Board Concerns

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Defense was the primary focal point for top-ranked North Carolina heading into the 2008-09 season, but while Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard spend time occupying seats on the bench, rebounding has become an emphasis for the Tar Heels, especially with Kentucky's arrival on Tuesday.

Hansbrough led the ACC in rebounding last season, pulling down 10.2 boards a game, while Ginyard's contributions (4.5) were critical from his wing position. With neither player in the lineup for Saturday's season opener against Penn, the Tar Heels did not impress in outrebounding a smaller opponent, 42-32.

"We've got to do a better job rebounding the basketball, particularly on the offensive end," head coach Roy Williams said during Monday's press conference. "When we shoot 33 percent in the second half, you ought to get more offensive rebounds."

The Tar Heels were dominant on the glass last season, posting a +11.0 rebounding margin with Hansbrough leading the way. But Williams indicated on Monday that his reigning national player of the year would not play on Tuesday night against Kentucky, while adding that Ginyard's recovery process is currently behind schedule.

While their points can be spread out across a number of different players, it's primarily the post players that need to assume the rebounding role. Freshman forward Ed Davis met that challenge on Saturday with 14 rebounds, but junior forward Deon Thompson (seven) and freshman center Tyler Zeller (two) drew the ire of their head coach.

"I told 'Big Z,' I said, 'Hey, you've got to get more than two rebounds," Williams said. "It's something for everybody. Deon's got to get more than seven. That's the fact of the whole thing right there."

Thompson knows that it's his responsibility to take the brunt of the rebounding responsibilities while his teammates remain on the sideline.

"That's what Coach is emphasizing the most right now, and that's what we're going to have to do against a team like Kentucky with their size [in the post]," Thompson said.

The Wildcats ranked seventh in the SEC last season in rebounding margin (+1.5), and return their top two rebounders in Patrick Patterson (7.3 rebound per game) and Perry Stevenson (6.0). Patterson pulled down nine rebounds in Kentucky's loss to UNC last season, while Stevenson grabbed three of his own in a game that North Carolina controlled the boards, 42-31. But that was also with Hansbrough and Ginyard combining for 15 rebounds.

Zeller started in place of Hansbrough on Saturday, scoring 18 points in his debut. When asked about Davis possibly starting over Zeller because of his rebounding efforts, Williams indicated that he didn't anticipate a change because he had admittedly not thought much about it, but he did say Davis' performance "earned him a lot of opportunities to go out and play."

"[Davis] does have good timing, he does have an ability to jump [and] he does get to the backboards, so you add all of those things together and that's how you get 14," Williams said.

A silver lining in Hansbrough's absence is the ability for the freshmen post players to learn on the job before North Carolina gets too deep into the season.

"I've always felt that if you think a guy is going to be player down the line, it helps him to play early, play his freshman year," Williams said. "Last year, we had Deon and Tyler and Alex, and throughout the course of the season, Deon and Alex got better and better and more experienced. And now, all of a sudden, we have Deon and some inexperienced guys. So I do think it is extremely important to get them as many minutes as you possibly can in game-type scenarios, because we can't simulate in practice what we faced against Penn."

Patterson's sheer size and strength will provide a solid test for Thompson and his freshman teammates in the post, but that challenge may quickly pay dividends, as the Tar Heels will presumably play two top-10 programs in the next 16 days – either No. 7 Texas or No. 8 Notre Dame in the Maui Invitational next week and No. 5 Michigan State at Ford Field in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3.

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