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.