David Noel – Noel clearly has a long way to go to combine his athletic ability with consistent basketball skills, but sure doesn't need to work on his attitude and effort. And his performance on Sunday was so positive it was almost enough to help the Heels beat an excellent Wake team, as he finished with 14 points and eight rebounds in 36 minutes of action. Not bad for a walk on freshman! More important though is how he handled starting over the benched Rashad McCants. Noel has a great attitude, is a joy to deal with from a journalist's perspective, and has uncanny physical gifts that made his three put-backs (two on missed free throws) possible. At just 6-feet-6, he also had four blocked shots and three steals. He still has so much to learn and shouldn't be counted on to repeat this performance often this season, but he definitely gives UNC fans reason to feel good about the future.
Jawad Williams – Williams also has a great attitude and provides maturity to the mix, something that is undoubtedly needed. He poured in 22 points – the first time he's reached 20-plus in consecutive games at UNC – and registered four assists. He did collect just a pair of rebounds, as that inconsistent part of his game needs improving. But considering the little help he gets inside, UNC fans must be encouraged by his play of late, and that he wants to take key shots (see Miami, Clemson, and Wake).
Raymond Felton – Felton didn't have a great statistical game (11 points, three assists), but he played with excellent composure much of the game and is a warrior on the floor. He wants to win badly and will do whatever is necessary to help UNC earn a victory. He may get frustrated at his mates for being out of position (especially on offense) but still has a good attitude and will soon be a great player.
Defense (1st half) – UNC was exceptional at extending its man-to-man defense, forcing Wake to run its offense from 25-30 feet from the basket much of the time. The Tar Heels overplayed well and allowed few backdoors and their recovery was also excellent. Wake shot just 33.3 percent (10-30), including 3-10 from 3-point range.
Effort – Nobody can question the Heels' effort on Sunday. They were ready to play, and executed their game plan very well, for the most part. Considering they were riding a three-game losing streak and coming off an awful effort at Georgia Tech, this just shows that the team hasn't lost its commitment, much to the chagrin of many.
Forcing turnovers – Carolina forced Wake into 22 turnovers, which was reminiscent of the Preseason NIT days. Credit attitude and effort as well as being well prepared for the Demon Deacons.
Matt Doherty - Doherty had the team ready to play one of the nation's top clubs, despite another time they could have folded this year. Say what you want about him, but Doherty scouts the opposition and prepares the team very well defensively. Also credit him for the decision to not start Rashad McCants. Doherty must play those who are willing to give maximum effort at all times and think team first. He obviously tried sending this message to the Asheville native a month ago, but it didn't fully resonate with his star freshman. He simply can't cater to one player because he can shoot and is an excellent player when in the right frame of mind. He must stand by his principles, and he did that on Sunday. Kudos for making such a difficult decision during a three-game losing streak when facing perhaps the league's best team. That took guts.
Crowd – The crowd was excellent as usual. No more wine and cheese. Carolina fans are getting into the games this year like I've never seen before. The fans are restless, and that's understandable. But they show up, make tons of noise, and are more into the games now than before.
Rashad McCants – The bottom line is that McCants must make a serious decision about his future as a Tar Heel. He is a wonderful talent, and arguably as good a shooter as there is in the league when in the right frame of mind. He is intelligent, articulate, and has tremendous leadership skills. But he is also immature, and it showed on Sunday. His mannerisms on the bench were unfortunate, often disregarding coaches and players' hands when coming off the court, and wore his unhappiness on his sleeve. When in the game he wasn't sharp, although he did score 13 points in 20 minutes, a simple testament to his scoring skills. On a night when UNC ran as many set plays than in any game in recent memory, that flow often ended when McCants got the ball. He only played 20 minutes, and many fans have assumed he would have played more if it weren't for being in foul trouble. On the contrary, he played that much because of Jackie Manuel's foul trouble. It appeared as if his evening was done when he came out with 12:22 left in the game after playing less than two minutes in the second half. But when Manuel picked up his fourth foul with 8:33 left, Doherty pretty much had no choice but to go back to McCants. Otherwise, he may have finished with just 12 minutes. The young man is clearly at a crossroads. Doherty's decision states that McCants isn't above the rest of the team and he will sit in huge games if not in the proper frame of mind. And if McCants is thinking about the professional ranks at this point, as some have suggested, he is foolish. While possessing great natural talents, he still doesn't handle the ball well, especially for a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, and his assist-to-turnover ratio (28 assists, 43 turnovers) isn't what it should be for a budding pro. Joseph Forte was much more prepared for the "League" than McCants currently is, and Forte is struggling, partially because of an attitude that is obviously wearing thin in the pro ranks. McCants doesn't want to gain such a reputation, and with noted lesser skills, will likely be a bust at the next level if he were to head there now. Transferring is also likely out of the question because it's doubtful he would want to sit out a full season. So, if he is smart and has good advisers, he will do the right thing for himself and the program and shed the current attitude and become the consistent star he should be.
Defense (2nd half) – The Heels actually did a lot of nice things in the second half. A healthy handful of Wake's baskets (think Taron Downey 3, Vytas Danelius dunks, and Josh Howard being Josh Howard) came as the shot clock was nearing expiration. Carolina extended its defense well but too often Danelius was able to seal off Byron Sanders on the blocks and had open paths to the basket. The extended defense nullified helpside defense. But forcing 22 turnovers – 11 in each half – may have been worth it. And quite frankly, even though Wake shot 65.4% in the second half and led by six at the intermission, it almost worked, as UNC outscored the Deacs by two in the final period. But, 65.4% is still 65.4%. There were some lapses late in possessions, which proves that a team can't afford to play great defense for 33 seconds against a team like Wake. It must play all 35.
Rebounding – Carolina was manhandled on the glass to the tune of a 47-30 Deacon advantage. Wake had 16 offensive boards and UNC had 16 defensive boards. Williams had only two, which was part of the problem. Wake was 17-26 from the floor in the second half and still had SIX offensive rebounds, meaning UNC had just three defensive boards in the final 20 minutes.
Fast break points – Although Carolina forced 22 turnovers, it still had just six fast-break points for the game. How is this possible? Perhaps missed layups are part of the reason.
Ugly stretch part gazillion – Carolina went 7:27 in the first half with just one field goal, as Wake turned a 16-10 deficit into a 29-21 advantage. This has been well documented all season, but it happens in nearly every game and must be discussed each game it happens. And despite all of the other statistical areas that aren't so pretty for UNC, had the Heels managed another couple of buckets during this stretch they likely would have won the game. There just isn't enough screening to get good looks. Ball movement and movement away from the ball was much better on Sunday, but obviously wasn't good enough. While in a drought this club has no answers.
Mat Doherty – For the most part Doherty coached a quality game. However, one must ask why Jackie Manuel was put in the game with 40 seconds left in the first half with UNC in possession, and, then waved off Felton and his mates holding the ball, waiting to make a move in which he did, getting bogged in traffic in the paint before kicking the ball out to Felton for a forced 3 which was blocked. Manuel does nice things for the Heels, but it's mind boggling how the staff either doesn't see his offensive limitations, or doesn't care. Apparently there are no red lights of any kind with this team. Also, why was Noel, a walk on freshman, guarding Wake senior and likely ACC Player of the Year Josh Howard with 22 seconds left and the game tied? Everyone knew Howard was going to take the last shot. He did, made it, drew a foul, and converted the free throw for a 78-75 lead. If the reason Manuel is on the floor so much has to do with his great defense, which few people deny, then why wasn't he guarding Howard? Manuel said it was because he had four fouls. It would only make sense that the number of fouls a player has isn't a factor with 22 seconds left of a tie game.
Talent - Despite its reputation, UNC doesn't have much talent. Felton and McCants are immensely talented basketball players and will likely be great players soon. Williams has nice talent but is hardly on the watch list of any NBA teams. After that where is this so-called talent? Melvin Scott is okay and currently in a slump, but he still can't beat out Manuel who is often a liability on offense. Noel is a great athlete but that doesn't always translate to the court. It may eventually in his case, but he is nowhere near being the basketball player to match his abilities. After a couple of years of devotion solely to hoops he will probably reach that level, but is far from it now. Manuel is also an excellent athlete but has poor hands, doesn't shoot or handle the ball well, and even if he did display a better hoops IQ when on offense he would still be nothing more than a decent player. Byron Sanders, who plays his heart out every night and has a tremendous attitude, isn't an offensive threat of any kind. Damion Grant is just trying to stay healthy, and considering he hasn't played the game for very long, is just a big body with a few decent skills and a lot of heart. Will Johnson and Jonathan Holmes' skills are well documented, and although Johnson should get more PT, few would characterize him as being very talented. Unfortunately, too many fans think just because someone is fast and can jump high they are talented basketball players. That's not always true, as time has shown over and over. Carolina is more talented than last year, but simply doesn't match up to the rest of the ACC other than Clemson and FSU. With a healthy Sean May they would equal or perhaps pass N.C. State, and based on how little players are developing at Virginia these days, maybe UVa as well. Maryland doesn't possess a ton of talent but is very experienced and is the most organized team in the ACC.
The Tar Heels travel to archrival Duke on Wednesday night. Game time is set for 9 p.m. and will be televised nationally by ESPN.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.