North Carolina Still Figuring Out Its Center Position Before Heading West…Posted by KCarpenter on November 11th, 2012
Kellen Carpenter is an RTC correspondent and ACC microsite writer. He filed this report after the UNC-Florida Atlantic game in Chapel Hill on Sunday.
North Carolina looks deep. In its 80-56 victory Sunday afternoon over the Florida Atlantic Owls, UNC showcased a scary depth and commitment to defense. Nine players played double-digit minutes, Florida Atlantic shot only 27.9% from the field, and the bench shined in what was an almost perfectly balanced effort by the starters and reserves. The bench contributed 39 out of 80 of North Carolina’s total points, with particularly good scoring games by Joel James, who scored 11 points, and Brice Johnson, who racked up 12 points in 12 minutes.
This of course brings up the still unanswered question of who will be the long term starter at the center position. Desmond Hubert started the first half of this game, but once again James earned the second half start. In 14 minutes of action, Hubert contributed zero points, three rebounds, two blocks, and two turnovers. Compared to the double-figure scoring efforts by James and Johnson (as well as eight rebounds for James and four for Johnson), it would be very strange if Hubert continued to start. James actually played more minutes than Hubert in this effort, and Johnson’s soft touch around the basket looks very impressive. With Roy Williams‘ stated trepidation about the defensive implications of playing Johnson and John Michael McAdoo at the same time, James seems like he may be North Carolina’s newest starter before too long.
Outside of the starting center position, the team seemed to be gelling much more neatly than they were in Friday’s tilt against Gardner-Webb. McAdoo starred again, leading the team in points and rebounds, but Reggie Bullock is asserting himself as the team’s clear number two scoring threat. With 16 points on a mere seven shots, four assists, a block and a steal, Bullock’s efficiency and willingness to do a little bit of everything is a mark of a steady confidence that replaced the tentative play of Friday. Meanwhile, Marcus Paige seems well on his way to serving as the team’s chief distributor, tallying up a game-best six assists in 25 minutes. He still struggles to shoot, going only 1-of-8 from the field in this game, but Williams insists that he knows Paige is a good shooter and he isn’t worried.
Something Williams is concerned, or more accurately, bewildered about, however, is the team’s free-throw shooting. Though apparently North Carolina has been a great shooting team on the practice court, it hasn’t managed to carry over into games. The Tar Heels shot an ugly 4-of-14 in the first half and finished with a 12-of-27 mark (44.4%) from the line. Though there have been poor shooters on the team in the past, this team-wide epidemic (again, this is only over the course of two games) has the coaching staff scratching their heads. If the players are shooting well in practice, there probably is ultimately not much to be done. As Williams summarized, “It’s just something where we have to get better.”
This team has been very effective at getting to the line so a higher rate of converting these attempts would be a big asset for this team. Dexter Strickland set the tone early with a kamikaze-like tendency to head to the rim on offense, come hell or high water. His zeal was rewarded with six free throw attempts (though he only converted two of them). Still, Strickland’s energy and relentlessness seems to be spreading to the rest of the team, setting the tone of how this Tar Heel team plays. Despite some talented stars on the offensive end, this is a team that’s poised to hang its hat on energy and defense. Though this kind of effort is hard to maintain over the course of the season, the team’s depth and the drive of Strickland could shape this team into the stuff of nightmares. UNC will likely often have scoring droughts throughout the season, but the potential for a team that’s relentless on the defensive end and fearless on the offensive end is a real possibility if this team can keep it up against the steeply increasing competition.