Monday, January 3, 2011

Similar record, different attitude as UNC prepares for ACC play

CHAPEL HILL -- No coach ever thinks his team is "ready" for ACC play, North Carolina's Roy Williams says.

But in the case of the Tar Heels, they appear to be in a lot better shape than a year ago.

Last January 5, UNC had a similar record - 11-4, compared to 10-4 now - but a different outlook.

Back then, starter Marcus Ginyard already was sidelined, and at least three other teammates were shuffling on and off the injury report. Now, freshman Reggie Bullock is the only player to have missed a game, while sophomore John Henson continues to play through a thumb injury.

Back then, the Tar Heels were coming off an overtime upset loss at Charleston, a confidence-shaker from which they never really rebounded. Now, they prepare for Saturday's game at Virginia on a three-game, double-figures win streak.

Back then, Williams was already concerned about his team's work ethic and focus.

Now: "We are getting better; the work ethic has been there, the desire has been there, the efficiency of our work has gotten better, the intensity of our work has gotten better, the concentration of our work has gotten better," Williams said today. "So as long as you've got those things, you've got a tremendous opportunity to improve throughout the course of the year."

Sophomore Dexter Strickland said a big difference has been confidence, which stems from everyone knowing their roles. Junior Tyler Zeller has become the go-to guy in the post; Henson has become a force on the boards and one of the league's top shot-blockers; reserve Leslie McDonald has become the team's best outside shooter ... and on and on it goes.

"Everybody knows how to play with each other, and I think that's very important, recognizing who you're on the floor with," Strickland said.

Granted, there are still plenty of improvements that need to be made if UNC - which didn't make the NCAA tournament last season - wants its turnaround to continue in ACC play. Although the Tar Heels were able to finish out and beat then-No. 10 Kentucky last month, Williams wonders if the memory of then No. 22 Texas' game-winning shot earlier this month still lingers. He still wants the defense to improve. The frontcourt is still vulnerable, considering the team boasts only three players 6-feet-9 or taller. And although outside shooting has improved, will it be consistent?

"I don't like to compare anything to last year; it wasn't a very good year," Williams said Sunday. "But I do think that the kids are coming along; they enjoy each other. ... Right now, they feel pretty good about themselves. Are we ready to play an ACC schedule at the ACC level? We'll find out real quick."

-- Robbi Pickeral


Anonymous said...

This team is far ahead of last year's team. They should be fun to watch in ACC play.