Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wolfpack Rolling Into Chapel Hill


Game Time: 8pm
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Television: Raycom

Who says the Wolfpack can't walk into the Smith Center and dismantle the #3 Tarheels? The answer....probably every basketball fan and analyst outside of Raleigh. But this is not the same Wolfpack team that lost to the Heels 93-76 on January 31st. This Wolfpack team has an identity, they have a set rotation, and they have the confidence they once lacked. After beating GT and #8 Wake Forest, the Pack are looking to keep rolling as they take on the Tar Heels tonight in Chapel Hill.

The Heels are coming off an uninspired victory against Miami on Sunday, a win in which star forward Tyler Hansborough suffered a mild concussion. There has been an announcement that the Heels may allow freshman Tyler Zeller to return for the game tonight against the Pack. This all sounds a little fishy to us here at Wolfpack Hoops. First things first, Zeller had been out with a broken wrist that experts said would keep him out for the entire season. Why rush back a freshman who you could essentially redshirt when you have a 2 game conference lead and just blew out rival Duke at Cameron.

With games against Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech left, it doesn't seem like the Heels would rush back Zeller if there wasn't a reason to. How many minutes will he get with Hansborough, Davis, and Thompson manning the front court? And does that small portion of minutes make it rational for them to burn a full season of eligibility for? We think not. Either Hansborough is not going to be at full strength tonight, or old Roy boy feels as if he'll need another big to match up with the 3 bigs NC State is going to throw at them. Whatever the reason, it's either not a smart one, or we don't know the whole story.

Enough about the opponent, because in most cases it's not the opponent beating NC State, it's the Wolfpack beating themselves. If State can continue to play a high tempo offense efficiently, and if they can cut down their turnovers, then there is no reason that the Pack can't hang with the #3 Heels. It seems as if the point guard spot is Javi's to lose, which means we'll see a lot of pushing the ball from the start. But playing high speed ball against the Heels is like playing with fire. You're liable to get burned, and burned bad, if you lose focus for just one second. The key to the game is to not turn the ball over in the open floor. Carolina loves to pressure the ball handler and loves to cheat the passing lanes. If Javi and company can't recognize this, it's going to be a Ty Lawson track meet. Stopping Tyler and Ty are a given, as far as who needs to be stopped, but another often overlooked spark plug for the Heels is Danny Green. His transition 3's and offensive aggressiveness has won UNC a good number of close games over the past 2 years. I'm not sure how Sidney is going to try to stop him with Brandon Costner, who is bigger but gives up a lot in quickness. You may see a mix of zones and 1/2 court traps which push the Heels to take the ball out of Lawson's hands and force Ellington and Green to try their luck from deep.

This game is very important, and while most of the time it's more of a pride issue, this time it's important in another way. If NC State can knock off the Tar Heels tonight in Chapel Hill, they will move to 5-6 in the ACC, with a weak UVA team up next. So, not to get ahead of ourselves, but a win tonight would put the Wolfpack in a position to make a little noise.

The Pack has been in every game this whole season, and are now just figuring out how to finish. Tonight you'll get to see if this team is for real about playing into March, or if this past week was just a blip, albeit a positive blip, on the radar screen.


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