Tobacco Road Turnover

The Final Four has finally arrived, but for the second staight year, no team on Tobacco Road will be vying to cut down the nets this Monday. Instead, both Duke and UNC have shifted into offseason mode, which means a ton of chatter about early entry, recruiting, and projecting what next season’s squads will look like.

It’s safe to say that the top of the ACC next year will look very, very different.

On Monday, Duke officially said goodbye to Austin Rivers, ending an up-and-down season that, for better or for worse, revolved around Rivers. He became the stuff of legend on February 8th in Chapel Hill, but Duke struggled down the stretch and bowed out in Coach K’s first Round of 64 exit since 2007. Junior center Mason Plumlee still has yet to make a decision. This past season was Mason’s best yet, but he will likely not be a lottery selection in this year’s class. His decision will likely influence the decisions of recruits, like Amile Jefferson and Tony Parker. But until Mason chooses to go pro or not, we’ll have little to no idea what this Duke team will be like next year.

But Duke isn’t the only school with uncertainty lying ahead in 2012-2013. This afternoon, Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall announced their intentions to join Tyler Zeller as potential lottery selections in this year’s NBA draft.  Sophomore Reggie Bullock is the only remaining member of Carolina’s starting five who will be returning next year. It has been rumored that freshman James Michael McAdoo is also considering leaving early for the draft as well.

Many Duke fans are glad we'll never have to see these guys again. (photo courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

As you can imagine, these losses will be a great loss for the Tar Heels in the team’s efforts to repeat as ACC regular season champions next year. Barnes, Marshall, Henson, and Zeller accounted for just over 68% of North Carolina’s scoring last season. Barnes, Henson, and Zeller also combined to form arguably the nation’s most formidable frontcourt. The three accounted for 54.9% of the Tar Heels’ rebounds in 2011, and were much of the reason why North Carolina was the top rebounding team in the country at 45.2 boards per game. You also can’t forget about the role Marshall played as a distributor, setting the ACC assists record while averaging 9.8 per contest. With Kendall gone and Stilman White headed on a religious mission for the next two years, Huckleberry Hound will probably look to senior Dexter Strickland and freshman Marcus Paige to take up point guard duties.

This decimation of Carolina’s roster is an interesting twist in what has been an eventful offseason for the ACC thus far.Even with a recruiting class of four players coming in next season, North Carolina is essentially starting from scratch. As Carolina looks to rebuild (or as the national media will say ad nauseum, ‘reload’) and with Duke’s roster in flux, N.C State seems primed for a run to the top of the league. The Wolfpack, fresh off of a Sweet 16 run, will add three McDonald’s All-Americans as freshmen (T.J Warren, Rodney Purvis, and Tyler Lewis) next season – with the possibility of adding a fourth in Amile Jefferson. The only current N.C State player considering the draft is C.J Leslie, but regardless of his decision, State will be very, very strong next season. If Plumlee does indeed enter the draft and Duke misses on its three remaining targets, it won’t be unexpected to see the balance of power shift away from the blues next year.

This is just the beginning to what looks to be an eventful offseason. We’ll know more and more about what the Blue Devils will look like in the coming weeks.

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P.S. Remember November 13, 2009, when Harrison Barnes promised to leave a legacy at UNC? That ‘legacy’ will include zero championships of any kind, zero Final Fours, and a losing record against Duke. That’s really something to Skype home about.

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2011-2012 ACC Preview: #1 North Carolina

The 2011-2012 ACC season is about to begin. Over the next three weeks, Crazie Talk will preview each of the twelve ACC teams in order that we think they’ll finish this season – from the bottom up.

Let’s take a look at our projected ACC regular season champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels.
2011-2012 Record: 13-2

Key Wins:
November 11- North Carolina 67, Michigan State 55
November 30- North Carolina 60, Wisconsin 57

Tough Losses:
November 26- UNLV 90, North Carolina 80
December 3- Kentucky 73, North Carolina 72

Starting Lineup:[table id=28 /]Last Year Against Duke:
February 9, 2011 at Duke- Duke 79, North Carolina 73
March 5, 2011 in Chapel Hill- North Carolina 81, Duke 67
March 13, 2011 at ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC- Duke 75, North Carolina 58

This Year Against Duke:
February 8, 2012 in Chapel Hill
March 3, 2012 at Duke

The Good: There’s no two ways about it. Whether you’re a North Carolina fan or a Duke fan or an anybody else fan, you must admit that North Carolina is an offensive juggernaut this season. The numbers don’t lie- first in the country in scoring at 88.1 points per game, first in the country in rebounding at 47.1 per game, second in assists with 19.7 per game. These numbers are absolutely absurd. The Tar Heels have scored less than 80 points in a game on just three occasions this season. They outrebound their opponents by 11.8 boards per game. North Carolina has gone at least nine deep in every game this season, and 15 players on their roster have played at least 11 games. This team has dominated the paint this year thanks to the play of John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Kendall Marshall is very difficult to stop in transition, dishing out 10 assists per game. Love them or hate them (and believe me, I hate them with a burning passion) this team is pretty damn talented.

The Bad: You can put this team on the line as much as you want and have little consequence. North Carolina is shooting a lackluster 64.0% from the foul line this season. In fact, only four players on the entire North Carolina roster are shooting above 70% from the free throw line on the year. This is a glaring weakness for a team with such an efficient offense. In the Tar Heels’ loss to UNLV, they shot just 20-for-33 from the line. Their woes from the line could certainly come back to haunt them if they get caught up in some tight games during their conference schedule. The question is, on how many occasions is their poor free throw shooting really going to matter? If they continue to build up 20 or 30 point leads on teams, not too much.

The Crazie: This team is almost perfectly put together, with five seniors, three juniors, three sophomores, and five freshmen on North Carolina’s roster. This provides them with the perfect blend of experience and youth. Their tournament experience is fairly extensive as well. North Carolina’s seniors were a part of their last national championship team during their freshman year, and all players excluding the freshman made a run to the Elite 8 last season. It’s hard to think that just two years ago the Tar Heels went 20-17 on the year, finishing 10th in the ACC with a 5-11 conference record, and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time under Roy Williams.

Player We Love To Hate: Well considering they play basketball for Roy Williams, wear that ugly shade of blue, and call Chapel Hill, North Carolina their home, we love to hate every single player on that team. But if I had to pick, I couldn’t narrow it down to fewer than three players we love to hate the most. You have to start with sophomore Harrison Barnes. Not only is he the most talented player on the team and therefore the biggest target (see Redick, J.J.), but he also chose North Carolina over Duke after the consensus was that Duke had Barnes all but wrapped up. If going to the University of North Carolina doesn’t make you a big enough villan at Duke, that’s a good way to up your street cred. We also love to hate John Henson, who averages 15 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks per game and is one of the most efficient big men in the country. He’s given us fits on defense in the past, and is one of those “you hate him because you can’t stop him” players. Luckily for us, Henson’s younger sister Amber made the right choice and is playing basketball at Duke. And we can’t talk about hating on North Carolina without mentioning Kendall Marshall. You may also know him as @KButter5, or as we like to call him, the most ridiculously obnoxious guy in the entire Twitterverse. Though his tweets do often provide a fair amount of comedy, ranging from the fairly ridiculous to the…fairly more ridiculous. Not to mention he’s also a fantastic point guard, and Duke has had some pretty big problems with North Carolina point guards in the past (see Lawson, Ty). Oh and honorable mention for Tyler Zeller, whose brother Cody at Indiana is simply better at basketball than he is. What you mean you didn’t expect the “Player We Love To Hate” section to be the longest section of the UNC post?

The Bottom Line: This is a very complete basketball team with only one glaring weakness. It shouldn’t lose more than a couple games in the ACC regular season, and will more than likely split its matchups with Duke like it has in years past. They more than likely won’t win the ACC tournament, because typically Roy Williams doesn’t seem to care too much about that. Though I don’t think they’ll win it all, this very easily could be a Final Four year for these guys. Biased or not, anyone that says North Carolina isn’t the best team in the ACC is kidding themselves.

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Crazie-Talk’s 2011-2012 ACC Preview:

Boston College | Wake Forest | Clemson | Miami | Georgia Tech | Maryland

North Carolina State | Virginia Tech | Florida State | Virginia | Duke | North Carolina