Errol: Not Seeing is Believing

There's nothing like a double-digit loss on the road to feel the inexorable pull of gravity on a young team as it falls heavily to earth. The UNC Tar Heels dropped a 92-65 decision to a very good Illinois team, and a large contingent of schizophrenic fans found themselves wondering if the upcoming UNC – Kentucky game will be further validation that last year's debacle was merely a prelude to more horrors.

While it's cute to spout the popular radio sports show bromide that great programs don't re-build, they re-load, the simple fact is that Matt Doherty's Tar Heels are in fact rebuilding. And the sooner fans wake up to that fact the better.

In Tuesday night's road loss to Illinois, North Carolina got 7 minutes of playing time - out of a possible 200 – from the team's juniors and seniors. In the early games of the season, this young team, virtually giddy from their ability to run and move their hands real fast, was forcing turnovers at an alarming rate.

When the turnover well ran dry against Illinois, so did the easy points and suddenly, the young Carolinians found themselves forced to produce consistently on the offensive end of the court. More easily uttered than accomplished with such an inexperienced team.

Numbers will often tell a story that observation cannot reveal.

Using a system I call Total Average, one can determine who on the Tar Heels are really putting pressure on the game in a way that helps the team win. Other IC writers have published similar systems and mine is just a variation that can be used to determine if someone is better than perceived. Or worse. (A perfect example is Vasco Evtimov. In the approximately 17 games he played as a sophomore, his Total Average ran counter to most fans perception of the guy as a player. In other words, he was better than people think.)

After the first 5 games of this season, the total average for the top 9 players is as follows:

May - .834
McCants - .891
Williams - .647
Felton - .548
Manuel - .511
Scott - .488
Johnson - .406
Noel - .255
Sanders - .176

An average of 1.000 is a true star performer. .500 is average.

Last year, for example, the beleaguered Kris Lang and Jason Capel averaged around .800 – .830 for the season. Players like Duke's Michael Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, and the basketball artist formerly known as Jason Williams, all averaged over .900. Truly the mark of a very, very good team.

Total Average can only use numbers drawn from the box score, so it cannot quantify some obviously important aspects of the game. It also cannot quantify the "little things" that can often assist in a players contributing to a win.

But, in my view, while the little things are important, it's those big things – points, rebounds, and assists, etc. – that win games.

And in the Illinois game, the Tar Heels did not produce either the big or the little things. Sean May (.853) did yeoman work and produced as he has in the first five games, and Jawad Williams (.778) bettered his seasonal average.

But Rashad McCants' production dropped off with .636 and Raymond Felton (.211) and Melvin Scott (.077) offered up real stinkers. Byron Sanders and David Noel are struggling to make a significant impact, though Sanders one score was a game effort on a tip in off a missed shot.

The result is a ton of pressure on the top 6 to produce just about all the offense. And it seems with the type of offense the Heels are running these days - good days may be followed by the type of games witnessed on Tuesday night.

The Illinois game was somewhat distressing in how the final minutes unfolded. A young team must learn to fight through the frustration of losing a segment of the game because you never know. Carolina was adrift by double digits late in the Rutgers game but came back to win.

But back to the main point, which is a reminder that this is a rebuilding year for Carolina. A key indication of the direction of this team is not necessarily how many games the team loses but how they lose those games. Are they fighting for every inch of turf? Do they really believe there is hope in the final minutes of a game and they're down by seven.

If the upcoming roller coaster ride of a season is going to be too much to bear for the faint of heart, then look to the numbers. There you may find the clues to both the past and future of this very young Tar Heel team.

Errol is a long-time contributor to Inside Carolina and can be reached at

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