Tommy: Challenges for the New Year

New Year's Day 2003. Out with the old, in with the new. Forgive me if I don't miss the Tar Heels' 2002.

For Carolina fans, not mourning the passing of 2002 should be a collective feeling. Even with the basketball team's fast start this season, the hoopsters could manage only 11 total wins in all of '02. The last time the hardwood Heels went 365 days with fewer wins was when some coach named Dean managed only 10 wins during the calendar year of 1962.

Since it is New Year's, I resolve to not think or write about the past 365 days, at least how it relates to Carolina basketball. There are some things just better left alone. (Of course, you know what they say about ‘resolutions.')

But while we are on the subject of resolutions, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one more. I hope Coach Matt Doherty, despite his love for playing in New York City, will resolve to avoid scheduling future matchups against area schools in Madison Square Garden. It's one thing to play in the Preseason NIT, it's quite another to face Iona or St. John's in their backyards. The home cooking Friday night and Saturday, while never an excuse, was enough to make even those with iron stomachs sick.


Regardless of the numerous rumors about Coach Doherty and the Carolina team of late, one thing is not in dispute. This Carolina basketball team hasn't been the same since the second half at Illinois. The fire, the joy of playing and the exciting play has vanished and been replaced with a grind it out style.

The Tar Heels have shown they can win the grinder type game (ODU, FSU and St. John's), though doing so without a post presence will be, to use probably the understatement of the year, extremely challenging. Damion Grant and Byron Sanders will provide what they can which, save for Sanders' nice performance down in Tallahassee, has not been much so far. I've said all year that these two big men will play vital roles in how successful this season is and that was with Sean May on the floor.

Now that May is on the shelf for two months, Sanders and Grant must step up. Depending on whom you talk to, that will either happen gradually, or not at all. That said, not only are the Heels the youngest team in the nation, they may now be the one of the smallest. Regardless, Jawad Williams and David Noel become Carolina's main men in the middle on defense. While I love each player's game, I don't envy either. (Take Noel – reciever to walk-on to possibly Carolina's starting center?!) Both are suited for the wing though both can expect long tough nights on the interior from now on.

So now it's up to Matt Doherty and staff to rally the troops in preparation for the rest of the season. The fire the Heels showed through the Stanford game must return for Carolina to have more than mediocre success against the ever-improving ACC. A team simply cannot go through the motions and expect to have any success in this league. The staff also has their hands full in devising game plans to give the Heels a shot in every game. Judging from last season's ender against Duke, Doherty is capable and even without the big man from Indiana, the Heels are not lacking for overall talent.

One thing is crystal clear. This Carolina team, with or without Sean May, can beat anyone in the land on any given night. Unfortunately, as proven with the defeat at the hands of Iona (a team with losses to Fla. International, Fairfield, Akron and now Manhattan), this Carolina team can also lose to anyone at any time.

An exciting and gut wrenching four months awaits the Heels and those that follow them. Someone pass the Pepto.

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