North Carolina is currently riding a five-game winning streak coming into their high-profile match-up with archrival Duke on Wednesday. After a 1-4 start in conference play the Tar Heels suddenly look more akin to previous Roy Williams teams, getting out in transition and putting up point totals (78 points per game in the last five contests compared to 62.4 in the five previous conference tilts) more reflective of the Carolina fast-paced philosophy. This, of course, all starts and ends with energy and effort, which the team collectively has emphasized as a turning point in their recent successful swing. One can look at the recent output of James Michael McAdoo as the most glaring example of North Carolina looking like a much more potent offensive unit than they did early in ACC play.
McAdoo has been the subject of tireless scrutiny during his career as he has morphed from a can’t-miss pro product as a freshman two years ago to a player who seems aloof for stretches and confused or overwhelmed by having been asked to play multiple positions this season and last. Even as the 2014 conference season began, with Carolina’s early non-conference marquee wins fading amidst ugly losses to Wake Forest and Miami, amongst others, many still couldn’t figure out why McAdoo wasn’t taking games over and helping Marcus Paige shoulder the offensive load. Now, McAdoo appears to have settled into his power forward role and is excelling at playing to his strengths on a consistent basis.
The junior has averaged 17 points on 47.6% field goal shooting to go along with 6.2 rebounds over this five-game stretch, numbers that Tar Heels faithful expected to see from him on a consistent basis this year. Whereas McAdoo showed flashes early in the season of taking over games, he was just as likely to fade into obscurity for large chunks of a contest as he was to wow spectators. Now, McAdoo is using his combination of a quick first step to the basket and soft touch on baseline jumpers to become a very difficult player to defend. Still a liability from the foul line, he has nonetheless been unafraid to create contact in going to the hoop. A six-for-six showing from the charity stripe against Notre Dame on Saturday offers glimmers of hope in that department. With Marcus Paige on an odd stretch of having most of his effectiveness scoring the basketball coming in one half, McAdoo’s intensity for an entire contest has proved vital in the Tar Heels’ winning streak.