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UNC Basketball Game Review: NCAA Tournament 2nd Round Tar Heels vs Vermont

UNC 77 Vermont 58 FINAL

The top seeded North Carolina Tar Heels took on the Vermont Catamounts in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  Vermont won the right to this David vs Goliath match up by winning their play in game against Lamar.  All of Tar Heel Nation has been on edge ever since star junior John Henson suffered a sprained left wrist in the ACC Tournament.  After warming up and attempting to play in the semi-finals of the tournament, Henson was a no-go.  UNC got a little bit of encouraging news when the ACC Defensive Player of the Year suited up against Florida State and was said to be available for “emergency use”.  We may be in for another dose of that anxiety as Henson’s long term status may still not be known after today.  Roy Williams understands that the Heels will win this game whether Henson plays or not.  Even if he did play, I expected Roy to limit his minutes as a precaution.  Since he isn’t playing, then the real anxiety begins for Carolina.  I also don’t expect Roy to come out and give too much away about Henson’s status either.

I hope the Tar Heels were watching UNC-Asheville vs Syracuse yesterday.  If the NCAA had scheduled some qualified officials in that game, we would have seen the first ever #16 seed knock off a #1 seed.  There’s a term in the NFL “On any given Sunday” I hope UNC realizes the same theory applies in the NCAA Tournament.

How it went down: John Henson was ruled out for the game a couple hours before tip off.  Hopefully in a move to ensure the junior forward isn’t injured further against a #16 seed.  Freshman James Michael McAdoo earned his third consecutive start, in his previous two starts with Henson out he averaged nine points and six rebounds in 28 minutes.

The first four minutes of the game started off slow offensively.  As the game was tied at two with Carolina starting 1-8 from the field.  McAdoo was very active early putting up four quick shots, missing all four.  The offensive woes and slow pace continued through the next four minutes with the score 11-9 with 11 minutes to go in the first half.  Carolina was simply missing the high percentage shots down low they should make, a problem that plagued them at times in the regular season.  McAdoo broke the silence with an exciting put back dunk destined for Sports Centers highlight reel.  The athleticism and leaping ability of this kid are unreal.

Vermont continued to hang around and trailed by just two 17-15 with seven minutes to go in the first half.  UNC started just 5-17 from the field and failed to convert on many second chance opportunities.  The absence of Henson didn’t effect Tyler Zeller in terms of dominating the glass.  Zeller had collected 10 rebounds by the five minute mark in the first half.  A Reggie Bullock three pointer extended the lead to seven, the largest of the game.  With four minutes remaining UNC faced a great opportunity to blow it open and take control of the game.

Vermont refused to let Carolina put them out of contention.  Each time UNC took the lead to double digits, Vermont had an answer.  This is a feisty team, especially on the defensive end and Carolina would have to keep the pedal on the medal if they want to beat this team in the second half.  At the break the score UNC 37 Vermont 25

In the second half, Vermont came out strong and hit the boards hard, and caused a couple Carolina turnovers.  The Catamounts did a nice job of not getting overwhelmed or allowing UNC to get out in transition.  Through five minutes of action, the Heels were shooting just 20% in the second half.  In a back and forth second half that resembled the first, UNC lead by 13 through eight minutes of action.  With a semi-comfortable lead, UNC was still not in the dominate position I expected them to be in this game.

After a few hard drives to the basket by Barnes and McAdoo, UNC extended the lead to 15 by the ten minute mark.  On the brink of blowing it open, Vermont continued to show heart.  McAdoo really started to come alive, becoming more active and his three point play gave Carolina their biggest lead of the game at 17.  A quick three by PJ Hairston and just like that, the lead was 20.

The rest of the way it was all about how many points UNC would end up winning by and if Blue Steel would enter the game.  Roy Williams was able to rest Zeller and Marshall with about three minutes to go in the game and it was smooth sailing on out.

Key Takeaways: Old habits are hard to break and while UNC has shed many of its early season bad habits, one still haunts them.  Missing high percentage shots around the rim is something this team cannot afford down the stretch in the tourney.  Without Henson in the lineup it makes it much easier for teams to trap inside against Tyler Zeller.  With less room to operate the Heels need to rely more on their perimeter offense.  That’s where Harrison Barnes needs to come in.  Barnes was aggressive early taking two quick shots but did not assert himself offensively in the first half nearly enough.

Kendall Marshall is really coming into his own as a scorer.  His improved jump shot has got the most attention.  It’s his dribble penetration and finishing skills that are most impressive to me.  Both in transition and the half court, Marshall is demonstrating he can create his own offense and looks more and more confident doing so with each game.

The shooting woes cannot be completely blamed on Henson’s absence in the lineup. With Henson spacing is a concern for UNC but the team as a whole struggled to make shots they are too talented to miss.

Player of the Game: Tyler Zeller stepped up in a big way today with Henson out of the lineup.  Big Z was a beast on the defensive end and dominated the glass.  He was also UNCs go to scorer and played a terrific all around game.  Z’s final line 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots.  Honorable mention goes to James Michael McAdoo who had another career game on both ends of the floor and did a nice job crashing the boards.

Looking ahead: It’s off to the third round for Carolina, who will face Creighton on Sunday in the third round.  Creighton knocked off Alabama in a thriller 58-57 in the opening round.


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