Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Losing Formula

A friend made an interesting point the other day regarding North Carolina's three losses this season. Three names that leap from the box scores of the Tar Heels' losses to Boston College, Wake Forest and Maryland are Tyrese Rice, Jeff Teague and Greivis Vasquez, respectively. Rice had 25 in a 7-point win. Teague scored 34, and the Demon Deacons won by three. And, most recently, Vasquez put up a triple-double, scoring 35 in Maryland's 88-85 win in overtime last Saturday.

The one thing all three have in common?

Marcus Ginyard wasn't guarding any of them.

While many were hopeful that the Tar Heels would run the table en route to their second national championship in five years, it is understood that the team likely was to lose a game or two during the course of a 40+ game season. That said, the circumstances of UNC's three losses this season highlight how important a lock-down defender like Ginyard is to a championship contender. If you look back to the Tar Heels' title run in '05, you notice that Jackie Manuel started 36 of the team's 37 games and averaged more than 20 minutes a game. The guy couldn't throw a golf ball into the ocean from the deck of a boat anchored two miles offshore, but he had unprecidented value. I remember going to games and hearing even "Jackie Manuel's Posse" hold its breath when the ball found its way to an oft-wide-open Manuel around the perimeter in a tight game. Sporadic shouts of "No!," or "Don't shoooooot!" could be heard throughout the arena. But his defensive presence in the face of a go-to scorer for the opposition was paramount for North Carolina.

I think fans and critics alike have all but forgotten the fact that the Tar Heels have been contenders all season - and done so without a starter ... a very important starter. There are other good defenders on the team, but none can compare to Ginyard, who's strength and aggressiveness often have led to frustrated opponents. Defensive prowess can be measured in steals and blocked shots, but still is very difficult to quantify. Altered shots and a scorer's inability to get a clean look at the basket, or at a teammate cutting in that direction, need only happen two or three times in the course of a one-, two- or three-possession game to change the outcome. Now, I'm not saying that Carolina is 27-0 with Ginyard in the lineup, but I am saying that teams would have to find other ways to win.

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