CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 29: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets get trapped by the defense of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at the Dean Smith Center on January 29, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
In case anyone forgot or didn't know, Wake plays UNC tomorrow at the Joel. I know it has been quiet, but this used to be a pretty big game. To create some "hype" and "buzz" (as the kids like to say), we reached out to Brian over at Tar Heel Fan. Make sure and give him a follow on twitter, and check out our answers to his questions between now and game time on Tuesday night.
We talk point guard play, UNC's terrific frontcourt and the future of the Tar Heels after the jump...
1.) Since the one-point loss to Kentucky, the Tar Heels have hit their stride, winning 12 of their last 13 games, with the mere blemish a 90-57 road loss to Florida State. What has made UNC so successful this year?
One of the best frontcourts in the nation. When Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes are clicking this team is scary to watch. Zeller has really hit a stride of being really consistent alongside putting up big rebounding numbers. Henson has been the defensive monster everyone thought he would be but also has a more polished offensive game. Barnes, likewise, has been very good. Add to that Kendall Marshall, who simply knows how to get the ball to these guys in scoring position, and its a recipe for success.
2.) Everyone expects the Heels to be a dynamo scoring the ball, but those not paying close attention have missed how well UNC has played on defense. They are currently 11th in the country in efficiency and 34th in defensive eFG%. Are Roy's boys doing anything differently, or is it just a product of how much of an effect Tyler Zeller and John Henson have on the game?
Henson and Zeller really push teams out the perimeter. UNC fans love to give Roy Williams a lot of grief for his teams not being good perimeter defending teams, but during his eight seasons in Chapel Hill, he has, for the most part, had quality big men in the paint. This season has taken it to a different level.
Henson is a known commodity, but now Zeller has been more aggressive going after blocks as well as taking charges. Barnes can be a really good defender when he wants to be and Marshall is the crafty sort who picks your pocket here and there. The now-injured Dexter Strickland got a ton of credit for really locking down opposing teams perimeter aces with his quickness. Now that he is out, Reggie Bullock is starting in his place. Bullock has shown signs of being a good defender who relies more on his size and length rather than quickness.
It will be interesting to see how that impacts the defense and if the added offense in the form of better perimeter shooting is worth taking a slight hit on the defensive end.
3.) It's all but assumed Harrison Barnes will be gone by year's end, Zeller will be graduating, and Henson might declare, but there's plenty of firepower remaining in P.J. Hairston, James McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and Desmond Hubert. Talk a little bit about the future of the Heels, who are also bringing in ESPN's third-rated class nationally behind Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, J.P. Tokoto and Joel James.
Roy Williams tends to recruit on two year cycles. I am not sure whether this is intentional or not, but his best teams are really brought together over the course of two classes with one of them being strong and the other being full of almost NBA-ready-type talent.
This class is more of the former with the 2013 class shaping up to be the multiple five star group. Still, there are some solid players coming in. Marcus Paige, just this past weekend dropped 46 points in a game. He is more of a scoring point guard and if he can play well right away it will really help Marshall at the point.
J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson are freak athletes who can run the court and will excel in Roy Williams' up-tempo offensive game. They will probably be a little raw on some offensive skills but UNC will have plenty of shooters to take care of that.
Joel James at 6-10, 280 lbs will provide the Heels some bulk in the middle and undoubtedly a physical presence. The post will be thin in 2012-13, which makes James perhaps the most important player in that class outside of maybe Paige.
4.) Dexter Strickland's injury has definitely had an impact, but you have to be encouraged with the unlikely productive minutes North Carolina has gotten out of freshman Stilman White. Will he be able to give Kendall Marshall enough rest to keep the sophomore fresh down the stretch?
The good news for UNC on the backup PG front is Roy Williams went down this road in 2005 with Raymond Felton being the only real PG option. In those days a freshman named Quentin Thomas was simply a turnover machine. In fact, UNC's first game of the season in 2004-05 was versus Santa Clara, which the Heels lost because Felton was suspended for one game by the NCAA and Thomas filled in.
The end result was a ton of minutes for Felton over the last half of the season with Thomas and Melvin Scott pulling spot duty at point. You will see much the same this season though Stilman White has actually looked decent in the minutes he has played. Williams likes to put White in before a TV timeout occurs so Marshall gets a minute or so before the timeout and a minute or so on the other side of it to rest.
Other than that, Marshall will have to play somewhere in the 35+ minutes range in big games. He did so last season, so I am not expecting it to be an issue.
5.) The Tar Heels only have two road wins this season: a November victory over UNC-Ashville and a 82-68 win over Virginia Tech a couple weeks ago. Does the lack of success on the road worry UNC fans? How do you expect the team to play at the Joel against Wake Forest on Tuesday night?
It doesn't worry me because this is the same core group that scored some big road wins last season and did not appear to be the least bit intimidated playing in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time. Even though they did not win at Kentucky, there was nothing in the way that game unfolded that gives me pause about road games. That being said....
6.) Prediction time. How do you see this thing playing out? What's your final score?
...this team is prone to poor starts on the road, with the Kentucky game being a notable exception. If Wake Forest is going to get some licks in, it will be early on before UNC takes control of the game and wins 84-61.