North Carolina’s week ended with its annual team banquet and various awards, but still no news on Harrison Barnes’ future in Chapel Hill.
So, while we wait for one of the nation’s top freshmen to decide on the NBA draft, let’s keep things topical, shall we? Let’s talk Tar Heel hoops with the man behind one of the best Carolina blogs out there, Brian Barbour. I read his site, Tar Heel Fan, for the hoops talk (there are other sports on there as well) and it rarely disappoints.
He took his time to talk about the Heels’ entertaining season, the development of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, why Kendall Marshall and Henson are so popular among the fans and more in Blogger Spotlight.
Q: You saw this season coming, right? The 7-4 start, Larry Drew taking off, Kendall Marshall taking over, Harrison Barnes struggling, then hitting big shots and just missing out on the Final Four. Just a typical year in Chapel Hill…or not.
A: It was different but also reminded me of 2007 when the Tar Heels were young but very talented and had their share of growing pains loses. The primary difference is this 2011 team did an incredible job winning games that were very close or they had no business winning(see the ACC Tournament games vs. Miami and Clemson.) It was also unusual to watch a UNC team under Roy Williams have struggles on the offensive end but effectively win games with their defense.
After the trauma of last season it was very much an exercise in Tar Heel fans slowly trusting that UNC was back in business.
Q: Was it a tough season to watch? That is, until late January, did you sit there thinking, “I know we can be better.”
A: Yes and no. When we did our predictions at THF we all assumed the bulk of the regular season losses would come in ACC play. The opposite was true. UNC lost four games before January and after the inexplicable 20-point loss at Georgia Tech it appeared things were again going to head south. The one interesting constant was Roy Williams who never wavered from his insistence that the team would get better.
Unlike last season when he was at his wits end trying to figure his team out, this season he appeared in full control and somehow knew this team would gel. Overall I think it was a fun season and this group(sans Drew) is quickly becoming an all-time favorite team among UNC fans.
Q: What surprised you most about the season? I was a little surprised the frontcourt thrived despite its lack of depth and relative inexperience. But Tyler Zeller and John Henson were damn good.
A: Tyler Zeller was very good. While his style is notable less physical that Tyler Hansbrough he often produces the same results on the offensive end. Zeller ended up being the most consistent and productive player on the court for the Tar Heels to the point I don’t think they went to him enough at times. As for John Henson, his defense was a game changer. Henson’s freakish length and athleticism changed how teams approached the basket and inbounded the basketball along the baseline. Putting these two on the floor together with Harrison Barnes meant UNC has three potential first round picks in their frontline, two of them lottery.
Name another team that boasted the kind of frontline that was solid on both ends on the floor.
Q: Last team I can think of like that was 2007 Florida. That speaks volume for the sheer talent in Chapel Hill. Nothing like setting up massive expectations for next season, right?
A: Not any worse than 2009 which was a team that absolutely had to win the national title or it was going to be deemed a missed opportunity. There was also an element of cementing Tyler Hansbrough as one of the greatest Tar Heels of all time. That season had a lot of pressure associated with it to the point it was almost not enjoyable. The same could be true here but at the same time his particular group has endeared themselves to UNC fans in general.
Speaking for myself, I am going to enjoy the ride with the expectation they at least make it to the Final Four and from there we will see.
Q: How much will Harrison Barnes affect next season? Carolina’s a title contender even he goes pro.
A: Interesting question because on one hand Barnes could have an outstanding NPOY-type sophomore season. Barnes has that certain intangible to elevate his game at certain points in a contest to give his team the extra boost they need. There is also his penchant for hitting clutch shots. Those aspects, his overall game and the fact he is a great defender will be missed.
However, this team should still go to the Final Four providing they can find some three point shooting(true even if Barnes returns), UNC will still have Tyler Zeller and John Henson who are both first round picks in the NBA. Incoming freshman James McAdoo is being projected in the top five. The absence of Barnes would also refine the rotation a little. Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston probably end up at SF with Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald holding down the two. Kendall Marshall will be spelled by Strickland and freshman Stillman White. Then you have a solid frontline, especially if UNC gets a commit from Desmond Hubert.
In short, with Barnes, UNC has the potential to be legendary. Without him, they are still as good as past UNC teams that were capable of winning a national title.
Q: Who’s the fan favorite on this team?
A: It is probably a close race between John Henson and Kendall Marshall. Henson is so much fun to watch and his freakish length provides those “wow” plays you love as a fan. Marshall is just an outstanding kid both on and off the court. When Larry Drew left the team and Marshall came out vs Florida St. with a record setting 16 assists, he nearly made himself a legend just halfway through his freshman season. Marshall’s proclivity for the jaw dropping pass and the leadership he shows on the team has quickly won over the fan base.
Now that they are playing against the regular students in pickup games on campus once or twice a week, these guys have achieved rock star status.
Q: Have you gotten in on any of those games? That would make for a must-read post on THF.
A: Unfortunately my job keeps from taking off to Chapel Hill in the middle of the afternoon to watch. I get by on local media video but I imagine it would be awesome to watch them play and interact with the students.
Q: How’d you get into blogging? Was it one specific aspect of being a North Carolina fan that prompted it? The blog tackles everything now, but I always looked to it for hoops first.
A: I used to spend time on various blogs and message boards posting my opinions or debating with other posters. I reached a point where I decided to channel my content into my own blog rather than posting on a message board where smart content gets lost in the insanity of others. So I started THF with a goal of running a fan site that while obviously biased is also intellectually honesty and extremely credible.
The growth of the blog and its recognition among those in the local media here in Raleigh confirms we are doing something right. As for content, personally speaking UNC basketball is my first love among all sports. That probably does tilt the direction of the blog but so does the general readership which is always more basketball-centric. UNC basketball has also been far more successful during the life of the blog though the football program has given us plenty to write about for the right and wrong reasons.
Q: You’ve expanded THF as well. How’d you go about adding writers? Necessity?
A: I really wanted to add some new voices to the blog rather than giving readers just my take. Both Doc and C. Michael had been contributing in the comments section and I thought it would be interesting to have them contribute regularly in the main content area.
C. Michael handles most of the heavy statistical analysis which has really augmented the blog reputation for smart analysis. C. Michael’s regular feature of in-depth box score analysis was some of the best out there. Doc, who has spent time in the coaching ranks and also a graduate of UNC, provides great opinions on variety of issues all across the spectrum. His work during the NCAA scandal has been must read and spot on. Overall the more content a blog produces the more growth you see and their contributions have been invaluable in this regard.
Q: As some blogs go dark (Free Darko) and some bloggers (KJ at The Only Colors) phase out of regular duties, I’m reminded of what a grind blogging can be. What’s in your future?
A: The blog really has some good momentum going fueled by having multiple contributors to help carry the load. I work a full time job and have a family so being able to lean on two other writers has really made blogging less of a grind than it was two years ago. My plan is to ride it as far as it will go and see what happens.
The internet is so fluid. When I started THF blogging was just emerging as a semi-legitimate media outlet and Twitter was non-existent. Now Twitter and blogging are intertwined and blogs like THF are acknowledged by serious journalists as legitimate sources of opinion. Ultimately what I would love to see is THF be recognized as a legitimate media outlet with the same access as other online sites like Inside Carolina. There has been a lot of progress in terms of how bloggers are viewed and I would very much like to see THF at the forefront as this new media develops.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.