The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Experienced frontcourt returns for UNC

For a team many have dubbed the unquestioned favorite to cut down the nets in New Orleans this April, the North Carolina men’s basketball team sure has had to produce a bevy of answers during the preseason media frenzy.

Many folks have wondered about Harrison Barnes’ offensive efficiency. Others have questioned how the Tar Heels plan to threaten from beyond the 3-point arc with Leslie McDonald sidelined for the forseeable future. Still more have expressed doubts about Kendall Marshall’s ability to withstand an entire season as UNC’s only experienced point guard.

But few, if any, have had much to ask of the Tar Heels’ biggest men. And after the fashion in which John Henson and Tyler Zeller finished last season, it seems there is little doubt as to what the pair can produce down low in the 2011-12 campaign.

In the final half of the 2010-11 season, Henson and Zeller produced rebounds and points with alarming consistency. During the course of the last 16 games, Henson recorded 10 or more rebounds 15 different times. His only failing? A nine-board performance against Kentucky.

Zeller, meanwhile, led the Tar Heels in scoring 15 times during the season — two more times than Barnes — and poured in 10-plus points in 32 of 37 contests.

Defensively, the same held true. Henson, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, registered blocks in all but five of UNC’s games, swatting five or more 11 times. Despite this, UNC’s own postgame defensive accolades more often went to Zeller.

“Z is philosophically in the right spot all the time,” coach Roy Williams said. “John may be completely out of position, but still has the ability to block the shot and abruptly change the play.”

Williams’ words cut to the heart of what has become an interesting paradox for Henson. Though Zeller’s consistency is not surprising given his fundamental approach and polished skill set, Henson produced at a steady clip with a far less refined approach, using his athleticism to generate much of his offense.

But heading into the 2011-12 season, Henson would prefer to deliver in more traditional ways.

“Offensively, you want to be a dependable player, and that’s what I’m working on being for my teammates,” Henson said. “I think if I get the ball down there, I can do a little more than I could do last year.”

Even if Henson’s development proves only a marginal improvement from a season ago, he, Zeller, do-it-all freshman James Michael McAdoo and shot-swatting rookie Desmond Hubert comprise one of the top post contingents in the country. Few are debating that.

But together, the Tar Heels’ big men will help erase some of UNC’s major question marks this season.

With defenses forced to sag on UNC’s big men, Barnes should find plenty of room to operate on the perimeter and in the high post area, especially against zone schemes. This should also free up more open looks for Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston, both of whom appeared capable of filling it up from deep in a combined 6-for-11 performance from three against UNC-Pembroke. A reliable post presence will also offer Marshall a safety valve to relieve pressure in tight spots.

And although not many have been quizzing the Tar Heels’ frontcourt prior to the season, there will be plenty asked of UNC’s big men during it.

Contact the Sports Editor at

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.