Carolina Goes Down Again. Wake Forest 92, UNC 89. Roy Williams may want to avoid these Sunday night FSN games in the ACC, as his Tar Heels lost for the second consecutive weekend in the showcase event (UNC only has one more scheduled – Feb. 15 at Miami (FL)). Unlike last week when UNC lost to BC, an upset in the traditional sense of the word, we don’t consider the #4 team in America beating the #3 team (even if it’s Carolina) as much of an upset (and the Wake students should lose their ticket privileges for their ignorant, inappropriate RTC tonight). Vegas disagreed (UNC was a 7-pt fav at tipoff), but having watched both teams several times this season, we’re absolutely convinced that Wake (not the more vaunted Heels) is the team with more NBA-level talent on its roster. It played out tonight, as Wake’s long arms and quick defensive closeouts regularly harassed the Carolina shooters into rushed and contested shots – the Heels shot a season-worst 35% from the floor (26% from three). This is consistent with Wake’s position as the second most efficient defense in the country – the package of length, size and quickness that players such as Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson and Jeff Teague bring to bear quieted the offensive skills of everyone on the Heel roster except Danny Green (22/6/5 assts). Consider that Tyler Hansbrough (3-12), Deon Thompson (3-13), Ty Lawson (4-12) and Wayne Ellington (4-13) threw up bricks from everywhere on the floor; the only thing that kept the Heels in this game was their superior work on the boards (46-35 and 17 off rebs) and 31 made free throws. On the Wake side, Jeff Teague (career-high 34 pts) is every bit as good as advertised and he may just be the best player in the ACC this year (21/4/4 assts on 53% FG and 54% 3FG for the season) – notwithstanding the hype machine that surrounds Psycho-T’s every move. Chas McFarland had a quietly efficient game (20/9), but the key to Wake’s victory tonight was reining in Carolina’s breakneck attack that results in easy baskets. We recall no more than a mere handful of occasions where Lawson was able to actually push the ball into the gut of the Wake transition defense and create good scoring opportunities. Oh, and this play by James Johnson was simply nasty…
So what does this mean – is UNC overrated? Probably not in the sense that they’re definitely one of the top five teams in America. But the ridiculous talk about undefeated seasons and ‘best team ever’ was egregious and irresponsible. Carolina is an experienced, talented team, but they’re essentially the same team as last year. Their offense remains spectacular, especially when Lawson can get them running up and down the court, but their defense is almost completely predicated on getting on-the-fly turnovers to fuel that attack. When they don’t get takeaways where they can run, they have to rely solely on their halfcourt defense, and as we saw tonight, it can be broken down and exposed by dribble penetration and ball movement. What about Wake Forest – are the Deacs underrated? As John Stevens’ showed in his column last week, there are dozens of teams ahead of Wake on the Vegas odds list, so it’s clear that the national consciousness hasn’t caught up with them yet. But we’re looking at a team with two NBA lottery picks in the starting lineup (Teague/Aminu), the possibility of a third (Johnson), a few other nice parts (McFarland, Williams, Hale, Woods) and we’re wondering if any other team in America, Carolina included, has more talent? Furthermore, the core of Wake’s team are sophomores and freshmen, which means this team could be markedly better by March (cf. with UNC, where we pretty much know what we’re going to get) – how good could this Wake Forest team ultimately become? From the looks of it now, this team is clearly one of the top four in America, and probably has more upside than anybody. The only real question is how the Deacs will perform now that the national spotlight will begin to squarely focus on their program. This isn’t a program that has traditionally reveled in that role.
Sunday’s Other Games.
- UCLA 64, USC 60. This USC team is not good – they’ve lost to every halfway-decent team they’ve played (and Oregon St.) – ugh. We’d rather have Jrue Holiday on our team than Demar DeRozan, though.
- Alabama 65, LSU 59. We do not want to hear about LSU again until they win a game away from Baton Rouge – the Tigers are now 0-3 away from home.
- Purdue 65, Wisconsin 52. Robbie Hummell came back from his back injury and hit four threes in a 16/5 performance.
- St. Mary’s 66, San Francisco 54. SMC continues to roll. Nobody seemed to see the dagger three that Patty Mills hit to win Friday night’s ESPNU game against Santa Clara at home, so we’re providing it here (start watching at 7:30).