the faces of the North Carolina players confirmed the truth of the chant: UNC was not playing up to its lofty expectations.
It’s an odd thing, and maybe it has more to do with the unrealistic expectations that have been placed upon this team by the greater college basketball world. Yet, when the first half was drawing to a close, I couldn’t help but feel that UNC just looked bad. Asheville was getting out on the break while the lagging Tar Heels weren’t even running the court. Tyler Zeller kept turning the ball over. John Henson looked winded, signaling to come out midway through the first half. Harrison Barnes just looked off, passive in his play and seemingly uninterested. North Carolina led by nine at the half, but the fierce play and tenacity of the Bulldogs to that point seemed like it gave UNCA a good chance of winning out over a tired, unfocused, and out-of-sorts North Carolina team.
Things looked a little bit better in the second half for UNC, but not by all that much. Williams was able to fix a few of the problems, but the game still looked ugly. This is a credit to the Bulldogs. Asheville’s gritty, undersized team used its speed and strength to keep North Carolina out of sorts, disrupting passing lanes, forcing turnovers, and frustrating Henson and Zeller with a level of physical play that neither seemed particularly happy to deal with. On offense, UNCA used constant player movement to keep the Tar Heels running back and forth from the perimeter to the basket. The result was numerous out-of-position Tar Heel defenders, many fouls, even more UNC turnovers, and a frantic pace. From the outside looking in, it appeared to be an ugly win for the Heels, and maybe it was, but the more I look at the numbers, the harderm time I have believing that this win wasn’t more dominant than it looked.
Zeller scored twenty-seven points on thirteen shots despite facing second half double- and triple-teams as soon as he caught the ball. Henson scored twenty points on eleven shots and had twelve rebounds. Kendall Marshall, who struggled with turnovers against Michigan State, had only a single turnover against the Bulldogs while amassing a ridiculous fifteen assists. As a comparison, Asheville’s entire team had eight assists total. Barnes had a miserable six-turnover game but still managed to score seventeen points from ten shots. As a team, North Carolina shot a scorching 59.3% from the field and got to the free throw line thirty-five times. Aside from a notable lack of success shooting three-pointers (2-7), that’s about as efficient an offensive game a team can have.
Yet, somehow, it’s not enough. By reasonably objective statistical standards, North Carolina played well, but in terms of this team’s ceiling, they weren’t even close. The potential National Player of the Year, Barnes, was the fourth best player on his own team yesterday and arguably the sixth-best player on the court after accounting for the play of Asheville standouts J. P. Primm and Jaron Lane. Zeller turned the ball over too many times for a center with a huge size advantage. The bench played well, but didn’t leave a notable mark on the game. It’s not difficult to see how North Carolina could have been better. Yet UNC won handily and Zeller, Henson, and Marshall all turned in box score gems. The upside is that if this is North Carolina on a bad day, then I hate to see what happens when a team catches them on a good day. The downside is that this is not the last bad day the Tar Heels will have and most of their future opponents will be more athletic, physical and talented than the Bulldogs. It’ll be up to Carolina to determine how many bad days they offer to their opponents, because if they decide to mostly come with average or good days, there are few teams in American that can stand toe to toe with the Tar Heels.