Holiday Festival: The Good & Bad

Byron Sanders

North Carolina's performance and outcome of its first-round loss to Iona in the 50th Holiday Festival couldn't have been more disappointing. But as resilient teams do, the Tar Heels rebounded to notch an impressive victory over host St. John's in the consolation game.

Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's weekend at Madison Square Garden.

GOOD

Jawad Williams – Williams took a giant step forward in the leadership department over the weekend, and also in the appreciation department regarding UNC's fans. He missed the Iona game because of a stomach virus, but was huge on Saturday, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He did turn the ball over four times – a personal area of concern – but still made many quality offensive decisions. He scored two of UNC's first three field goals, which clearly gave the team life. His communication and vastly improved defense also provided the club a needed jolt.

Raymond Felton – Felton was sensational on Saturday. He had four turnovers (three against the Red Storm's press), but dished out nine assists and scored 11 points. He also did a fine job defensively on SJU's Elijah Ingram in the second half. He may have had his best dribbling game of the year, often beating up to three Johnnies with the dribble to get the Heels into their halfcourt offense.

Rashad McCants – McCants is a scoring machine. He may not play a quality floor game (like on Friday when he committed five turnovers with just one assist), but he will always score points. The freshman from Asheville poured in 21 points without an assist on Saturday and had 15 (although just three in the second half) on Friday. He was 5-11 on 3s for the weekend.

Jackie Manuel – Manuel's obvious limitations are documented later in this G&B, but the many little things he does to help the Tar Heels often goes unnoticed. The sequence in which he stole the ball on SJU's baseline and then snared a pair of offensive rebounds before feeding Felton for a 3-pointer that put UNC up 50-44 was the biggest of the game. And it also encapsulated why he gets so many minutes and is a crucial part of this squad.

Byron Sanders – Sanders had more fouls (five) than points (two) and rebounds (two) in the win over St. John's, but he was solid on defense and didn't let his 0-9 shooting effort affect his mindset. This can only be considered a major positive for a freshman that wasn't highly regarded that was thrust into a significant role for one of the game's storied programs. He won't likely go 0-9 again, so expect better numbers from here on.

David Noel – Noel played 19 fewer minutes on Saturday than he did on Friday but still made major contributions. His floor game was improved and although he only scored three points and had two rebounds, the Durham freshman made two huge blocks in the last 10 minutes, and used his 6-foot-6 frame more like it was 6-9 or 6-10. He also sank a big late free throw while looking into a sea of red-clad waving fans, a rare scenario for a player that didn't play in high school all-star or big time AAU games.

Matt Doherty – The Doherty nay sayers might want to look elsewhere to find a coach to bash, because he and his staff proved (again) they can coach on Saturday. Few have doubted Doherty's knowledge and motivational abilities, but many have questioned whether he can make adjustments during a game and manage a close contest on the road. He graded out beautifully in the win over St. John's. Not only did he get the Heels back on the right page despite losing May and the horrid effort against Iona, but seemingly every late move he made worked out. He got a lot more out of his timeouts than SJU coach Mike Jarvis.

Half court offense – Carolina's half court offense, which has been poor to mediocre for much of the season, was very solid on Saturday, even on the occasions the Red Storm was in a zone. UNC was patient, had nice movement, made sharper and smarter passes, and utilized the dribble better. From the standpoint of execution, this was the most positive aspect of the St. John's game.

Interior defense – Iona got way too many layups and short looks, but St. John's had trouble scoring inside. Consider that the Red Storm had 25 offensive rebounds and just 17 second-chance points. On the other hand, UNC had 15 second-chance points on just 12 offensive boards. The Heels defended the interior exceptionally well and contested nearly every look the Johnnies got in the paint. SJU's starting forwards and center combined to shoot only 7-34 from the field, and attempted only three 3-pointers. Most of the other 31 shots were around the paint. The Storm shot just 28.2 percent (20-71) from the field for the contest.

Resilience – After what happened on Friday, the Tar Heels showed tremendous resilience by coming back to knock off St. John's in their building on Saturday. Having Williams and Melvin Scott certainly helped, but those who were part of the Iona loss also stepped up and showed grit, maturity, and pride in their win over the Johnnies. This was a classic program win.

8th win – Some may laugh at mentioning this "milestone," but after what UNC fans went through last year, reaching eight wins three days after Christmas should put in perspective what transpired last winter. And it should also quell some of the criticism levied at this bunch. Things are a lot better folks.

BAD

Sean May – Thin up front, UNC simply couldn't afford to lose May, but now must deal with this reality. His injury became inevitable once doctors learned of the severity of the condition of his left foot. As both May and Doherty said, this is a long term blessing in disguise because he will heal within eight weeks and should be at full speed as opposed to wearing a boot prior to the break and having just a 60 percent chance of recovery. But, between now and then, his injury could be the difference in making the NCAA tournament or doesn't.

Jackie Manuel – Manuel has many limitations offensively. He needs to work on his shooting (there's a hitch in his release), ballhandling, and must recognize his weaknesses, which would reduce the frequency he takes the ball to the hole. Friday's performance was not a good one, and with respect to his mentioned weaknesses, Saturday's wasn't either. He takes too many early shots in possessions. He does so many little things so well for the Heels, but is far from a complete player. But there is time for him to develop these skills, and once he does, will be a sensational contributor.

Raymond Felton – Like many of his mates, Felton had a rough game on Friday. He made a series of poor decisions during Carolina's dry spells and struggled to find open mates, especially around the basket. Felton needs to bring more energy to the floor. He's a smart player with excellent instincts, sees the floor well, and recognizes defenses exceptionally well (something that has improved tremendously since the Penn State game), but he isn't a great player yet, although the potential is clearly there.

David Noel – Noel had nice stats (12 points, six rebounds) on Friday night, but he made numerous poor decisions, from shot selection to passing to his general flow offensively. He has tremendous upside and will improve every time he steps on the floor now that hoops is his main focus, but is still somewhat limited with what he can do.

Jonathan Holmes – Holmes didn't play well Friday night when UNC needed a lift from the bench, especially when Felton was in foul trouble. Possibly as a result, he didn't play on Saturday. As a senior, more should be expected from the Indiana native.

Rebounds – Carolina was manhandled on the glass by a small St. John's team (54-40), especially on the offensive end (25-12). In fact, each of SJU forward Eric King's rebounds came on the offensive side. Not having May certainly didn't help, but Carolina will need for Sanders (two boards) to be more productive. Damion Grant did have three rebounds in seven minutes.

Free throws – The Tar Heels were awful (12-21, 57.1 percent) Friday night but fared better (15-21, 71.4%) on Saturday. UNC was just 27-42 (63.8%) for the weekend, and shot only one more freebie than its opponents, which is another area of concern. Top teams shoot many for free throws than their opponents, and as UNC becomes a top team, one of the measuring sticks will be this statistic.

Energy – The Tar Heels had no energy on Friday night. Even during their 15-6 start, they appeared lethargic and unexcited. That was easily their worst effort of the season. One can understand senior-laden teams sometimes lacking enthusiasm when facing an opponent such as Iona (which has been a much better program than their name will suggest), but for freshmen and sophomores not to be excited is disturbing, especially when playing in the world's most famous arena. To be fair, the Heels had significantly more energy the following day.

Dry spells - The Heels went 8:52 without a field goal in the first half of the Iona game, which is a growing ugly trend for this team. In nearly every game Carolina goes into the tank offensively, often in the first half when they have a chance to get huge early leads. Much of this has to do with certain players recognizing their roles and playing accordingly. Too many shots taken early in possessions, and not enough quality ball movement. In defense of the Heels, they did have some unusual lineups on the floor Friday because of the May situation and Williams and Scott being out. Yet, similar stretches will be fatal in ACC play.

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels stay on the road to face Miami (Fla) on Saturday night at 7:30. It will be the Hurricanes' first game in their new on campus arena, and will be televised by ESPN2.


Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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