Home > Sports > Gauging the 2007/8 Tar Heels: Just what do we have here?

Gauging the 2007/8 Tar Heels: Just what do we have here?

Like a lot of people, I’ve been utterly confused by this year’s UNC basketball team. I mean, it’s March, and the squad only has two losses. But, the loss of Ty Lawson for a half dozen games cast a bit of a pallor over the season, even as they only lost to a then one-loss Dook squad.

The team has won games every which way. Blowout wire-to-wire wins: most of the early schedule, as well as home ACC wins against Boston College and NC State, as well as an away conference stomping against Virginia Tech. A few games that were only lopsided for a half, like the NC State game in Raleigh. The overtime W at Clemson. Huge comebacks against Clemson at home and, most recently, today’s u-turn against Boston College.

[Actually, the only common denominator has been Tyler Hansbrough’s play. Since Ty went down, Hansbrough has been a monster, now to the point where a 25/9 day like today is routine. Unbelievable.]

Back in January, I started thinking about how to classify this team. For a guy like me – who graduated from UNC in 1995 – I’ll always compare great Tar Heel teams to the 1993 championship squad. Sure, that team wasn’t the most talented in school history. But, I believe it was one of the best teams, if you define “team” as a bunch of people who played their defined roles perfectly and without question. They ran Coach Smith’s system to perfection, and ultimately finished with the NCAA Finals win against a hyper-talented Michigan team.

I delayed writing this for as long as possible, because one of the few remaining superstitions I have is not to jinx a good team by comparing it to a great team. However, things are coming together for the 2008 bunch, as Lawson’s injury has caused this unit to gel in way that I didn’t see coming. So, what the hell, let’s break down the 2008 team vs. the 1993 champs.

Starting guards. 1993: Derrick Phelps and Donald Williams. 2008: Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. I go round and round with this matchup. At the point, Phelps was a pure and classic Dean Smith point guard. Steady, smart and tenacious on defense. Lawson is much more talented offensively, but he doesn’t defend nearly as well. Still, I’d rather have Ty in a pinch. He’s just too hard to stay in front of when he gets going.

The Williams vs. Ellington matchup is even more intriguing. Both sophomores in the years in question, Ellington is a tad more proven than Donald was at this same time. Donald never showed his big-play ability until it counted (for 50 points, I think, in the Final Four). Or, at least, that’s how I remember it. I like where Wayne is right now, and he seems to be a better defender. So, call the guards a wash.

Starting forward: 1993: Brian Reese and George Lynch. 2008: Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson. As much as I like the current squad, what they don’t have is a George Lynch. What I said about Phelps above (tenacious, smart, steady) goes double for Lynch, the lone starting senior in 1993. He was a small-ish power forward, but he gave everything every night and did all the little things. He was and is my all-time favorite UNC player.

His counterpart on the 2008 team is probably the small forward, Ginyard. Marcus will do anything you ask of him (including deliver pizzas in the summer). He does the little things and doesn’t need to score – but he can if he can drive to the basket or get an easy put back. Lynch is the winner in this matchup, but just by comparing Marcus so favorably to George should tell you what I think of this guy.

The other forwards – Reese vs. Thompson – are similar in that they score about 10 points and do a lot of things to complement others in the front court. Reese was streaky and athletic, but Thompson – if he can get his knees up to speed – may have a bit of an edge here.

Center: 1993: Eric Montross. 2008: Tyler Hansbrough. Sure, Carolina doesn’t list Tyler as a center officially, but that’s what he is. He’s the “5” in the playbook, and he’s the back-to-the-basket counterpart to Montross. The comparisons between the two go on and on. Both spurned Big 10 schools and left the Midwest for a light blue uni. Both fought and bled against Dook, and more often than not, came out on top against their hated rivals. And both of them were tireless workers, strong as hell and crazy competitors.

This is a toughie. Tyler is a much more versatile offensive player (if Eric had taken an 17-footer that winter, I would have crapped my pants from fear). Eric had a few stand-by post moves, and even though he was no Kevin McHale, you can ask Michigan’s Chris Webber if he was effective. Still, I gotta give the edge here to Tyler. He’s becoming a force of nature. And to think I started doubting his ability to carry the team after the Maryland loss. Tyler, I sincerely apologize. Like all the post players in the ACC, I am humbly your bitch.

Bench: 1993: A cast of thousands. 2008: Danny Green, Alex Stephenson, Quentin Thomas and a few other guys. This is where I really, really liked the 1993 squad.

Off the bench, you had definitive role players. Needed a shot blocker? 7-footer Kevin Salvadori was your man. Needed a big guard with maturity and vision? German national Henrick Rodl (aka, the ugliest man in ACC history prior to NCSU’s Jeremy Hyatt) was the man. Needed a guy who could play some legit minutes at forward and probably do five things to piss off the other team? Pat Sullivan (god, the stories I could tell about Sully). Hell, we even had a third 7-footer, Matt Wenstrom (aka, ooga booga), to throw on the court.

In 2008, the loss of backup combo guard Bobby Frasor was a big loss to what looked to be a solid bench. I’ll hand it to the 2008 squad, though. They are much more prolific in the scoring column. Danny Green (11.6 ppg) is more “instant offense” off the bench than any of the 1993 gang (Sullivan was the leading bench scorer at 6.4 ppg).

But, I’m worried that the lack of great role players will hurt in those late-season games when the first six or seven guys are gassed. Quentin Thomas’ emergence in February as Lawson sat out with a bum ankle is a good sign. If Alex Stephenson and William Graves continue to advance, who knows, maybe they’ll get to the 1993 level.

Final analysis? If you take a look at this breakdown, it’s 3-3. Coaching I’d put at a draw, since Roy Williams is a great coach and a latter-day version of Coach Smith. I could throw some lame-ass intangibles column like they do in the papers, but if something’s intangible, how the hell could I measure it?

But I digress. Where does this comparison lead us? Hell if I know, but I’ve spent a lot of time on it (as far as blog posts go), and the outcome is pretty positive. They may not win it all, but it should be one great ride. And that’s all I can ask for.

Categories: Sports

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