Amidst the numerous match-ups over the past weekend that saw the more highly ranked team getting toppled as the 2010-11 regular season draws closer to its conclusion, North Carolina was one team that prevented the upset and picked up another conference win as it seeks to gain momentum going into tournament time. The Tarheels won in rather unimpressive fashion, squeaking by the Eagles of Boston College by a score of 48-46 in the traditionally high-scoring ACC, but a win is a win, and for the young Tarheels team it likely served as one more confidence booster that will help the team in its ongoing development.
The comments about Boston College for this column will be fairly limited for two reasons: 1) The purpose of these articles is to provide impressions about teams that could potentially challenge Ohio State if the stars align in the NCAA Tournament, and at this point it seems fairly clear that BC is not a tournament team, unless they go on a magical run through the ACC Tournament. Therefore, there is essentially no chance that the Buckeyes will be meeting the Eagles in 2011. 2) The impressions from the game were taken between glasses of beer at the pub, and BC isn’t the kind of team that really draws your attention away from contemplation of an excellent Belhaven Scottish Stout.
The Eagles are a decent club, currently carrying a 16-10 record after Saturday’s loss to UNC. They’re a mid-packer in the ACC, and are considered by some to still be on the bubble for a tournament berth. After transitioning from long-time coach Al Skinner to Cornell transfer Steve Donahue, BC is back into building mode, and all things considered the winning record represents a good season for the team. Boston College is a team that is respectable in a lot of ways, but they don’t have any signature characteristic. Their defense is rather porous, and despite playing hard the team doesn’t have the personnel currently to overcome more talented squads, even when the opponent is having an off-night, as seen against UNC. The Eagles didn’t overcome North Carolina, and it was the lowest point total the Tarheels have ever recorded under Roy Williams.
Boston College is a .500 club in the ACC, but the ACC is down this year overall. More importantly, the Eagles don’t have any notable wins. The closest they’ve come to making a statement is defeating Maryland twice on the season. Everything about BC says “average,” and it’s hard to picture them suddenly turning it on this late in the season. For purposes of this year and this post, we’ll just say that Ohio State is the superior team, and it would be surprising if a game between the two teams provided a lot of interest.
In contrast, North Carolina is a little more intriguing. Starting the season in the top 10 clearly reflected some shaky analysis by the experts, and the Tarheels fell quickly after early losses, unlike the Big Ten’s own Michigan State. However, a look at the team’s overall resume suggests that they are a legitimate ranked team, especially at this point in the season. The only “bad” loss for the Tarheels came against Georgia Tech, as all the other losses came against the likes of tough programs (Minnesota, Vandy, Illinois) or elite programs (Texas, Duke).
How good is North Carolina, really? Seeing them against Boston College, I would pick them to lose in the first round of the tournament if they draw a 4 or 5 seed, which seems likely. They are young and talented, and are capable of putting together a tremendous game. But they are also mistake-prone, and they aren’t going to shut a team down on defense this year. In a 4/5 spot, Carolina would probably be going against an experienced, hardened opponent that fought its way into the tournament out of one of the major conferences, and that would spell trouble for North Carolina. Think of a team like West Virginia in an 11-spot, and that becomes a good bet for the upset. UNC would probably stand a better chance of advancing in the tournament if they were in the underdog role and had to play up to the level of their competition.
With that said, I would actually be nervous about meeting Carolina in our bracket. In a multiple-game series, there would be no concern, but in the one-and-done format of the NCAA’s, the Tarheels would be too unpredictable for my liking, and Roy Williams is a good enough coach that the team could effectively implement a game plan for a single night that would give Ohio State trouble. Fortunately, a UNC-OSU pairing would only occur in the later rounds of the tournament if the teams get a 4-seed and a 1-seed, respectively, and as stated previously, I don’t see Carolina advancing in that position.
The Tarheels are at their best driving to the hoop and using their great athleticism. Junior big man Tyler Zeller is fundamentally solid, but not dominating. He’s got a good shooting touch, he can rebound and block shots, and he’s also adept at picking up charges. Freshman star Harrison Barnes has a good mid-range jumper as well. The current Carolina squad does not exhibit the toughness of the championship teams from recent years, so in a game with the Buckeyes it would be important for Ohio State to harass the ball and play physical on defense. Players like Lighty and even Buford should come into the game thinking defense first, and let the points come off of defensive pressure rather than focusing on the offensive end. Slowing the game down as much as possible would be beneficial to Ohio State in this match-up, and pressing the advantage on a weak spot would likely be more effective than with some of the more experienced teams that Ohio State has faced in the Big Ten schedule.
At the end of the game against Boston College, the North Carolina players looked positively jubilant to have won the game. While a win is always cause for some celebration, it was somewhat revealing that the team was so excited about a 48-46 victory on their home court over a mediocre opponent. I can’t imagine some of the other Carolina teams from recent years being quite so enthused. North Carolina will be in the NCAA Tournament, so it will be interesting to see how this difference in mindset plays out.