As the Tar Heels keep steamrolling and the Thunder keep free-falling, this little pretend matchup is going to pick up serious movement. I've already heard some people talk about it, but let's really and truly break this one down: Thunder vs. Tar Heels - who wins?
All common sense says, Thunder, because they are pros, the Heels are not. This type of debate has been brought up before with the 2004 USC Trojans vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. The consensus was the Bengals would win because pros are pros for a reason, no matter how good a college team is.
A few ground rules -
1. We have to assume both teams play to their maximum effort. You can't chalk up a loss or win for one side based on, "Well, I think OKC would come out flat" or "Carolina would elevate its game because of the opponent." We can't assume the Thunder wouldn't try very hard for one, out of disrespect for their opponent and two, because of feeling disrespected for playing a college team. All things are equal.
2. No home court advantage - neutral court.
3. The teams are as is. Tyler Zeller is hurt, Chris Wilcox is hurt, D.J. White is out. We could speculate what each player could bring but we have to go with what each team would put on the floor tonight.
4. NBA rules. 24 second shot clock, wider lane, three point line, defensive three seconds, the charge halo, jumping on tie ups, 48 minutes, four quarters, the whole bit. I think this is only fair because I view the Heels as the "challengers" so they should have to step up to the NBA rules. And plus, if we used the college three point line, it just wouldn't be fair to UNC because most pro centers can knock down a 20 footer. I said "most" not "Robert Swift."
5. This is just for funs. I know this won't ever happen, but when your team is 2-21 and looks completely inept at times, why not self-deprecate and have a little larf at their expense. This isn't meant to mock OKC, but just to think about a potential matchup between the two and plus, it gives me something to write about other than, "What OKC needs to do better: everything."
First, let's look at the starting lineup matchups:
Ty Lawson vs. Russell Westbrook
Ty Lawson is a tremendous college point guard. He's extremely quick, handles the ball in the open court as well as anyone and distributes like a pro. He has wonderful tools and plays good man-to-man defense. And he's the same age as Westbrook. But he's hurt by the fact he's just 5'11" and that Westbrook virtually shut down all other college guards he played against last year. Westbrook has steadily improved throughout this season and against NBA defenders, Westbrook can get a shot just about any time he wants it. He doesn't MAKE it all that often, but he can get it. Westbrook gets the edge because of his outrageous athleticism and superior size.
Wayne Ellington vs. Damien Wilkins
A total no-brainer. Damien Wilkins has never been anything more than "nice role player" and Ellington has NBA star potential. He's a true scorer that has one of the most refined, sweetest jump shots I've ever seen at the college level. He slashes, he shoots and he defends. Right now, his scoring numbers are down but the reasons are two-fold: 1) He doesn't need to because there's so much talent around him and 2) because he's averaging five less minutes a game because UNC is blowing out everyone. In college, Wilkins never averaged more than 12.6 a game and at the pro level, he's a "do the little things, score when you're open" kind of guy. Wilkins is a pretty good defender, but like I said, Ellington has serious NBA potential. Ellington would simply outplay him. And he'd have to for UNC to have a chance.
Danny Green vs. Kevin Durant
Before we all just say "Durant" and move on, let's consider what Green does well: defends. That's his calling card at UNC and most nights, he gets the other team's best scorer. He's longer than he looks (6'6") and athletic. He's no slouch scoring either putting up almost 14 a game. But the fact is, Kevin Durant is one of the elite scorers in the NBA and not even the most prolific college defenders could guard him at Texas. Durant would probably score 30 easily, 40 if he wanted to and maybe 50 if he pushed it. He'd stretch Green on the perimeter, post him up, shoot over him and score off the drive. Just no contest.
Deon Thompson vs. Jeff Green
Advantage: Jeff Green
This matchup is similar to the Durant/Danny Green one. Deon Thompson is a very nice player that is coming along and could be a solid pro player. But Jeff Green was one of the five best college players his last year at Georgetown. He got tons of consideration for the Naismith and was a first-team All-American. If this game happened, I might actually predict Jeff Green leading the game in scoring - especially with his new found jump shot. He could score in the post, from outside or get to the free throw line with ease.
Tyler Hansbrough vs. Nick Collison
Hansbrough is like Nick Collison 2.0. He plays virtually the same game, but harder. They both have a little jumper that's a bit inconsistent but you still have to guard them on it. They both get primarily all their points on the blocks either off offensive put-backs or post moves. And both work hard defensively. Hansbrough is probably the better player right now, but the matchup goes to a push because of Collison having been in the league for so many years and having the knowledge of a veteran. If Wilcox were playing, this head-to-head would go to OKC no doubt. Too much strentgh, too much athletic ability. But as it stands, Wilcox is hurt with a dislocated ring finger and is day-to-day.
Carolina: Bobby Frasor, Ed Davis, Will Graves, Larry Drew
Thunder: Earl Watson, Desmond Mason, Johan Petro, Joe Smith
This is where OKC has the biggest advantage. Guys that never play like Kyle Weaver were college stars. The Thunder's bench would torch the Heels.
Why the Tar Heels could win: Because they are dang talented and most importantly, there are no egos and they play like a team. Not one guy on that squad looks like he's thinking about his NBA future or draft day. They are all committed to the goal and it's obvious. They have tons of talent as most of the team is made up of McDonald's All-Americans. Now, I'm not the knee-jerk, hyperbole guy that's ready to say they'll go undefeated or make them a lock to win it all. Lots can happen in a college basketball season and we all know lots can happen in the tourney. But the fact is, this is the best TEAM.
Why the Thunder should win: Because they are pros. Like mentioned in the matchups, most of the Thunder players were either college All-Americans or the top player in his respective team. But what the Thunder has in better talent and skill, it lacks in team chemistry. These guys are still trying to find how to play with each other and how to win. Right now, they just have no idea had to do either. But there's more athleticism, more skill and just all-around better talent and so OKC should win. But Ole Miss should beat Valparaiso, UCONN should beat George Mason and Iowa State should beat Hampton. Should doesn't mean will.
Final score: Oklahoma City 125, North Carolina 90
Carolina just won't be able to stop OKC. There's too many weapons, too much skill and the bench is way deeper. The Heels could probably score a little because OKC is giving up 100 plus already and UNC averages close to that (97.0) in just 40 minutes. But the extended three-point line may slow down some of Carolina's scorers because that shot is probably out of Ty Lawson's and Danny Green's range while they can hit the college three fairly consistently. But the Thunder is better defensively because of size and athleticism. Durant and Jeff Green would likely be able to score at will and Westbrook would be able to slow Lawson's ability to distribute and drive.
Again, just for fun. And it was. Because it was nice to write things about OKC like, "too many weapons," "deeper bench," "more talent," "better defensively." Too bad we can't substitute "North Carolina Tar Heels" for "Memphis Grizzlies." One day. Maybe.