John Henson doesn't get as much attention, or respect, as UNC teammate Harrison Barnes but N.C. State's players understand how good the junior forward is.
In two games against the Wolfpack last season, Henson blocked 13 shots and grabbed 31 rebounds. He had 16 points in UNC's 84-64 win in Chapel Hill and eight in the Tar Heels' 75-63 win in Raleigh, a game he absolutely controlled. (Tracy Smith and Ryan Harrow basically enrolled in the witness protection program after getting dominated by Henson last season.)
"He's a big part of that team," sophomore guard Lorenzo Brown said. "If they didn't have him, they wouldn't win as many games as they've had."
Henson leads the ACC in blocks, with 60, and rebounds, with 10.1 per game, and has been UNC's most consistent player this season. His scoring average is also up nearly three points per game to 14.5 per game.
Henson might be the only player in all of college basketball whose listed roster height (6-11) is legitimate. Throw in the 88-inch wingspan, and Henson is a nightmare of a matchup for State's undersized forwards, like Smith last year and Richard Howell (who's not 6-8) this year.
Given C.J. Leslie's value to State's offense, it would make sense for Henson to matchup with Leslie but Henson will still protect the rim, which State is aware of, but doesn't necessarily have an answer for.
"There's not much you can do with him," Brown said.
While Brown was complimenting Henson, who was somehow a second-team All-ACC selection last season, UNC point guard Kendall Marshall showed some love for Brown.
Marshall called Brown, who's second in the ACC — behind Marshall in assists — the best point guard in the league.
"Up to this point, Lorenzo Brown has quietly had one of the best point-guard seasons this year, definitely the best in the ACC," Marshall said earlier this week. "He does a lot of things very well."
Brown's third on the team in scoring, with 12.4 points per game, second in the ACC in assists (6.9) and first in the ACC in steals (2.0 per game).
As a freshman, he mostly played off the ball, deferring to Harrow, but has taken over first-year coach Mark Gottfried's system as an effective playmaker.
"The thing I'm most impressed with is how he's transformed his game in the past eight months," Marshall said. "He went from being a scoring 2 to really learning how to play the point guard position."
And Marshall, who leads the ACC with 9.5 assists per game, understands how to play the position. How good has he been? He has twice as many assists (181) as every player in the ACC, except Brown (138).
Which is what makes the hand-wringing over Dexter Strickland's absence so comical. If something happens to Marshall, UNC's title hopes are sunk regardless.