As part of our very extended coverage of the Gonzaga-North Carolina matchup, we thought it would be a good idea to talk to some of the most intelligent North Carolina fans on the blogosphere. One blog which we have been in contact with is our SB Nation partner, Carolina March but we have also talked to an independent blogger Tar Heel Fan. We'll have a Q&A with the folks at Carolina March in the coming days but Tar Heel Fan gave us some great answers to some burning issues regarding North Carolina. Enjoy...
Slipper Still Fits: The last time these two programs played was in 2006 at the Preseason NIT. Although many of the players are the same, what similarities and difference are there between the UNC team that season, and the one that Gonzaga will play on Friday?
Tar Heel Fan: UNC is probably more mature than they were then. For all the hype surrounding that team, it was also fairly young with two upperclassmen(Reyshawn Terry and Wes Miller) plus a group of freshman and sophomores. At that point in the season the learning curve was pretty steep. In 2006-07, UNC had issues closing the deal in several games the most painful being the regional final versus Georgetown. Since then, the Heels have improved in this area as seen against LSU on Saturday night.
SSF: While there is no denying the great talent that UNC has in its starting 5, how strong is the depth for the Tar Heels off the bench?
THF: The bench was essentially ravaged by the injury to Marcus Ginyard and the suspension of Will Graves. If those two were still available we are talking about 10 deep and the Danny Green/Ed Davis combo coming off the bench giving you 18 ppg with great rebounding and shot blocking. Green is a starter now and that basically leaves Ed Davis as the best/most productive bench player. The good news for UNC is he has blossomed at just the right time playing 25 mins versus LSU while making some huge plays on both ends. Bobby Frasor and Larry Drew do not really score but play mistake free basketball for the most part. Frasor is a good, smart defender who can force a turnover or two just by knowing where to be at an opportune moment. Tyler Zeller is still getting his legs after sitting out most of the season with a wrist injury. Given Gonzaga's interior presence, Zeller could play a significant role, if for no other reason than to try and gain an edge in the depth department.
continue reading for the rest of the interview...
SSF: What is the perception of the Gonzaga program among North Carolina fans and throughout ACC country?
THF: By own admission, I have been down on Gonzaga as evidenced in my Blog Poll voting. Part of that has to do with never seeing them play and when I did see them play it was the Memphis game. It is probably some of that old East Coast Bias which in this case is more like East Coast Ignorance. Still, I think many people have a lot of respect for Gonzaga and heading into this one, most UNC fans see this game as being probably the toughest game UNC will play in the regionals.
SSF: Are there any similarities or common themes among the Tar Heels 4 losses this year? Do you think there is a recipe to beating this team?
THF: UNC shot the ball poorly and made mistakes on offense. The Heels' defense gets a lot of the blame for losses but in the end it was poor shooting that did the Heels in. In the losses to Boston College and Wake Forest, UNC shot below 30% in the 2nd half. In the loss to Maryland the shooting was below 40% for the game and the Heels did not execute down the stretch committing three straight turnovers with 2 mins left and a nine point lead. Against, FSU in the ACC Tournament sans Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington did their job but Danny Green was 1-12 from the floor. In four losses UNC has given up 84 ppg. For the season the Heels average 90.3 ppg but in four losses it was 80.5 which is to say, if the offense shows up the defense is not really an issue.
SSF: Based on what you saw against LSU and late in the ACC season, how healthy do you think Ty Lawson is, and how much of an impact has the injury had on his play?
THF: The Great Toe Saga has ended based on what I am seeing and hearing. People will ask if he is 100% and I think the answer is no, he is probably not 100% for the full game but as he proved when he nearly broke Bo Spencers ankles on a nasty crossover he can be 100% when it counts.
SSF: How much of an impact has the suspension of Will Graves and the injury to Marcus Ginyard had on this team?
THF: With Will Graves it was about depth, especially in the small forward slot. At present UNC only has one 6-5 to 6-7 player and that is Danny Green. If he gets in foul trouble(as he did versus Maryland) then the Heels must either go big or go small. The absence of Marcus Ginyard is also a consideration there but Ginyard's value was as a perimeter defender. The Heels lack that one lock down defender who can harass the #1 perimeter scoring option enough to force him to lean on his teammates more. In most cases Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson can handle those types of players a little better. If Ginyard were available and fully healthy, it would make this UNC team so much better on defense.
SSF: Based on what you know about both teams, what is your prediction for the game on Friday?
THF: I am expecting a tough game. My gut feeling is Tyler Hansbrough in particular is going to be highly motivated to payback the loss in the 2006 Pre-Season NIT. My biggest concern is a Gonzaga three point party which the Heels often have a tough time defending. In the end I think this UNC team with so much hype riding on them to begin the season will find a way to get it done. UNC in a tight one.