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February 6, 2011If there was a chance Carolina might have a letdown after steamrolling Boston College 106-74 earlier in the week, the departure of Larry Drew II more than likely eliminated it.
No. 23 UNC (16-5, 6-1 in the ACC) will play Florida State (16-6, 6-2) at the Smith Center at 2 p.m. today. A victory against FSU could pit Carolina against Duke for first place in the ACC standings on Wednesday in Durham.
Before the Tar Heels can think about Duke, though, they must show they can win without Drew.
Drew quit the team on Friday. Coach Roy Williams had pulled Drew from the starting lineup and put Kendall Marshall in his place. Drew had continued to play a significant role. He won the defensive player of the game award twice after being benched. The minutes were split almost evenly between the two point guards as well.
There is little doubt the Tar Heels will want to prove this team is just as capable, even with Drew quitting in the middle of the conference season. With all the talent still on the roster, there is no reason Carolina cannot keep winning.
It will not be easy this afternoon, however.
FSU has proven itself capable by handing defending national champion Duke one of its only two losses this season. The Seminoles' 6-2 start in the conference is also a strong statement.
Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton's teams play tough defense and are usually physical. The Seminoles are second in the conference in points allowed, holding teams to 60.6 per game. They are tops in field-goal percentage defense at 35.5.
The Seminoles defeated Carolina easily at the Smith Center a year ago, 77-67. FSU led by double digits most of the day.
This is a different UNC team than a year ago, even with the loss of Drew. Freshman Harrison Barnes has started to evolve into the player people expected when he signed out of Ames, Iowa. He hit the winning basket against Miami recently and then scored more than 20 points against N.C. State and Boston College.
Barnes shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of the last two games.
John Henson has been huge figuratively and literally of late. He scored 13 points to go with seven rebounds and two blocks against the Eagles.
Against N.C. State, Henson showed just how much of an impact he is capable of making. He scored 16 points to go with 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
The interest today, though, will lay with who gets the most time as backup point guard to Marshall, now that Drew has left Chapel Hill.
The likely candidate is Dexter Strickland, who played at the point a year ago. Strickland's speed could help Carolina keep its fastbreak going in high gear, if he can combine good decisions with his acceleration.
Sophomore Leslie McDonald is also capable of sharing the ball-handling duties. Plus, McDonald and freshman Reggie Bullock will most likely share in the minutes Drew will no longer be utilizing.
Since Williams switched point guards in the starting lineup, Carolina's point production has grown. UNC has scored more points in each of its last three games. The Tar Heels scored 74 in a win against Miami, 84 in a victory against N.C. State and then 106 at Boston College.
The Tar Heels shot 47 percent or better as a team in each of those games, topping out at 57 percent against the Eagles.
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