Monday, March 26, 2012

St. Louis sends UNC home empty

I had to recall a conversation I had with our very own Brad Broders after UNC's exit from the NCAA Tournament in 2011, and I told him these exact words:

"If UNC can stay healthy, they will be a Final Four team in 2012."

Sadly, prophetic.

UNC's guards were decimated by injuries with Leslie McDonald out before the season even started, Dexter Strickland's knee injury, and then Kendall Marshall's wrist. Then add in John Henson dealing with a wrist issue, and then an ankle issue against Kansas. That's a lot to overcome.

Before you start saying I am making excuses, I am not. UNC had to go with the bodies they had, and while Stilman White performed very well, the vibe with Marshall at the point is just different. In the end, injuries cost UNC their Final Four shot, and leaves many to wonder "what if."

They will also wonder "what's next?" The only senior Carolina loses of substance is Tyler Zeller (which is a major loss), but Marshall, Henson, and Harrison Barnes are all able to come back. Will they try to do it one more time? I think this group enjoys playing together, but the NBA beckons. All three would be selected, but would they be lottery picks? I am always an advocate for staying in school, but I also understand the reality that a pro sports career window is not guaranteed to be a big one. Personally, I would love to see the underclassmen all return, and watch this team play one more year together. Even if they don't win it all, their NBA stock would be through the roof. If they decide to go pro, I wish them well.

Austin Rivers has decided to head to the NBA, he will hire an agent, and thus end his college career. How ready for the next level is Rivers? Between now and the draft, the word "upside" will be (over)used to describe every underclassman worth anything heading to the Draft. I am not sure Rivers body is ready for the rigors, but he won't be thrust into a starters role right out of the box (at least that is my guess). He needs to add some muscle to his frame, but if you ask his father, Doc Rivers, Austin's game is ready. Doc telling our cameras on Monday night that the decision could have gone either way, and that he is proud of his son. He should be.

Back to the NCAA Tourney, as for the remaining teams, I had Kentucky winning it all before the dance started, and after watching them blitz through their first four games, I see no reason to think they won't be cutting down the nets next Monday in New Orleans.

Hope to see you contribute to our new segment on Ford Sports Night. We call it point and shoot, and here's how you do it!

Mike Solarte

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