North Carolina’s No Good Very Bad Ending to Fairy Tale Season

Posted by Matt Patton on April 7th, 2016

There’s no arguing that North Carolina is among college basketball royalty. The Tar Heels are one of only three programs with a truly national fan base (the other two are Duke and Kentucky). They own five national championships and consistently recruit a level of talent that most programs can only dream of. But with the news of a multi-year academic scandal and corresponding NCAA investigation hanging overhead, the carefully-curated lustre of “the Carolina Way” had faded. The uncertainty of the drawn-out investigation resulted in a surplus of negative recruiting and several classes that lagged behind the other national powerhouses.

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (Photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

“When you’re a kid growing up, you don’t dream of missing the last second shot, or a team beating you at the buzzer,” he said. “You dream of having that moment. That confetti. Seeing your family over there crying tears of joy. Hugging guys you’ve had blood, sweat and tears with for four years. That’s what you dream of. We were close to that dream.”Marcus Paige

All of this set the stage for Roy Williams to rebrand his team — one of college basketball’s elites — as a Cinderella despite starting the season as the top dog (preseason AP #1). Some experts quickly left the Tar Heels’ bandwagon after they blew a mid-November double-figure second half lead at Northern Iowa (a team that was ultimately one broken press away from the Sweet Sixteen, remember). A narrative has existed over the last few years — promoted incessantly by Dan Dakich’s egocentric view of history — that North Carolina lacked toughness. The early loss to the Panthers played into that narrative, but it more or less became gospel when the Tar Heels allowed a lesser Duke squad to steal a February victory in Chapel Hill even with Matt Jones injured for most of the game. Suddenly Doug Gottlieb was mentioning that Williams was considering retirement to allow Hubert Davis to assume the helm. Since that loss on February 17, the Tar Heels played with an “us against the world” mentality that we hadn’t seen from them. Read the rest of this entry »

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National Championship Preview: North Carolina/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2016

Only one game remains this college basketball season, and it tips off in about six hours. What needs to happen for North Carolina and Villanova if they expect to win a National Championship in Houston later tonight? Here are the keys to victory for both sides.

North Carolina Will Win If…

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The Tar Heels’ front line imposes its will. Five North Carolina regulars are 6’8” or taller, a fact that will matter even more than usual against a Villanova team with a de facto starting power forward (Kris Jenkins) who is just 6’6”. The Wildcats will have their hands very full with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and the rest – particularly on the backboards. Jay Wright has found plenty of advantages to exploit with his smaller lineup, but there’s no denying that the undersized Wildcats will be playing at a significant disadvantage when the ball comes off the rim. Villanova ranks 209th and 134th nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, respectively, and gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Oklahoma on Saturday (about the only thing the Wildcats didn’t do well). No shift in offensive philosophy is needed tonight, but expect North Carolina to wage a full-blown assault on its offensive backboard.
  • Joel Berry is effective offensively. Senior Marcus Paige is usually noted as the most effective barometer for the Tar Heels’ offense, but it has been the play of Berry this season (not Paige), that has more closely correlated with the overall success of North Carolina. Berry has averaged 12.6 points and 3.8 assists per game this season, but has managed only 9.8 PPG and 2.2 APG in UNC’s six losses. He had eight points, 10 assists and seven rebounds on Saturday against Syracuse; finding a way to have a similarly significant impact against Villanova’s tenacious perimeter defense will take a lot of the pressure off the UNC frontcourt.
  • They make Villanova take difficult three-point shots. Carolina’s length is sure to bother a Villanova team that has excelled inside the arc this season (the Wildcats rank second in the country in shooting 57.3 percent on two-point field goals), so expect them to rely on the three-point shot even more than they normally do. Forty-three percent of Villanova’s field goals come from behind the arc, (29th highest mark in the nation), and while they don’t shoot an outstanding percentage from there (35.9%), nearly every Villanova regular is a threat to convert — six Wildcats have made at least 23 three-pointers this season. North Carolina has not defended the arc well this season – the Heels rank 247th nationally in allowing opponents to shoot 35.9 percent from three – but must be able to challenge Villanova’s shooters tonight.
  • They don’t turn the ball over. The North Carolina recipe for offensive success, in its most succinct form, is to limit turnovers and collect offensive rebounds. Doing the former will not be easy against a pesky Villanova team that will surely look to utilize its disruptive 1-2-2 press, but it will be no less important. The more field goal attempts that go up, the more offensive rebounds that will be available to a North Carolina frontcourt that is the Tar Heels’ biggest advantage in this game.

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2015-16 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2016

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what’s to come during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to the hype: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Hield and Simmons were the only two players projected to be first-teamers and ended up there. The seven other players who did not make our postseason team are Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2015-16 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America


  • Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma (consensus) (25.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 50.4% FG, 46.5% 3FG). Hield has wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. After bypassing the NBA Draft last spring, Hield noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” Suffice it to say Hield was correct, as the Sooners are headed to their first Final Four since 2002. The explosive senior scorer has led the way all season with possibly no performance greater than the one he turned in during Oklahoma’s Elite Eight victory over Oregon. Hield finished the night with 37 points on a blistering 13-of-20 shooting from the field and an extremely impressive 8-of-13 outing from behind the three-point line. This college basketball season has been marked by uncertainty, but with Hield in tow, it is probably smart not to doubt Oklahoma’s chances in Houston this weekend.
  • Denzel Valentine, Senior, Michigan State (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 46.2% FG). There was likely not a more complete player in college basketball this season. Valentine did it all for the Spartans and it seemed like the senior really stepped his game up in big spots throughout the regular season. He turned in an iconic triple-double in Michigan State’s early comeback victory over Kansas and came through with a 30-point performance in a February home victory over eventual Big Ten champion Indiana. While the Spartans saw their season end in a shocking upset to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Valentine’s incredible campaign should not be discounted in any way.
  • Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina (consensus) (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 61.6% FG). Given North Carolina’s lofty postseason expectations, it is not entirely unexpected that the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. What has been a bit unexpected, though, is the rise of Johnson from a good player as a junior to a bona fide star as a senior. Johnson’s improvement over the course of his career has been so great that Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has referred to his senior as the most improved player he has ever coached. To provide a glimpse of just how important Johnson has been to North Carolina’s run to Houston, consider the fact that he has recorded at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each of his team’s last three games.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia (18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.7% FG). Virginia has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the last three seasons. It took home the ACC crown in both 2014 and 2015, and it earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. A major reason behind this success has been Brogdon’s ascension into stardom. Brogdon’s fantastic senior campaign led him to being named both the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – becoming the first player to win both awards since the defensive honor was introduced in 2005.
  • Ben Simmons, Freshman, LSU (19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 56.0% FG). It is not often you see a player turn in a first team All-America season on a team that finished 19-14 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but this is that situation. The freshman entered the season with an unbelievable amount of hype, but somehow amid the hoopla, he handled it quite well. Simmons led LSU in points, rebounds and assists, and was clearly the team’s best player all season long. Simmons has already made it known that he is headed to the NBA Draft, but his lone season in Baton Rouge should be remembered for his consistently great on-court performances.

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The Ten Players Who Will Decide the Final Four

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 31st, 2016

No single player is going to decide either of Saturday’s semifinal games or the ensuing championship tilt on Monday night, but many will have a hand in those results. Some players’ “shining moments” will last longer than others (no matter who sings about it), however, so with that in mind, let’s examine the 10 players likely to make the biggest impact this weekend (in descending order).

Buddy Hield Holds Oversized Influence This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield Carries Some Oversized Influence This Weekend (USA Today Images)

10. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma

Every team Oklahoma plays focuses its defensive game plan on Buddy Hield with good reason. Other than the presumptive NPOY, however, Cousins has proven especially effective at finding and exploiting the resulting holes in opposing defenses, scoring more than 15 points in 14 different games this season. Opponents place so much attention on Hield that it allows Cousins to locate driving lanes and space to create his own, very effective, offense.

9. Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova

It’s not easy to predict how Arcidiacono will affect a game but you can count on him finding some way to do so. He is capable of anything ranging from a hot shooting streak, double-figure assists, complete control of the flow and tempo, or defensive mastery. The bottom line is that Arcidiacono will make plays. It will be up to Oklahoma to limit his overall effect. If at some point in the second half on Saturday, you think, “We haven’t seen much from Arch,” things are probably going pretty well for the Sooners.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, North Carolina.

How The Tar Heels Got Here

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

Roy Williams Leads North Carolina to the Final Four for the 19th Time in School History (USA Today Images)

East Region Champions. North Carolina faced little resistance from Florida Gulf Coast in the first round and then used a strong second half against Providence to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Philadelphia. Once there, the Tar Heels throttled Indiana on the strength of a 1.42 points per possession effort. In the regional final, North Carolina answered a spirited charge from Notre Dame midway through the second half by dominating the paint in pulling away for a 14-point win.

The Coach

Roy Williams. This is Williams’ eighth Final Four appearance in 28 seasons as a head coach, the fourth-most all-time behind Mike Krzyzewski, John Wooden and his mentor, Dean Smith. Williams has faced his share of criticism over the last couple of years given the academic scandal involving North Carolina, but his team has successfully blocked out that distraction this season. Williams is moving towards the end of his tenure as a head coach (some retirement rumors have been floating around) and his team will head to Houston as the clear favorite to cut down the nets for what would be Williams’ third national championship at his alma mater.

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Key Matchups Loom Large in UNC-Indiana Battle

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

During a postgame interview after Indiana’s tough win over Kentucky, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said that he “didn’t want to stop coaching this team.” His sentiment makes sense. Crean has a fun and talented team, led by one of the best players in Hoosiers history. But while Yogi Ferrell played his heart out (18 points, five rebounds, four assists) against Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats, he can’t do it by himself against North Carolina. The Hoosiers should be in good shape on the offensive end, especially if freshman Thomas Bryant continues to stay out of foul trouble; however, expect Indiana to be challenged in different ways by the Tar Heels. For Crean to get his wish and continue coaching this team, the Hoosiers will have figure out the answers to tonight’s following matchups.

Tom Crean's defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet 16 round. (Getty)

Tom Crean’s defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Getty)

  • Brice Johnson vs. Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Johnson has been arguably the best forward in the country over the course of a season in which he averaged 16.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG. His athleticism around the rim will definitely demand double-teams from the Hoosiers’ defense. Indiana’s help defense against Kentucky’s big men was successful because neither Alex Poythress nor Marcus Lee are comfortable with their backs to the basket; Johnson, however, has the exact opposite skill set. Bryant has the weight to push Johnson away from the paint but the Tar Heels big man could run circles around him if he chooses to face the basket. Williams, on the other hand, has the wingspan to defend Johnson but will be susceptible to picking up easy fouls against him. Those would hurt the Hoosiers considerably on the other end of the floor. Even if they end up letting Johnson get his 20 points in the paint, protecting the defensive glass is paramount. It will not be a close contest if Johnson ends up with multiple second chances on the offensive end.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 85, #9 Providence 66

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Roy Williams and North Carolina advance to Philadelphia, where they will meet Kentucky in the marquee matchup of the Sweet Sixteen. (USA TODAY Sports)

Roy Williams and North Carolina advance to Philadelphia, where they will meet Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Shooting is kind of important in the game of basketball. North Carolina is pretty good at putting the ball through the hoop, but Providence is terrible at it (the Friars are 251st in the country in effective field goal percentage). Tonight was more of the same, as North Carolina made 53 percent of its field goals, while the Friars only converted 40 percent. Providence was particularly chilly from deep, making just six of their 23 attempts from three-point range. Ed Cooley’s squad is athletic, good defensively, and always competes hard. They just aren’t a great shooting team, and it caught up with them tonight against a high-level opponent.
  2. North Carolina’s toughness was put to the test. It was not a pretty contest for most of the way, but it may have been the type of game that this North Carolina team needed. Many have questioned whether these Tar Heels are physically and mentally tough enough to win a national title. Yes, they showed some heart in winning at Duke and besting Virginia for the ACC Championship recently, but the pressure is different when it’s a win or go home situation. Tonight the Tar Heels were playing an athletic squad that challenged them physically (and verbally), but North Carolina picked up its intensity when it needed to and kept the Friars at arm’s length for most of the second half before delivering the knockout punch in the game’s final eight minutes.
  3. Oops – he Dunn it again. For the second straight game, Providence star Kris Dunn missed a significant amount of first half action after picking up two early fouls. Thursday, Ed Cooley was able to get away with sitting Dunn for 10 minutes when he was whistled for that second foul. But North Carolina is a different animal. Even though Providence actually outscored the Tar Heels by one after Dunn went to the bench with 11 minutes to go before halftime, the Friars ended the half by missing their last seven shots to give North Carolina momentum going into the break. Who knows if anything would have turned out differently had Dunn not sat out so much of the first half, but you have to like the Friars chances a little better with their best player on the floor for even a few more minutes.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016


On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.


The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016


Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis,

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis,

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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ACC Tournament Thursday Takeaways

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

Thursday in Washington, DC, featured a terrific afternoon with Notre Dame clawing past Duke in overtime. Unfortunately, the other three games of the day weren’t quite as closely contested. Here are a few takeaways from the quarterfinals action.

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo,

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC (Photo by Liz Condo,

North Carolina (26-6): The Tar Heels got a huge lift from Joel Berry in the first half as he carried their often-stagnant offense. In the second half, North Carolina’s depth was on full display while Brice Johnson was his normal all-ACC self. However, the highlight of the day may have been head coach Roy Williams failing to censor himself in the following exchange:

Q: Coach, the unbalanced schedule this year. It benefited you guys having the easiest strength of schedule in the ACC this year. Do you think it benefited you at all getting the No. 1 seed going into this tournament?

A: Depends on how you evaluate that. You know what we didn’t have the benefit of, to make somebody say we didn’t have the easy schedule, we didn’t get to play North Carolina. All that is a bunch of horse ****.

Well said, coach. We all want the round-robin back, but that’s not realistic with 15 teams. Even then, we don’t think you’d be able to play North Carolina.

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