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November 15, 2011

Inside job

One of the best statistics from the first two games for the top-ranked Tar Heel basketball team is that out of 109 field goals attempted only 19 have come from behind the 3-point stripe.

This team has gone to its strength in the first two games, pounding the ball down low to attack the basket and taking short jump shots. With the immense size advantage the Tar Heels will hold against most teams, attempting 3-pointers is not nearly as important as television commentators and many fans say.

The first game was a memorable experience for all involved, playing on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. The setting was as unusual as it will get for a basketball game, and the Tar Heels had to play a tough, tough Michigan State club.

"Meeting the president was the highlight of my trip," junior guard Dexter Strickland said, "just having the opportunity to shake his hand."

As for the game, the Spartans knocked Carolina around on the backboards. This experience should remind UNC to block out and play strong down low for the rest of the year.

Seeing what they can accomplish by going to their big guys on offense is going to make this a tough team to defend.

"We know we have to do a better job rebounding than we did against Michigan State," Coach Roy Williams said. "I was impressed with our ability to shoot the ball outdoors. Kids don't play outdoors. The wind was blowing. But we were one missed shot away from shooting 50 percent."

Carolina's field-goal percentage after the first two games is 53.3 percent. Maintaining that percentage may not be as difficult as some might think so long as UNC continues to utilize Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo along the front line.

Henson showed some polished offensive skills that were not there his first two seasons.

"I saw him work on it all summer," Strickland said. "If you work on it, you're going to be good at it. He stepped up and hit some big shots. I'm proud for him.

"It brings attention off Harrison, off Z, off me, even Kendall [Marshall]," Strickland said.

Having Barnes attack in the lane more and spend less time standing around the 3-point stripe is going to make this team better. The biggest reason is the more he attacks the rim, the far greater number of free throws he will shoot.

The same goes for the rest of the front line.

Zeller attempted 19 free throws and Barnes 15 in the first two games as UNC shot a total of 58. The Tar Heels certainly need to focus at the line a little better as their percentage at this point is just 69 percent.

A realistic goal would be to raise that to at least 75 percent. As many free throws as this team is going to attempt, making three out of four would be devastating to the opposition.

The next game will be against Mississippi Valley State on Sunday at the Smith Center at 2 p.m.

Williams said he does not think his team will underestimate Delta Devils.

"I think there will be some trust there," Williams said. "If I tell them something, they will trust that. Not that you need to do it, but if you look at Sports Illustrated, Mississippi Valley State is picked to make the tournament.

"That was a surprise to me. I will mention that to them. You have to understand we're going to get a good shot, if not the best shot, from everybody we play."

Strickland said that he fully expects the experience of this team from the past two seasons to have a positive affect on how it approaches Sunday's game.

"We're going to approach like we did our first two games, go out there ready to play and not underestimate any team," Strickland said.


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