Thursday, January 5, 2012

season preview: North Carolina

North Carolina Tar Heels

Media prediction: 1st

Last season:

Record: 29-8 (14-2) - ACC 1st seed
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
KenPom: 12th of 345

Returning scoring: 81.7%
Returning rebounding: 76.1%
Returning assists: 79.2%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: F John Henson, C Tyler Zeller, F Harrison Barnes
3rd team: G Kendall Marshall
HM: none
Rookie: G Kendall Marshall, F Harrison Barnes
Defensive: F John Henson

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Kendall Marshall (So.)
SG: Dexter Strickland (Jr.)
SF: Harrison Barnes (So.)
PF: John Henson (Jr.)
C: Tyler Zeller (Sr.)


G Reggie Bullock (So.)
G P.J. Hairston (Fr.)
F James Michael McAdoo (Fr.)
G Justin Watts (Sr.)

Coach: Roy Williams (9th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Duke, Maryland, Miami, NC State, Virginia
Once: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Last year, when I did my Duke preview, I decided there was hardly any point to it.  So I mailed it in, declaring that Duke was pretty much unstoppable regardless of how you broke it down and if they didn't make the Final Four it'd be a major, major disappointment.  So of course, they didn't make the Final Four.  In an effort to jinx Carolina in a similar fashion, I hereby declare them automatic Final Four material.  You don't really need me to tell you the various ways in which that lineup can kick your ass anyway.  The NBA lockout no doubt had something do with it, as it probably scared Harrison Barnes and various other Heels back to school for another year to ride out the storm.  Now the whole crew is back and they better do something worth doing in the tournament so the ACC doesn't look like a top-to-bottom mess.  Instead of breaking down North Carolina, let's talk RPI instead.

UVA's RPI has oscillated pretty wildly between games, which you'd expect for a small sample size.  After dispatching LSU and successfully navigating the OOC schedule, we now sit at 47th.  If we stay there through the ACC season, is that good enough for a tournament berth?  Yes, because we're an ACC team, not a mid-major one.  Mid-majors at this level are looking at a 50/50 proposition; high-majors tend to be given 8 seeds.

However, it's a precarious perch.  UVA's nonconference strength of schedule is 261st right now, worst among the RPI top 50.  That means no screwing around in the ACC.  My best guess is that an 8-8 record in-conference would send us to Hokieland - that dark place where you sit in front of the TV (or worse, Jumbotron) on Selection Sunday and never hear your name, until the analysts ask the committee member "why not Virginia?"  We don't wanna be Greenberged.

Our schedule does not put us in a happy place, because we get all the crap teams just once.  If you figure that BC, Wake, GT, and Clemson are the four worst teams (I do) and that we can chalk those up as wins relatively safely (I do) that gives us five wins.  (Only Clemson shows up twice.)  And if UNC and Duke are losses, that makes us 5-3 with eight tossups.  Well, not tossups.  We should be better than most of those teams - those teams being Miami, FSU, NC State, Maryland, and VT.  That doesn't mean we'll win all those games, but assuming I'm right about the other half of the schedule, even 4-4 would get us to the tournament.  Worse than 4-4 in those eight games, and you're really sweating Selection Sunday.

In a normal year, 9-7 in the ACC would basically be an automatic selection, but this isn't a normal year, it's definitely a drought year.  And we didn't help ourselves by scheduling mainly middle-to-bottom teams in their respective conferences.  Michigan is the best team we've played, but unfortunately the Big Ten is maybe the strongest top-to-bottom conference in the league.  LSU and Oregon are middling teams.  So are Drake and TCU and UWGB.   George Mason should finish in the top third of the CAA, but the CAA is terrible this year. 

I think the lesson is this: don't bother with the really bad teams.  Take Winthrop.  That is going to be a really bad, bottom-feeding team, in the Big South.  They're 4-10.  Campbell is also in the Big South, and is 9-6.  Would Campbell be any harder to beat than Winthrop?  I doubt it.  But my very rough calculations with the RPI formula tell me that if we could swap the two on our schedule, it'd be worth a jump from 47th to 38th, right now.  Isn't that kind of a big deal?  That's kind of a big deal.  One swap like that would have less of an impact after we double the number of teams on our resume by playing the ACC season, but four such swaps would make a dent in things.  I mean, when a team went 4-26 last year?  Don't put 'em on the schedule.  Just don't do it.

Anyway, that was kind of a tangent.  The hand we're dealt is one that we have to play correctly throughout the season.  As we stand right now, a lot of people are calling UVA the third-best team in the conference.  Play like it, and nobody will care much about the strength of schedule and we'll end up with a nice five seed (I know, I know.)  Don't play like it and we'll be nervously testing the strength of our bubble in March.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Boston College's schedule has to be the easiest in the ACC. Not that it will matter. They play UNC, Duke, and UVa each only once.