Other than a Preseason NIT slip up against Gonzaga in New York the night before Thanksgiving, Carolina (10-1) has sated its fans' overwhelming preseason appetite of expectations.
Here's a player-by-player assessment through the first 11 games ...
(* - team-high)
Tyler Hansbrough (18.6 pts*, 8.1 reb*, 17 stl*)
He's relied upon considerably less from a scoring standpoint, but Hansbrough's numbers have not diminished since his record-setting rookie campaign. In the two games he's struggled this season, so have the Tar Heels. Hansbrough was just 2-for-5 from the floor in the loss to the Zags, and he had a 2-for-10 outing in Carolina's 75-63 win over Kentucky. As important as his shooting touch, innate feel, anticipation and his unsurpassed determination, is Hansbrough's durability under full assault nightly. As deep as UNC goes with available personnel, without him, it would be difficult to project a serious run at the NCAA title. The whining over a perceived special treatment by officials is to be expected with a player of Hansbrough's caliber.
"He's our No. 1 option," Roy Williams says.
Brandan Wright (15.4 pts, 6.5 reb, 64.1 FG%*, 18 blk*, 11 stl)
Can you believe he was tied for fifth with six other players in preseason ACC media voting for Rookie of the Year? Entering the season ranked as the nation's No. 1 freshman power forward by Scout.com, and with a 7-4 wingspan that has been mythically caricatured in national magazine photo spreads, Wright still managed to fly under the radar of the so-called experts. He now could challenge for league rookie of the year honors or better. Everything is clicking in the paint with Wright on the floor, as he and Hansbrough make up one of the country's most fearsome one-two punches in the low post. His hook shot has become a reliable offensive weapon and his shot blocking ability forms a psychological defensive barrier even when he can't get to the shooter.
"Even if I don't block the shot, they're going to try to avoid me in some kind of way," Wright said.
Reyshawn Terry (10.0 pts, 6.1 reb, 48.3 3FG%*, 13 blk)
It took him a month to tune up his game, but Terry has scored double figures in five of his last seven games, converting 12 of his last 20 three-point attempts. He's also a solid rebounder and shot blocker who rounds out the Tar Heels' starting front line with outstanding size and athleticism. If he continues to play with confidence, keeps defensive improvement as a priority focus and makes good decisions, Terry could finally fulfill all of that potential by the season's stretch run.
"I'm trying to do the small things to the best of my ability; when I do that, all the other things start to click for me," Terry said.
Wayne Ellington (12.4 pts, 38.5 3FG%)
At the age of 19, Ellington has the complete confidence of the coach with the NCAA's all-time best winning percentage. On opening night, Williams tossed him the keys to the two-guard spot and turned him loose. Heady and quick, Ellington is a natural with pure skills matched by few freshmen who've ever arrived in Chapel Hill. His knack for filling passing lanes leads to easy layups, and his jumper is a picture of beauty and grace. He's off and running to postseason all-star recognition.
Ty Lawson (10.1 pts, 5.3 ast*, 40.0 3FG%, 15 stl)
So far the non-punitive effects of injuries to Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas have paved the way for Lawson to gain more seasoning. On a team without a scorer, it's obvious he could just take a game over with his penetrating passing and scoring game. Due to Lawson's full throttle style of play, Williams would have gladly accepted a share of turnovers especially in the early going. But Lawson has exercised security with the basketball committing just 10 turnovers in his last six games, and he has dished out 58 total assists this season as the team's top playmaker. Thanks in large part to his play (of which his 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks second in the ACC), the Tar Heels are the leader among conference teams in the A:T stat, at 1.4.
Danny Green (5.6 pts, 3.0 reb, 39.1 3FG%)
Many believe Carolina's second team could compete for an upper tier finish in the conference, and Green almost always provides a spark off the bench either by scoring via three-point shooting or slashing moves to the basket as well as with solid interior defense. After struggling through a slump, he's coming off his one of the best games of his career. Green sustained the Tar Heels' perimeter shooting attack when teammates couldn't knock down shots last Friday at Saint Louis. He finished with 14 points, including 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc in the Tar Heels' 69-48 win over the Billikens.
"It's just finding a rhythm, and once I found that rhythm I started playing well," Green said. "Coach just told me he had confidence in me and not to get my head down. He understands what I'm going through but to just keep confident and keep playing my game."
Marcus Ginyard (4.7 pts, 3.8 reb, 13 stl)
He is the team's defensive stopper and all-around most effective catalyst off the bench, and one of, if not the team's ultimate leader by example. Drawing complimentary defensive comparisons to one Jackie Manuel, Ginyard can shut down an opponent's hottest guard or small forward, while remaining always opportunistic on the offensive boards.
Bobby Frasor (4.3 pts, 3.0 ast, 44.4 3FG%)
Even with guards and combo players to burn, Frasor's versatility and court savvy have been missed in his absence. In the seven games he did play, he was hampered with a foot injury and then later added a hip injury to his list of ailments. Frasor has shown an increased confidence in his playmaking ability, as evidenced by a team-leading 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio, and in his jumpshot, as demonstrated by the two cold-blooded threes he hit to key the comeback against Ohio State.
Deon Thompson (4.5 pts, 2.5 reb, 54% FG)
He entered these high-powered ranks as the least experienced, but Thompson has adapted wholeheartedly to Williams' system, and as a result is on the fast track to developing his ability to the fullest. Thompson's minutes continue to increase, as he's making 54 percent of his shots and 83 percent of his free throws. His drop step is his meal ticket, his soft hands makes the ball fall very comfortably in the basket. Once he further develops his game, he could join an elite class of historic Carolina big men.
Wes Miller (2.7 pts, 1.9 ast, 27.6 3FG%)
A starter last season, Miller answered his team's call to duty and was instrumental in UNC's improbable second-place ACC finish and NCAA Tournament bid. However, with the infusion of talent this year, he's seen his minutes dwindle and has also been asked to play more of a point guard role (sporting a 2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio) in light of the injuries to Frasor and Thomas – both are likely involved in his decreased shooting percentage from beyond the arc. He's still going to leave everything on the floor defensively, however, and that alone will make his services necessary in spot situations. Still, Miller has to be able to knock down the three more consistently than he has this season if his role is to increase.
Alex Stepheson (2.9 pts, 2.5 reb)
Stepheson provides the Tar Heels with another viable big body and a defensive asset. His shooting repertoire is limited, but with more minutes his production would increase. He entered college with the reputation as a rebounder/shotblocker and has begun to show why regarding the former, as he's averaging an offensive rebound per game in only 6.8 minutes. The shotblocking expertise (3 thus far) has yet to really show itself. Regardless, he's settled into the role of being the second post player off the bench for this season, and holds a promising future at Carolina
Quentin Thomas (0.5 pts, 0.5 ast)
The junior showed vast improvement last season, but a stress fracture in his foot has put his progress on hold this year. He's averaged just 5.0 minutes per game in the four contests he's appeared in and even when he returns he'll likely find himself third on the depth chart at the point.