Friday, January 4, 2008

Finding Offense with UNC (No Need to be Defensive)


Patrick Kendall(
Jan. 4 2008

Now I recognize these Heels.

They look a lot like some of the great Kansas teams that ole Roy Boy used to coach (Collison and Pierce anyone?). Up tempo, athletic, tough. Big guards that could rebound and run; big men who could bull their way to the basket and draw the foul in a half-court set. It’s all coming back to me.

I also remember another thing about those teams: no defense. The game plan was simple: you want to run, we’ll run. At the end of the game let’s see who scored more. Usually Kansas won those contests because they had better players.

UNC has that same look this year. Lawson pushes the ball quick, quick, quick. Ellington is turning into a nice finisher (and his stroke IS very smooth outside); Danny Green is a nice athletic complement at the other wing spot; Ginyard can surprise you with his off the dribble quickness; Stephenson and Thompson are tough down low and Mansbrough is a virtual certainty to score once he catches the ball (he’ll go to the hoop, the line, or both). It’s a nice offensive scheme.

If I was going to quibble about something (and you know I will), it’s that they don’t play a lick of defense when you look at the whole of the game. Oh sure, they have the kind of athletes that can turn it on in spurts but (and no matter who disagrees with me on this – Roy Boy certainly doesn’t) the team as a whole is not committed to defense at all.

This mentality is what cost them so many losses during the regular season last year. That’s why I’m very interested to see them against a hard-nosed Clemson team this weekend. With the start of the ACC looming, we should get a good feel for how good Carolina is this year. I do like their schedule for the most part so far this season: Valpo is a perennial tournament team and so is Kent State. Both are solid mid-major opponents. Roy Boy doesn’t fear putting his team at risk early on and so I commend him for that.

But you can see his distaste for his team’s lack of defensive intensity at some point of every game – obviously no top tier coach is going to say “we fired on all cylinders out there so good for us” but he makes a point to discuss his disappointment regarding the numerous defensive lapses his team suffers through nightly. Take for example the Kent State game. Up 18 points in the first half, UNC allows Kent State to run off 7 straight before Ellington hits a long bomb of a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the half.

Sadly, UNC needed a prayer in order to steal back the momentum from a team that at one point (according to the TV stats) had scored 22 of 25 points from INSIDE the paint. Letting a smaller team score from the inside using back screens (Carolina’s old staple offense) again and again is a definite no-no.

So sure, I’m picking on them (again), but for most of you reading this, I’ll bet you didn’t have tickets bought and paid for last year for Atlanta with the expectation that UNC would be playing that weekend, did you? Well, I did. And watching them collapse against Georgetown last March hasn’t left me yet so I’m only cautiously optimistic (especially after watching Memphis drop the defensive hammer on G-town last month and hold Hibbert to 6 points) about their lofty status.

Hopefully UNC watched that game and took notes. They are going to have to give defense a try at some point if they plan on playing far into the tourney.

You see, (and Roy Boy knows this intimately after living with the burden his entire time in Kansas) the problem with being number 1 at the start of the season and staying there through the midway point is that the expectations for post season play GROW. None of the stars from this team were at UNC when they won the title in ’05. The guys left from that team were minor contributors at the time and Frasor is lost for the season.

UNC has to establish itself on BOTH ends of the floor this season to make sure of their place in Tar Heel history. The truth is that they have all of the component pieces to win a title – talent, depth, athleticism, coaching. They have a point guard who can score and pass (at light speed) a wing who can hit from long range, a slasher who can get to the rim and finish, tough “bigs” to enforce the paint, and the hardest working big man in the country anchoring the block.

Expectations will continue to grow as they succeed and rack up wins. When it’s all said and done, the only question I have is whether Mansbrough’s giant shoulders can carry the burden of those expectations all the way to San Antonio. If so, I plan to be there and see it person.

I just remember that I was there last year with the same expectations and UNC was nowhere to be seen that weekend.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Holiday Gift: A Clarification


Patrick Kendall (

I want to go on record up front that the omission of Danny Green was the only error I intend to apologize for from last week’s blog. I’m a little surprised at myself that he was left out of the comparison so as a result I will amend my Forward analysis and call Green/Stephenson/Thompson a Push against Singler/McClure/Thomas (two names that weren’t mentioned either in the last blog.) As for Marcus Ginyard, he plays solid defense but offers very little in terms of offensive potency so he does not sway any argument except to strengthen my assessment that UNC has more depth in the front court. If you put him in as a guard he is outclassed by Duke’s players.

Also, I notice that only omissions from UNC’s side were pointed out which I take to mean that the Duke fans got the point of my analysis while Heel fans just felt the need to complain about the unfairness of the comparison to their team – the one currently ranked #1 in at least one poll and the one I picked to win the title in ’08. Boo hoo!

So, on to the clarification.

First of all, I’m VERY disappointed at the lack of comprehension by the Heel folk who took my blog as a head-to-head analysis of players and not positions. So, this time I’ll write slower.

Backcourt – Duke has better depth at each position. Starting talent at the Point Guard spot goes to UNC because Lawson is so dangerous but Nolan Smith is better than anybody that UNC can bring in for Lawson’s relief. At Shooting Guard I’ll call the starters a push assuming you compare Ellington vs. Nelson. They each have different strengths but at this point in the season Ellington is only shooting slightly higher from beyond the arc than Nelson and Nelson finishes better at the rim. Also, Taylor King and Jon Scheyer come in off the bench at this spot and Bobby Frasor is not either of them in terms of pure talent

Frontcourt – Carolina has better depth at these positions overall, but the starting forward talent is a push. Henderson vs Green is a push and Singler vs. whomever favors Duke because of his outside shooting. Ginyard, Stephenson are strong in relief here because of their defensive abilities but UNC has no backup whatsoever for Mansbrough. When he is out there is no advantage for UNC because all of Duke’s players (Zoubek withstanding) can score from long range. Also, keep in mind that Coach K can use Taylor King as a shooting forward because of his size.

Overall, I give Carolina the win here because of Mansbrough

So, it was pointed out to me that UNC has chemistry and Duke has talent, and that my blog may have been misnamed. In reviewing my facts I concur. Duke has MORE talent overall than Carolina and is playing BETTER overall basketball right now.

Say what you want about schedules and home games, Duke is beating the teams that they are playing. If you want to go and look at same opponent facts, then you only have Davidson – a team that gave UNC much more of a scare than it gave Duke. Duke led the whole game while UNC had to come back and steal the win. Good guards impact games more than good forwards in college. That’s a cold hard fact.

Even if you argue Greg Oden I’ll point to Kevin Durant. Oden played down low and only touched the ball when it came to him; Durant brought the ball up many times and could impact the game from more positions as a result. He was a guard in a forward’s body. Duke has couple of those players this year – not at the same caliber but in greater numbers.

I’ll stick with my final assessment – Duke wins the ACC; UNC wins the title.

Now, Heel fans – quit whining and enjoy the season.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Carolina has the Talent, but Duke has the Chemistry


Patrick Kendall (

I’m happy.

You want to know why?

Because this year the rivalry between these two great and historic programs can be assessed on more than the enmity that exists between the campus bodies. That was not the case last year where the Heels had a decided advantage at every position and also had more depth so they could finish as strong as they started.

However, with all that talent, UNC still had issues with chemistry. At points during the season (and especially against Georgetown) they really didn’t know who to turn to when the game counted (Roy Boy has to take a hit for this as well) and sometimes the lineups just didn’t gel.

This season Ty Lawson has settled down (not slowed down, just settled down) and that shouldn’t be a problem – provided he stays healthy. Make no mistake though, UNC is NOT the same team with Frasor or ‘Q’ running the show. They’re still good, but they aren’t SCARY good without Lawson.

That said, just like last year, I do believe that they have the right lineup to win it all in April but like last year, chemistry will make or break this team.

Duke on the other hand has no chemistry issues at this point whatsoever. They go ten deep and are an interchangeable unit that notices almost zero loss when substitutions are made. I can’t tell if this will be a good thing all year or not but if Coach K can continue to get these guys shots and pile up ‘W’s then good things will continue to happen.

The chemistry between this VERY young team is amazing. They lock down on defense like the best Duke teams (though they don’t always do it for forty minutes – yet) and are equipped with enough athletes and shooters to go for 100 every night.

Also, with ten players dressing and playing every night (so far) they’ve obviously addressed the depth issue (and then some) by putting together the deepest perimeter-capable team in the country – by far. No other program can boast SEVEN different players already hitting MULTIPLE three pointers especially this early in the season.

Best of all, this depth will ensure that Duke can also finish at the same pace that they start a game – and if you factor in that Duke is historically a second half team then you could argue that they are playing harder and faster at the end of games right now. Of course it’s a long season and they play a LOT of games at home – though the match up with Pitt next week at Pitt should be a great gauge for where this team really is early on.

Duke is looking so good right now that Bob the Terp at work has pledged his loyalty to the Blue Devils and jettisoned his misguided allegiance to the University of Garyland (I’m still suspicious – I think he has a fiendish plan to somehow “Tonya Harding” Coach K when Duke arrives in College Park. I’ll have security ratcheted up obviously).

So, what can we expect when the Devils meet the Heels this year? Best guess, at a minimum, we can expect more equality in terms of talent (though Mansbrough is having a great year and continues to dominate in the post – not sure what Duke can do about him -- whacking him across the nose last year just made him mad – that dude is scary!)

By position here’s how I see it:

Point Guard – UNC gets the edge in starting guard here but overall I like Duke because they have a more capable back up in Nolan Smith. He can score and defend better than Frasor or ‘Q’ so in a pinch, Paulus and Co. is my choice.

Small Forward – Push. Gerald Henderson is not the shooter that Wayne Ellington is but he is a better slasher/scorer. On a team with less scoring on the wing Henderson would easily match Ellington’s production. Long and short of it, you can’t go wrong with either.

Power Forward – Duke. Stephenson is a strong body and better post obstruction on defense but how can you not pick Kyle Singler as your choice here. He’s not a true power forward but at 6’8 he has the height and he plays hard all around the basket. In a lot of ways he reminds me of Mansbrough Lite. And he can score from anywhere.

Shooting guard – Duke has it all over UNC here because all of their players can hit from downtown. Jon Scheyer is a proven entity and DeMarcus Nelson is a linebacker in a basketball uniform who can force his way to the basket almost at will.

Center – Mansbrough – hands down. He is the X factor in this matchup. If he can get to the line 12 to 15 times and create foul problems for Zoubek and Co. then I see it being a tough night for Duke.

If Duke can dictate tempo and negate the half-court dominance of Mansbrough then I like Duke.

I’m taking the coward’s way out at the moment and calling for a split in the matchups – each team holds serve at home. I am however predicting that Duke wins the ACC regular season and tournament again.

They’ll also be a very tough out in the big tourney in March.

Both teams make it to the Elite Eight; Carolina advances to the Final Four and cuts down the nets giving Roy Boy his second title.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Top Ten Reasons to Smile this Holiday (Basketball) Season


Patrick Kendall (

This holiday season I find that there are many things to be grateful for. For instance, I’m grateful that my daily commute isn’t longer than it is given the cost of gas. And I’m grateful that my house isn’t fully operated by gas appliances given the rising costs of that fuel source. Also, I’m grateful that the taxes in my bonus check this morning only hit me for 40%. But mostly, and most importantly, I’m grateful that the season is underway and that things are going very well for my two favorite teams.

Actually, in a somewhat startling turn of events – at least as far a my humble expectations anyway – it could be argued that Duke is one of the great surprises so far this year but we’ll save that full argument for a later date and time. Right now it’s time for me to release my Top Ten Reasons to Smile this Holiday (Basketball) Season (in case the title of the article didn’t give it away already).

Number 10: the ACC wins the Big Ten/ACC Challenge Again

Now obviously this only rates if you’re an ACC fan but since I qualify the judgment stands. Nine years in a row. It has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?

Number 9: Bobby Knight is alive and well in Texas

As long as this remains true, there will always be a chance that a fight will break out on the court or at a press conference.

Number 8: UCONN looks average again

For all of us Duke fans, this is really good news. Normally I would match Coach K against anybody in a title game but for some reason Calhoun seems to have his number in the big game – you can have your shot block records, just stay out of the tourney and I’ll be good.

Number 7: Freshmen look like freshmen again

Now that Greg Oden is in the Pros (injured but getting his checks – nice!) freshmen have gone back to looking their age. I don’t about you, but I find comfort in that. Oden reminded me of Morgan Freeman – only older!

Number 6: Jay Bilas was wrong!

He inaccurately predicted that Wisconsin would handle Duke’s pressure and cause problems on the boards because of their size – the 24 point beat-down they laid on the Badgers seemed to argue against that so better luck next time. Hey didn’t Jay go to Duke or something?

Number 5: Missouri whipping Maryland in a consolation game

I don’t know if this was a surprise to anyone but the look on Bob the Terp’s face the next morning here at the office was priceless – therefore it had to make the list.

Number 4: North Carolina seems to be rounding into form—again

Obviously, if you’re picked preseason number 1 (though not all polls have kept them there) then you’re doing something right, but it’s nice to see Carolina getting Ellington and Thompson more into the game offensively. They need the support if they expect to advance to the Final Four this year – remember: Georgetown is still out there and they’re still good too.

Number 3: North Carolina vs. Kentucky

An early season treat that is going to test Carolina in a very hostile environment. I love that they don’t fear the road. Wouldn’t mind seeing Duke take a page from Roy Boy’s play book in this regard.

Number 2: Duke’s guards are the deepest and best overall in the country

Duke can hurt you with five different guards and that doesn’t count Kyle Singler, who can handle the ball away from the basket at 6’8. If they all buy into Coach K’s system all season and continue to work together, this is going to be one very tough out in the tourney for any team in the country.

And my number one reason to smile about this holiday basketball season...

Number 1: No Joakim Noah!

Need I say more?

Happy Holidays!

Monday, March 19, 2007

All Aboard the Carolina Express


Patrick Kendall

Ahhh, the sweet smell of sixteen...teams that is. The dust has settled from the first week of March Madness and as expected there were plenty of close games, some upsets and a lot of great basketball match ups between historically significant programs (Kansas v. Kentucky anyone?).

But before we dive into the deep end of this great time of year, let's take a moment to bow our heads at the supreme "averageness" that was the ACC this year. I can't remember a time where only one ACC team emerged from the field of 64 through the FIRST weekend and now I must face facts: the ACC was NOT the best conference in the country. In fact, they weren't close.

Let's consider: Virginia is picked to finish 8th in the conference pre-season yet winds up tied for first. Underrated? I don't necessarily think so. Great guards can put you in a position to win games but a solid big man is what wins games in March, and there UVA was woefully undermanned. Virginia Tech was a potent offensive team the could run with any of the team's in the conference...of course, they could also get run out of the gym by those same opponents – and of all the upper echelon ACC teams, they had the worst losses if measured by the points they got beat by. And where the hell was their offense in the tournament?

Maryland was probably the most experienced team coming out of the ACC but when faced with the prospect of playing against a team of smaller players (on average) with less talent who could shoot from the outside, the vaunted Terp 'D' that gave UNC and Duke fits this season just wasn't there. Consider this: Miami actually matched up better with Davidson and Butler for purposes of exploiting strengths and from that standpoint would have made for a better matchup if the focus was to push an ACC team into the Sweet Sixteen.

BC came up against the toughest of the opponents in the opening round and made a game of it until the end where it looked like they just ran out of gas. Georgetown is a team to watch in this tournament though so there was no shame in this loss at all. Georgia Tech made a game of things against a surging UNLV team that just made it into the Sweet Sixteen by taking out a 2 seed (Wisconsin). They look a lot like Georgia Tech, only they executed better down the stretch and so they got the win.

Now we get to Duke, who treated its fans to the most inexcusable loss of all the ACC teams. This was a team that early on beat Georgetown, Gonzaga, Indiana, and BC twice. All of these schools were tournament teams. Granted, the VCU squad was a scary fast, athletic group of kids that were fired UP to play Duke, but they were so small up front that McRoberts should have gone for fifty exploiting his height advantage. Of course, his game isn't built for that kind of output (but it cost them AGAIN!) so we'll take up the call of all the other programs that aren't Duke and as fans we can only collectively say "Wait till next year."

So finally we get to it.


The lone warrior left standing. And after a rousing win against a very well-coached Michigan State team people are back to being talked about in terms of possibly winning it all. What I like is that they are riding on the backs of their two best players of the last month (Mansbrough and Lawson) – after all, why break a system that isn't broken. So if the Heels can continue to dictate the pace and pound the ball into the post (remember, Brandon "Generally Does It" Wright is still set to have a big game at some point in the tourney – against Florida in the Championship would be okay with me) then you have to like them against anyone.

The matchup against USC should be interesting. The Trojans (tee hee) are by all accounts a veteran-led team that relies on all the components working together to be successful – plus I read that they are athletic to boot, so they should be a good test for the Heels. But, they said the same thing about Arizona in January and we all remember how that turned out. The most important thing for UNC to remember is play to their strengths. They have body after body after body to throw at the other teams. Now they need to all climb on Mansbrough's giant shoulders and let him carry them all the way to Atlanta.

Then, I'll finally get my chance to watch the girlie, baby-faced, goofy, long-haired, doofus of a big man with the Gator uniform who runs on eternal energy get steam rolled by a horse of a kid from Missouri who runs on nothing but will power and determination. Given those variables, I'll take my chances with the corn fed farm boy every time.

Go Heels!

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Monday, March 5, 2007

The End of the Duke/Carolina Debate


Patrick Kendall


Now we know. Even Coach K said it.

Carolina is the better team. All the excitement, all the hype, all the taunting and all the conjecture can no longer hide that fact.

Duke vs. Carolina ’07 is in the books and the year belongs to the Heels (though Maryland really has the last laugh from that standpoint — they are the best team in North Carolina -- from Maryland).

But that said, I was happy to see that Duke did not go out without a final parting shot. For the whiners out there who cried “cheap shot” at Henderson’s foul on Mansbrough, I can’t deny that it didn’t reek a little bit of frustration on the part of my man Gerald, but anyone who has ever been part of an historic rivalry that dates back to the 1920s (I’m sure that there are a lot of us nodding in experienced understanding right now) is likely to get a little bit frustrated when coming out on the losing end of the rivalry two times in a row. Mansbrough isn’t hurt; Henderson gets a suspension so let’s get over it and move on.

As for my analysis of the game post facto, it’s pretty simple: too much Mansbrough and Lawson (and every one else from Carolina’s side – seemed like everyone contributed yesterday) and not enough Duke defense. Looking at the box score for Duke, their normal guys played well. Paulus and Henderson were great, Scheyer, Nelson good, and McRoberts played a statistically sound game (save for a pile of nasty turnovers that put them in a hole early). What deserted them this Sunday was stops on the defensive end.

Lawson drove at will; Mansbrough was an animal; Terry got free for a couple spot up threes; back door cuts were available; Wright got to the rim whenever he needed to. None of these things were a surprise to Duke and therefore they should have been more ready for them. Coach K has gone against Roy Boy enough times to know what to look for so I contend that Duke’s offense was not the issue (necessarily) and for only about the third time this season, they could not rely on their defense (the sixth man?) to help them control the pace.

That said, you have to give all that credit to UNC, which employed another great game plan and then executed it nearly flawlessly (makes me wonder how they can lose to G. Tech and NC State when they play like this – but I guess that’s water under the bridge at this point). Lawson shredded Duke’s man-to-man and found guys open all around the rim. It’s the easiest way to beat a team (any team) without shot blockers so kudos the Heels.

What I think is such a shame is that they basically backed into a regular season title thanks to UVA's loss, even though I can't imagine anyone outside of Charlottesville (that's a city in Virginia for you Carolina folks who don't keep up with geography beyond the Research Triangle) actually believing UVA is the better team.

Of course that’s just sour grapes on my part. Were this Duke in the same predicament I’d happily take the “back in” method to winning championships.

So, a toast to Roy Boy Williams and his merry band of Tar Heels. Congratulations on a season that was probably a little disappointing considering early season hype and some of the losses incurred (I can’t just hand out compliments – that is my “back hand” method).

The ACC Tourney starts Thursday and Duke will be playing. I predict that they will win that opening game then fall on Friday. UNC doesn’t play until noon on Friday and will most likely line up against Maryland. I NEED UNC to win this game. Bob the Terp is on a nasty roll here at the office and someone needs to slap him down. To Hell with the Shell! Who’s with me?

In conclusion, this was not exactly the year of the Blue Devil and its too early to tell if the Tar Heels can bring the Championship Trophy back to ACC country.

But I’ve got my ticket to Atlanta just in case.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Duke vs. Carolina – the Anti-climax


Patrick Kendall

So this is what it all comes down to...nothing but bragging rights in state. No national status is at stake here, no real standings in the ACC, no opportunity to leap frog the other and secure a top seed in the conference. It’s been a long time since, as my good friend just put it, Duke and Carolina were both coming off losses going into both of their conference games creating a more deflated opinion of themselves across the basketball landscape.

All year long you could see that Duke was playing the same way I ski, which is to say, that along the run they were headed for a crash at least four times. The fact that they really only stumbled in two big stretches (so far) simply means they got lucky (wish I could have said the same on the slopes myself). Anyway, most people would agree that somewhere about mid-season, Duke began getting the benefit of their history when it came to rankings, but no one really believed that they were one of the Top 25 for nearly the entire year (though it was the only thing I could hold over Bob the Terp’s head – until the sweep. Now I have a nice drawing of a turtle holding a broom on my whiteboard. The art sucks but the message was still clear. Damn!).

Carolina has also benefited from over hyping and now we’re seeing the true fruits of their over ranking as well. It took longer but for the most part there should be no surprise. They are too young to really be a great basketball team; plus they play piss pour defense and can’t make quality stops at key points in the game; therefore they leave themselves vulnerable in tight games. So, vanity from the UNC and Duke camps this year has led us to eerily similar situations: seasons that fail to meet expectations from either side.

Of course, both teams are going to the NCAAs this year but that is somewhat diminished by the lack of importance of this last meeting from a national standpoint. Truthfully, outside of the regular Duke/Carolina faithful who could give a rat’s ass about this one? In a way, I’m more disappointed with UNC only because I still believe that their losses are a result of a deficiency in their execution or preparation. They either don’t rebound well, or they don’t hustle after the ball, or they choose not to play defense – something that could be remedied by every bad basketball player’s greatest weapon – effort.

Duke is easier to diagnose. They will play hard every night (with the exception of the first Maryland game) but just don’t have the legs to compete for a full forty minutes. They are a true middle of the pack ACC team this year (ouch!) but you can’t really overcome talent issues if the other team plays AS hard (or harder, i.e. Maryland – sonsab*tches).

So we roll into Sunday in a kind of pre-post-season malaise on both sides. Carolina’s loss to Georgia Tech is another UNC example the better team allowing the worse team to set the pace and dictate the level of effort while the same can NOT be said of the Maryland/Duke game. There, the painful fact is that Maryland is the better team. They may also be better than UNC and you can chalk it all up to having a handful of upperclassmen that refuse to go out quietly so they play harder. It’s that simple.

The good news is that it still is a Duke/Carolina game and thus we (the true fans) know that the game itself still holds the allure of a possible “great” game. So we’ll all be excited to see if that materializes.

The bad (and shocking) news is that we (the true fans) are the only ones who care about this game at this point because there is no need for the rest of the nation to watch.