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Project in the making (cont.)

Posted: Saturday October 29, 2005 1:01PM; Updated: Saturday October 29, 2005 1:15PM
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But that's for the future. As for the present, Williams is in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in his 17-year head coaching career. The ACC is down a bit from last season, but with the addition of Boston College and the improvement of teams like Virginia Tech and Miami, the league is still formidable and deep. You can also assume the Heels, like every other team in the country, will have to deal with some kind of injury issues this season. And they have very little margin for error in that department.

Williams is not the kind of guy who takes losses easily, but he is still joking with friends that with McCants gone, he has yet to raise his voice in practice this fall. He certainly didn't raise it once on Friday, even though his freshmen gave him plenty of reason. Williams was in a relaxed, jovial mood throughout the two-hour workout. I'm sure he'll have moments this season when he'll want to pull out his hair, but during those times, I wouldn't be surprised if he steals a glance at that colorful banner in the rafters. He may even allow himself a thought or two about the players arriving next season. And like everyone else in the building, he can sigh and say to himself, "We're gonna be just fine."

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Herewith my breakdown of the 2005-06 Tar Heels:

Heart and soul: Hansbrough. I realize it is not the Carolina Way to single out a freshman here, but we might as well face reality. Hansbrough is the best player on the team, and at a sculpted 6-9, 235 pounds, he is more physically prepared for ACC basketball than most freshmen. Hansbrough is at his best ripping the ball off the rim in traffic, but he does have a nice baseline hook and a good feel for the game. Hansbrough's agility and offensive skills are his biggest weaknesses, which will be exposed against defenses geared to stop him. But the sooner he tries to take over this team, the better off the Heels will be.

Most improved: Noel. The senior captain probably could have scored more last season if he had to, but now that he's pressed into a primary role, you can expect to see a better offensive player than you anticipated. Noel also has the advantage of having spent four years learning the system, and of course he's part of a culture that values seniors above all else.

Glue guy: Terry. I had forgotten until Friday that Terry is 6-8. Terry can do a lot of different things for this team, including defending a variety of positions and hitting the offensive glass. Because he only averaged 4.5 minutes per game last season, it's hard to know how tough Terry is, but if he can add some tenacity to this young bunch, it will be a huge help.

X-factor: Quentin Thomas. Sure, most guys would see limited action playing behind Felton, but the fact that Thomas, a 6-3 sophomore from Oakland, only mustered 6.3 minutes per game last year has to be a troubling sign for Heels fans. Now, through sheer necessity, Thomas becomes North Carolina's starting point guard. He needs to take a major step forward for this team to make the NCAA tournament.

Lost in the shuffle: Danny Green. It's hard to single out anybody on a team without much of a shuffle, but North Carolina is a little more stacked up front than on the perimeter. That will mean limited minutes for Green, a 6-5 freshman swingman. But he's going to get a chance to play through his mistakes.

Bottom line: The cupboard is not completely bare, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Tar Heels pull off a couple of upsets this season. In the end, however, I have a hard time envisioning this squad holding up through the grind of the ACC regular season. After finally breaking through last spring and winning his first NCAA championship, Williams will again find himself in unfamiliar territory next March -- coaching in the NIT. But only this once.


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