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March 19, 2008
Current events show that scouting report probably won't work.
Ellington is playing perhaps the best basketball of his career as North Carolina heads into the NCAA Tournament. Ellington, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, averaged 19.3 points per game in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, including a 24-point effort Sunday as the Tar Heels defeated Clemson 86-81 for the championship.
"I got into a pretty good rhythm from the first game and I just went from there," Ellington said afterward. "I'm feeling very confident right now."
That's bad news for everyone else in the East Region. The Tar Heels open NCAA play Friday night in Raleigh, N.C. ? about 25 miles from their campus ? against opening round game winner Mount St. Mary's.
A look at the Tar Heels' results this season shows that Ellington struggled in their only two losses. Reserve swingman Danny Green is the only other Tar Heel to make more than 23 shots from 3-point range this season, so containing Ellington can go a long way toward shutting down North Carolina's perimeter shooting.
Ellington was 6-for-16 overall and 2-for-7 from 3-point range in an 82-80 loss to Maryland on Jan. 19. He was 3-for-14 overall and missed all six of his 3-point attempts Feb. 6 when North Carolina fell 89-78 to Duke.
In UNC's 32 wins, Ellington has averaged 17 points per game while shooting 48.4 percent overall and 43.9 percent from 3-point range. He shot 57.9 percent overall and went 8-for-16 on 3-pointers at the ACC tourney.
No wonder Tar Heels coach Roy Williams once said Ellington had the potential to become the best scorer he'd ever recruited. Rivals.com ranked Ellington as the No. 1 shooting guard prospect in the nation when he signed with North Carolina in the fall of 2005 out of The Episcopal Academy in Merion, Pa.
"At the time, he was a magnificent shooter and was OK making shots while he was guarded," Williams said. "In my opinion, I felt like he was going to get even better at making shots when he was guarded. He was OK at putting the ball on the floor and trying to take it to the basket, but I thought he had the mentality and work ethic to really work on that. Then you get to be really hard to guard because you're putting it on the floor and shooting it from outside.
"I thought one of his biggest weaknesses was his weakness. Getting in the weight room and doing those kinds of things would help him develop in that end."
And that's not such a weakness anymore. The skinny kid who signed with North Carolina three years ago has grown to 200 pounds. Filling out his frame has helped Ellington fill out his game.
As a freshman, Ellington scored 44.5 percent of his points on 3-pointers. That percentage has dropped to 37.6 percent this season. He has proved he also can drive to the basket or sink jumpers from inside the arc.
Ellington also has improved on the other end of the floor.
"I think it continues to get overlooked, his ability to really defend and what he's done to help this team grow defensively," North Carolina swingman Marcus Ginyard said. "His all-around steady efforts offensively and defensively have definitely done great things for this team, especially now in March."
As much as Ellington has improved the other aspects of his game, he remains a shooter first and foremost. He hit a game-winning 3-pointer with four-tenths of a second left in a 90-88 overtime victory over Clemson on Jan. 6. He sank five 3-pointers and scored 11 consecutive North Carolina points during a 103-93 double-overtime triumph over Clemson on Feb. 10. He even hit a 3-pointer while practically falling out of bounds in front of the Wake Forest bench just before halftime of an 89-73 victory on Feb. 24.
His emergence in the backcourt and Tyler Hansbrough's presence in the paint give North Carolina an inside-outside combination that few teams can match.
"Once he gets going, every time he lets the ball go, me personally, I don't think he's going to miss," North Carolina guard Quentin Thomas said. "When you have somebody like that on the perimeter and also have somebody like Tyler on the inside, it's a double punch that's tough to defend."
North Carolina's double punch could knock out every other team in the tournament.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.