You’re taught to not hold grudges, try telling that to a Tar Heel about Creighton University. They have been holding resentment to the Big East team for almost a decade now. Here is a trip down memory lane for the 2011-2012 season for the University of North Carolina Basketball Team, including highlights, interviews and a poll with your opinion on what could have been…
Heading into the 2011-2012 season, UNC was ranked the number one team on pretty much every poll in the country and the expectations were high (as always). Before the season started, the comparisons with 2005 and 2009 were all over major sports networks.
The team was led by Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller (all four of them were drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft 2012). Although it was not just a four-man show, the Tar Heels had depth. Dexter Strickland (now known as Baden Jaxen) and Reggie Bullock provided great cover in the back-court and an unbelievable freshman duo of PJ Hairston and James Michael McAdoo would be household names across North Carolina in years to come.
This was the most talented team since the 2009 National Champions, there was so much excitement around North Carolina before a ball was even tipped. Harrison Barnes deciding to not leave for the NBA Draft after his freshman season was the start of it all. The number 1 High School recruit committed to the University of North Carolina for the 2010-2011 season and he could have easily declared for the NBA Draft in 2011 and been a very high pick. Lucky for Tar Heel fans, he stayed an extra year. Harrison Barnes alongside John Henson were the Pre-Season ACC Players of the Year.
You can have all the talent on the court and in my opinion, you can have the greatest coach of all-time in college basketball in Coach Roy Williams, but you can only control what you can control. UNC could not control some of the outcomes that season.
Before the season started, Leslie McDonald tore his ACL in a Pro-AM in Durham and therefore red-shirted the entire season. McDonald was averaging 7 PPG the year before, with 51 three-pointers made and would have been a great threat on the wings. It was a season of injuries.
Fast forward a few months to January and UNC travelled up to Hokies Land and took on Virginia Tech. The plan was set for an easy win away from home and that was the case, sadly that game will be remembered for Dexter Strickland driving to the basket and tearing his ACL and was out for the remainder of the season. That’s two ACL tears in one season for the Tar Heels. At the time, Strickland was second in assists for the team and leading UNC in steals per game. THIS WAS A HUGE BLOW!
Dexter Strickland now goes by Baden Jaxen and he was the latest guest on the Ceiling is the Roof Podcast, listen to Baden talk about the 2011-2012 team and memories from his time at UNC below:
North Carolina was still 15-3 heading into their first battle of Tobacco Road that season. UNC’s three losses came to UNLV at Las Vegas, a loss to #1 Kentucky in Lexington and an awful loss to FSU in Tallahassee.
The Tar Heels nevertheless still had the talent of their four stars, (Barnes, Marshall, Henson and Zeller) and were on a run in the ACC after the loss to FSU. North Carolina’s front-court was a problem, John Henson won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award and Tyler Zeller took home the ACC Player of the Year for the 2011/2012 season. Their numbers did the talking, Henson recorded 101 blocks and 259 defensive rebounds, while Zeller brought in 219 defensive rebounds and 146 offensive rebounds that season (3rd most ORPG all-time for UNC).
February 8, 2012, UNC vs Dook at Chapel Hill, (that’s up there as one of my most-hated games as a Tar Heel fan) and that put a stop to North Carolina’s run with a buzzer-beater from Austin Rivers… I can still see it now. *sigh*
In February, UNC was ranked #5, #8, #7 then #6 after going 7-1 and were steam-rolling their way into March and was able to get revenge over the team in Durham on their court with a blockbuster game from Kendall Marshall with a 20-10 performance. Personally, up there as one of my favourite games.
The University of North Carolina Tar Heels were on a high, they just beat Duke at their place and were on a seven-game win streak. Everything was going so well entering the ACC Tournament and UNC’s first game was the University of Maryland in the Quarter Finals, ending in an 85-69 win. Although, the biggest takeaway from the game was another injury, with John Henson landing badly onto his wrist and would miss the remainder of the ACC Tournament.
Even without J-Hook, UNC took down Maryland and NC State before they met Florida State in the final. In January, FSU embarrassed UNC and in the ACC Final, they got the better of this talented Tar Heel team again and couldn’t take down Leonard Hamilton’s men.
It wasn’t the greatest end to the ACC and heading into New Orleans for March Madness, nonetheless, the Tar Heels were ranked Number 4 in the country and were a Number 1 seed in the tournament. Still without John Henson and of course, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald from injuries earlier on in the year, UNC comfortably beat Vermont in the first game of the NCAA Tournament and were onto the second round…
The Tar Heels just received the news before their second-round game against Creighton that the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, John Henson will be fit to play, UNC will have their four stars back on the court; Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall. There was belief again and the Tar Heel Nation was thinking that they could go all the way to ‘One Shining Moment’.
In Greensboro, John Henson was back against Creighton, blocking shots and grabbing boards. UNC was able to contain Doug McDermott and everything was going so well. Although, as you’ve been reading… it was the season of the uncontrollable and mid-way through the second half, the leader of UNC’s fast-paced attack, Kendall Marshall headed towards the basket before a hard foul from Ethan Wragge knocked Marshall mid-air to the ground for a nasty fall. Marshall did get up, knocked down one out of two free throws and continued the game for a further seven minutes until he headed to the bench. It was confirmed that Kendall Marshall fractured the scaphoid bone in his right wrist and likely he will not suit up for the Tar Heels again this season.
For a moment, the band was back together, UNC was rolling and then, the leader of the famous Carolina offence was taken out with a horrific foul. A lot of people would have said that Kendall Marshall was an irreplaceable member of the team. When John Henson was out, we still had the freshman phenom James Michael McAdoo, when Baden Jaxen (Dexter Strickland) went down we still had a future NBA veteran in Reggie Bullock, but Kendall’s shoes were so big to be filled.
The Tar Heel Nation got together and showed their support for Kendall Marshall with fans posting photos and going to games with Marshall’s Number 5 wrote onto the wrists… everyone knew UNC was going to miss their Point Guard and wanted to show their appreciation for Kendall Marshall.
UNC did move on and up-stepped backup point guard Stilman White, who led the North Carolina back-court against Ohio University. White played for 32 minutes (three times more than his previous high) and dished out six assists without any turnovers. Although, the game did come close and UNC did need overtime to get past Ohio. Zeller had a career-high 22 rebounds with 20 points, while Reggie Bullock had 17 and 10. UNC live for another day, but it was obvious they missed Marshall.
Kendall Marshall had a record-breaking season with 351 assists, the closest to that total of assists in one season is Ed Cota in 1999-2000 with 284. Marshall averaged 9.8 APG, again no one else has ever had more than 8.1 APG through a season. Marshall will forever go down as one of the greatest Point Guards to play for the University of North Carolina and his presence was missed in the NCAA Tournament.
The next challenge for the Tar Heels was Kansas, Roy Williams’ former team. Since Coach Williams left Kansas, he’s only faced Kansas once and that previous encounter was in the 2008 Final Four… UNC fans will know that didn’t end well for the Tar Heels.
Yet again, Coach Williams was greeted with boos from the Jayhawks fans and knew it was going to be no easy competition. The game was tied going in at the half, but the second-half UNC were no match for Kansas and went 7-31 from the field and six turnovers. UNC fell at the Elite Eight and we always will wonder what could have been…?
If… Leslie McDonald played that season and could offer more depth from outside of three.
If… Baden Jaxen (Dexter Strickland) didn’t get injured and the steals per game leader helped out in the back-court.
If… John Henson didn’t miss those few games leading up to NCAA Tournament and had even more good games under his belt.
If… Kendall Marshall, the leader of the offence didn’t get injured and continued to lead UNC throughout March.
University of North Carolina’s Men’s Basketball Team from 2011/2012 will forever be one of the biggest “what-if” teams and so many believe that this team would have gone all the way.
Have you listened to the Ceiling is the Roof Podcast yet? It’s a new interview-style podcast with former UNC basketball players as guests every episode. It launched in April and during the Season One, the guests have included Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Marcus Ginyard, Jawad Williams, Deon Thompson, Bobby Frasor, Nate Britt, Justin Pierce, Leslie McDonald, Brandon Robinson and Baden Jaxen.
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Baden Jaxen formerly known as Dexter Strickland was the latest guest on the show to talk about his time at UNC:
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