Matt Doherty – Doherty deserves a big fat "A" for a brilliant game plan. His ability to scout the opposition and develop an excellent defensive game plan has never been doubted in this space, but the overall package was there on Wednesday, a sure sign he is evolving as a coach. The offensive philosophy was obviously more than tweaked, as evidenced by the increased movement away from the ball, cutting, and ball movement. The result was an extremely unselfish effort in which everyone was involved. He clearly made the right decision by benching Rashad McCants – argue it if you will but the results tell this tale – and he appears to have the entire team on the same page, which is also a result of the benching. A point needed to be made, and he did it. He also appears to understand the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
Raymond Felton – Great is a word not thrown around loosely in this space, but Felton is developing into a great point guard. Not good or very good, but great. He's not there yet, but will be some time next season. He is a great ballhandler, has found his stroke, and combines leadership, ballhandling, passing and scoring so well that as a point guard he scored 21 points and never looked selfish. He is a warrior, a quality defender, and a fighter. His mates listen to his words.
Rashad McCants – McCants brought back the "X" and with it came his game. He was sensational, and most impressive is how he let the game come to him, was completely unselfish, and guess what? He still scored (21 points) above his average. His defense was very good, and he delivered five assists, but most encouraging for UNC fans is that his attitude appeared to be back and he was focused.
Jackie Manuel – Manuel had a great floor game. He finished with 12 points and a career high nine rebounds, but his attitude and effort were his greatest strengths on Wednesday. This kid can flat out play defense, and when his mates are efficient his mistakes on offense are tolerable.
David Noel – Noel played a terrific floor game, too, and although he finished with only four points, he had five assists and just one turnover, and did a sensational job making decisions. You can just see his hoops IQ go up with every game.
Will Johnson – Johnson had a terrific seven minutes, grabbing four rebounds and nailing a 3-pointer less than 20 seconds after shooting an air ball. That's the kind of maturity and confidence he can bring to the floor, which is why he deserves decent minutes each game. And to those who yelled ignorant remarks at him during the game, learn the game and maybe you will appreciate what he does on the floor. Being super fast and jumping high aren't the only prerequisites to contributing to a team. He's not McCants or Felton, but he does add to the team.
Pressure defense – The pressure defense out of the gate flustered Virginia. It took the Cavs about 10 minutes to recover, and then in the second half UNC threw it at them again and forced more UVa mistakes. Overall, Carolina caused 21 turnovers, of which they turned into 20 points. The small lineup made this possible and worked to near perfection.
Offensive movement – The Heels moved very well without the ball, and actually regularly cut to the basket, a rare sight for them this season. The Heels got at least four open layups in half court sets in the first half alone. Perhaps this is one reason why UNC had 20 assists on their 31 field goals.
Efficiency – The Heels were extremely efficient assisting on 20 of 31 field goals while turning the ball over just 13 times. Three different players registered five assists, and four others had at least one. UNC shot over 50 percent (50.8% on 31-61) for only the second time this year (Penn State was the other time), and were 10-22 (45.5%) from 3-point range. They also turned 10 steals (21 forced turnovers) into 20 points.
Mental toughness - This club is clearly mentally tough. There have been a few occasions when Doherty could have lost this bunch – after the UK loss, the Iona loss when Williams was sick, Melvin Scott was suspended, and Sean May was injured, after the loss at Virginia with the pressure of the Clemson game mounting, and a couple of weeks ago after the loss at Tech with the McCants issue hitting the fan. Yet they stayed together, led by Doherty of course, but also Williams and Felton. In addition credit belongs to seniors Johnson and Jonathan Holmes for keeping a positive attitude. It takes tremendous mental toughness to get through what many of these kids have, especially the sophomores, who have experienced very few positives as Tar Heels.
Fans - While many of the fans may have been late, they were terrific once at the arena. Carolina's fans deserve tremendous kudos for their involvement in the games this year. They have really given the team extra push it has sometimes needed. These eyes actually witnessed what appeared to be a 50-year-old woman giving McCants the "X" sign late in the second half. A real shocker for the Chapel Hill Sam Cassell knew so well.
Free throws - Carolina was 9-14 (64.3%) from the line, but it could be viewed worse, as they missed three straight front ends of one-and-ones in the second half. Some coaches prefer to chalk a missed front end as an 0-2 from the line, thus UNC was 9-17.
Last second shots - The Heels did get a quality look from Melvin Scott with the shot clock winding down in the second half, but still got poor looks most of the time in that scenario. A Felton shake-and-bake 24-foot jumper with a hand in his face isn't a quality shot, and neither is a baseline 3 by Noel. The Durham freshman is a nice player that is improving daily, but he shouldn't yet be the option in that scenario.
Rebounding - The Heels were outrebounded once again, this time 42-34 by the Wahos. UVa had 18 offensive boards, which it converted into 22 second-chance points. Do the smaller Heels begin most games with a disadvantage inside? Yes. Should they be expected to hold their own on the glass every game? No. But an eight-rebound deficit is still an eight-rebound deficit.
Inbounds plays – The Heels did get a basket off an inbounds pass against FSU, but other than that, it's been a while since they have generated a nice look inbounding the ball. On Wednesday they were forced to call a timeout and a moment later threw a long pass near midcourt just to get the ball in. Maybe they should implement some stack sets, which would be more difficult to defend than one or two guys barely moving.
Droughts - It wasn't as bad as usual, but Carolina still only managed to score nine points in the final 11:05 of the first half after putting up 28 in the first 8:55. It's somewhat unfair to compare the segments because hot runs are part of the game, and overall the stretches balanced out the Heels' half. Yet, they still had just three baskets in that stretch.
Blown leads - Just like in the UConn game, the Heels blew a huge early lead. But, like Melvin Scott and Jawad Williams said, runs are part of the game and when a team starts so hot it gives the opposition plenty of time to chip away at the lead, just like the Huskies and Wahos did. But, UNC did respond to both team's runs positively and notched victories.
Fans – I know it can be difficult to get to the Smith Center for a 7 p.m. tip, so that means those going to the game should leave work 15-20 minutes early instead. The Heels only play five or six 7 p.m. games a year, so that's not too much to ask. But lets be serious for a second, the start time is not much of an excuse because fans are late to 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. starts, too. I know fans that drive for every game from Wilmington and are always there before the tip, regardless of the day of the week or the tip time. If it really matters to you then get there on time.
The Tar Heels take their two-game winning streak to Death Valley on Saturday to face Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum. This is an extremely dangerous game and consequently has become, to this point, the most important game of the season. A loss and UNC's NCAA backs are up against a huge wall. A win and the Heels are back in the hunt. Game time is 1 p.m. and will be televised by Raycom.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.