As a North Carolina fan in New York, I haven't had the chance to go see the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. So, when Carolina came to Madison Square Garden to play Rutgers, I jumped at the chance to finally see Roy Williams' bunch. It took 24 years, but seeing UNC was a highlight for me as a fan before their 78-55 victory against the Scarlet Knights. Enough about me, though. Here are the lasting impressions from this one.
Rutgers is still a work in progress.
While it still amazes me to see just how much Mike Rice has turned this team around in just two months, the Scarlet Knights are not reflecting their 9-3 record at the moment. Granted, Rutgers has had some solid games against Miami and St. Peter's among others, but this effort last night was a season low so far. Jonathan Mitchell had 20 in the losing effort, but the only highlight for Rutgers in the first half was Rice tossing his jacket with 14:30 left in the opening stanza. All in all, it will be a long Big East season for Rutgers even with immediate improvement.
Same name, different personality.
While Seton Hall's Robert Mitchell was forced to exit stage left, Jonathan Mitchell (no relation) is a completely different type of player. His 20-point game not only led all scorers, but it was done in one of the quietest fashions possible. A former Florida transfer, Mitchell has thrived under Rice and has become a potent mid-range shooter for the Knights. I'm not sure if anyone has made this comparison yet, but Mitchell really does remind me of former Villanova and current Portland Trail Blazers forward Dante Cunningham, except Mitchell has a better stroke from outside.
Something for everyone.
Last night at the Garden provided just that as both Rice and Roy Williams decided to play their walk-ons in the final minutes. Even with the outcome of the game in hand, it was nice to see both teams empty the benches inside the Mecca of college basketball, a venue neither frequents often. On the contrary, I'm not sure if I've seen anything more surreal than the block "R" that serves as the Rutgers University logo occupying halfcourt at the World's Most Famous Arena.
Carolina is no different from Rutgers.
There were times last night that the Tar Heels looked like a team capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. However, just as frequent were the stretches where North Carolina couldn't finish in transition and put the game away. This type of play will be a detriment come ACC season if Roy's boys can't put it all together. The Tar Heels won by 23, which is still good to see; but last night could have been a 40-point win with better execution.
This isn't your typical UNC squad.
Usually, there is one guy that makes the motor run for the Tar Heels. (Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, even as far back as Michael Jordan) This year, Roy Williams is led by a number of role players since Harrison Barnes and John Henson are still developing and have not come into their own. Leslie McDonald led the team with 14 off the bench while Justin Watts added 11, a positive for games against Duke and Maryland where the Heels will need all hands on deck.