Saturday, November 12, 2011

North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55

[recap] [box score]

There's a difference between having a great frontcourt and being great inside.

With Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller, North Carolina certainly has a great frontcourt -- probably the best in the country. But the Tar Heels aren't necessarily great inside.

Sure, they get their share of points in the paint. Henson's a very long 6'11", and Zeller's a seven-footer, and both are talented to score over players several inches shorter. Most teams don't have two guys in the starting lineup who can come close to matching up with those two, size-wise. For the same reason, North Carolina's rebounding numbers will usually look pretty good -- though Michigan State killed Carolina on the offensive glass on Friday night. And Henson is arguably the best shotblocker in the country.

So yeah, on the stat sheet, they look pretty good inside.

But the Heels lack a lot of what you want out of your post players. Neither Henson nor Zeller are bruisers. Henson is rail-thin and, while he doesn't necessarily shy away from contact, he never looks to initiate it. Zeller has a bit more meat on his bones and is more willing to get his hands dirty, but he's still undersized and got pushed all over the court by Draymond Green.

North Carolina is the popular pick to win the national championship. Their lack of outside shooting is the flaw that most people point to as the thing that could sink their title hopes. But depending on who the other contenders are and what some of the new players on those teams look like, their lack of tough inside play could be an even bigger problem. It could be that they won't see any frontlines as big and rugged as the Spartans' Green, Adreian Payne, and Derrick Nix. But if they do, they'll struggle.

(Going through my Google Reader this afternoon after catching up on last night's action, I found this post from the Mikan Drill about North Carolina's struggles on the glass. Check it out.)

North Carolina notes: Ofensively, Henson showed a bunch of surprising stuff: A drive from the top of the key, a 15-foot jumper, a 12-foot turnaround over Green, and a nice ten-foot jump hook that went in and out ... Defensively, Henson had a career-high nine blocks. His length, athleticism, and timing making him a great shotblocker, but the Spartans helped him out by not putting their bodies into Henson before going up for a shot. Putting the body into him creates separation and keeps Henson on the floor a little longer as he has to gather himself before he goes up for the block ... Barnes got off to a fast start, but was pretty quiet afterwards. I was impressed that he didn't force anything ... Zeller's post moves aren't at all polished ... Zeller took three charges, though I thought two of them were iffy calls.

Michigan State notes: The Spartans just looked lost offensively ... Green had a great all-around game and was particularly beastly on the glass (seven offensive, 18 total). I was also impressed with his conditioning: He played 38 minutes, carrying his team on his back the whole way, and looked strong at the final buzzer ... Payne had a few nice moments late, but Nix outplayed him off the bench ... Keith Appling had a rough game, fouling out with 8:31 to go. Freshman Travis Trice looks capable of running the point, should Tom Izzo want, as Dick Vitale suggested during the broadcast, to move Apping off the ball ... Another Spartan freshman, Brenden Dawson, looks like he's ready to contribute, and he acquitted himself fairly well after drawing Barnes as his matchup in his first career game.

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