Arizona, UNC Unsteady
Anyone surprised by the early-season stumbles of North
Carolina and Arizona?
I can't imagine why. If you were surprised, did you watch
these teams last year? Both of them played uneven basketball
in 2003-2004, culminating in double-digit loss totals for
each, and a combined one whopping tournament win between the
Both of these teams possess a collection of offensive talent
perhaps unmatched by any other team in the nation, save
perhaps Wake Forest.
Both of these teams displayed, to be diplomatic, less than
impressive defensive efforts last year.
And aside from Arizona losing small forward Andre Igoudalia
to the NBA, both of these teams return the same rosters from
Should it be all that surprising, then, that each of these
teams started the year in disappointing fashion? Perhaps the
real question is, why were each of these teams ranked in the
top ten (UNC at No. 4 in the AP, Arizona No. 10) to start the
Yes, North Carolina was missing point guard Raymond
Felton, suspended for the 77-66 loss to Santa Clara at the
Pete Newell Challenge in Oakland. With only highly touted,
yet unproven freshman Quentin Thomas left at the point for
Roy Williams' squad, that's a problem against anyone.
But that doesn't explain the Broncos outrebounding the Tar
Heels 36-31. A frontcourt featuring Sean May, Juwad Williams
and Marvin Williams should slaughter most ACC opponents on
the glass, much less Santa Clara.
Felton's absence explains part of their 36.5% shooting
percentage, but a small part at best. (It certainly doesn't
explain a a 14-of-24 performance from the free throw line.)
Speaking to reporters after the loss, Tar Heel coach Roy
Williams took the blame.
"I've got to do a heck of a lot better job and do the little
things we've talked about all along," Williams said. "We are
extremely disappointed. Ticked off is what I am, but I'm
ticked off at myself not at the kids."
He has reason to be disappointed, and perhaps he has reason
to shoulder the blame. Yes, it was the season opener, a
meaningless November game that will carry no weight (they
hope) come March. And yes, Felton's importance to this team,
overrated by some as he may be, can't be understated.
But it was the same old problems that did UNC in all too
often last year: pourous D, a lack of aggressiveness on the
glass, and too much individual offensive play. Some of the
responsibility for these problems falls on Roy Williams.
But the fact is, his current team is not the kind of players
he won at with Kansas. Odds are, he wouldn't have recruited
an enigmatic headcase like Rashad McCants; Williams is a man
who once cut off his recruitment of Jaron Rush because Rush
referred to Williams as "Roy." He may or may not have
recruited a guy like Sean May, a big man who has great hands
and skills, but isn't great getting up and down the court,
detrimental to the breakneck speed Williams likes his teams
to play. He might not have wanted a defensively-challenged
point guard like Felton, for that matter.
Great coaches have teams that are extensions of themselves;
their program as a whole takes on the personality of the head
man. Williams won at Kansas with heady, old school coach-on-
the-floor types like Jacque Vaughn, Kirk Hinrich, and Nick
Collison, and with athletic players who gave who constantly
exuded intensity like Paul Pierce, Kenny Gregory and Drew
Gooden. "Heady" and "intensity" are not words that can
describe these Tar Heels often enough.
As for Arizona, they blew an early chance to show they were
the team in position for a quick turnaround like many had
touted. But in the 78-60 loss to Virginia, sophomore point
guard Mustafa Shakur didn't look like a guy who had yet made
strides from last season, committing as many turnovers as he
scored points- five- and the run'n'gun Wildcats, disciples of
the "live by the three, die by the three" practice, died by
it against the Cavs, only connecting on 5 of 24 from deep.
"You have nightmare games like this, and we've got one
nightmare out of the way, I guess," Wildcats coach Lute Olson
said after the game.
Olsen and Williams both can only hope that's true. The good
news? It's November. In the long run, these games will
probably be long forgotten. Both North Carolina and Arizona
have plenty of time to work things out and gel as a unit
before conference play starts, much less postseason play.
More good news? Both of these teams still have rosters that
hold up talentwise against anyone in the country. There will
be plenty of nights for each of them this year when they will
be utterly unstoppable.
The only logic for each team's lofty preseason ranking can be
projection for improvement, which is fine. But for that to
happen, these early-season hiccups will have to prove to be
just that, and not an early forbearance that the ups-and-
downs, defensive defeciencies, and lack of on-court cohesion
are permanent problems.