Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: North Carolina at Rutgers (at MSG)

by Ray Floriani
NEW YORK CITY - A featured game with North Carolina at Madison Square Garden closed the books on Rutgers non-conference schedule. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, the 78-55 loss left some questions needing resolution with Big East play just days away.

Pre-game warmups
about an hour prior to the tip

Pace & Efficiency:

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North Carolina enjoys a brisk pace in the seventies while Rutgers is a mid-sixties tempo team. UNC forced the pace and kept the advantage through the duration.

The Four Factors:

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Roy Williams and the Tar Heels huddle

The First Four
As noted many times the first four minutes of each half can set the tone for the game. They did last night. North Carolina got out to a 7-2 lead after those first few minutes. A five point advantage with 16 minutes to play the first half is not a huge mountain to scale. But the character of the game was set. UNC established a fast tempo. A tempo they wanted. Even Rutgers coach Mike Rice noted that his club got caught up in the fast pace, rushed things and failed to cash in on early opportunities.

UNC mentor Roy Williams said his defense has been sporadic this year. Tonight it was on. The TO rate and Rutgers eFG mark are exhibits A and B. UNC also rejected 7 shots with 6-10 sophomore John Henson leading the way with four.

Rutgers' Offense
Rutgers struggled all night to get an offensive rhythm. Jonathan Mitchell led all scorers with 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting. Other than Mitchell, a few nice Dane Miller (8 points) moves in the paint and Austin Johnson's 7 points, that was it for Rutgers.

Ball Movement...
...for North Carolina was outstanding. The first half the movement constantly found an open shooter on the perimeter. Their half court spacing allowed for penetration and/or kick outs to the perimeter. In transition they always seemed to make that extra pass. Williams was thrilled that none on the starters were in double figures. The leading scorers, sophomore guard Leslie McDonald (14 points) and junior guard Justin Watts (10 points) both came off the bench.

About Determination
Mike Rice frequently alluded to 'determination' in the presser. The Rutgers coach was clearly upset with his team's effort. A frustrating point per Rice was the occasion when a player missed a shot or made a bad play the effort would be missing on the defensive end. "We can't have that," Rice said. "We are about defense we always have to be ready to defend no matter what happened on the offensive end."

The sign says it all

How can Carolina have four losses?
As Roy Williams noted the last two years have seen about a dozen changes in personnel. This is still a young team that on days will look like this and others not nearly as good. Chalk it up to growing pains.

About Barnes
Highly touted freshman Harrison Barnes had 9 points and 3 rebounds in 22 minutes. Williams said, while the game results do not always bear it out, Barnes is making great strides daily in practice.

Dexter Strickland's uncle
grants an interview

Rutgers is 9-3 while North Carolina improved to 9-4. UNC was 11 of 17 (65%) from two point range the first half. Tar Heels cooled off a bit the last twenty minutes finishing at 46%. North Carolina enjoyed a monumental 38-13 edge in points off the bench. Sophomore guard Dexter Strickland, a Rahway, NJ native who starred at prep power St. Patrick's in Elizabeth, enjoyed his homecoming with a 9 point 3 rebound outing. Rutgers starts Big East play Sunday at Villanova.

Rutgers' Mike Rice meets the media

greyCat note -- Rush the Court will do a Live Blog from the Pavilion as both teams open their Big East seasons on Sunday.

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