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January 24, 2008
Wetzel: Tough to top Lawson at point guard
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The noisy debate about who is the best point guard in the country always seems to center on the freshmen – Indiana's Eric Gordon, Memphis' Derrick Rose and USC's O.J. Mayo.
As a service to those three kiddies, however, perhaps their coaches could get a tape of North Carolina's 98-82 victory here over Miami and show them the fine work of their elder statesman, Tar Heel sophomore Ty Lawson.
Lawson had 23 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and a solitary turnover in a point guard performance that absolutely has to be as good as any this season.
Or, at least by Roy Williams' standards, any season, maybe.
"I had some great guards at Kansas," Williams said. "Adonis Jordan, Jacque Vaughn, Kirk Hinrich, but nobody I have ever had pushes the ball faster in the dribble than Ty does."
Williams also, by the way, coached Raymond Felton at UNC. He led the Tar Heels to no less than the 2005 NCAA title.
Big Tyler Hansbrough had 35 points Wednesday to push the fifth-ranked Heels to 19-1, so no doubt he'll get much of the attention. And that's fine and deserved.
But it was Lawson who had a row of NBA scouts falling over one another with his ability to push the ball up the court before making snap decisions, his teammates better and baskets, seemingly at will.
"That's the best performance by a point guard I've seen all season," said one NBA player personnel director, who under NBA rules can't discuss an underclassman. "That was incredible."
Williams' system is a full-throttle one. He detests any hesitation in the open court, whether it's getting up on offense or back on defense. He demands speed, but he also expects minimal mistakes and few turnovers.
It's a dicey combination because while it can score you a ton of points, it also can backfire in a hurry. There is tremendous pressure on the point; without a great one, things fall apart.
In Lawson, a 5-foot, 11-inch burner from Clinton, Md., Williams has found the player seemingly born for his style of play.
"It seems like it," Hansbrough said. "He is the perfect mold for what we want to do, and that's push the ball down the floor and run."
There couldn't have been a better time for Lawson to have one of his signature games of the season.
Miami had D-Wade and J-Will and other assorted local basketball royalty in the house. Even the students turned out, this being the Carolina game and all, to help almost fill the school's on-campus arena.
The Hurricanes (14-4) were hyped and the Tar Heels had just tumbled from their top-ranked perch, causing some of their fans to actually cry on Saturday.
If there ever were a night for one of those snake-pit, emotional upsets that make college basketball so enjoyable, if ever Miami might get one of those significant wins that show a program is on the rise, here it came.
And there Lawson went.
It is possible those star freshmen could have played as well, but it's not likely.
"People are going to talk all they want about who the top point guards are, but you can't talk about them without having Ty in that category," Hansbrough said. "If I had to pick one guard to play with, it would be him."
What else is he going to say, of course? It's not like Carolina can trade for one of the other guys. But Hansbrough certainly has a point, and it's fairly amazing that, if anything, the starting point guard for the University of North Carolina is under the radar at this point.
It used to be if you stuck around until your senior year, it meant you weren't that good and didn't deserve too much hype. In today's instant-gratification game, that apparently has turned into the sophomore season.
Gordon, Rose and Mayo are all the rage, even partying with Carmelo and taking in Lakers games.
"They're the new kids on the block," Lawson said. "Last year when we came they talked about us. They just talk about them this year. I'm not going to worry about it."
He says he knows Carolina can be really good, championship good. But they are not so good that there is a significant margin for error. Points aren't a problem, but the defense can be spotty and the outside shooting streaky. Williams still is trying to find a consistent eighth man (obviously, the Heels' problems are of the nitpick variety).
But following a kicked-away loss Saturday to Maryland – "We missed the last four shots and allowed them to score on the last five possessions of the game. That's about as bad as you can play," Williams said – the question was how the Heels would respond.
Turns out they played about as well as you can play, a talented team led by their high-octane point guard throwing a wet blanket on a Miami coming-out party in the making.
Ty Lawson is as fast ending a losing streak as he is in the open court.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.