Is This Roy Williams’ Worst North Carolina Team?

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 22nd, 2014

When North Carolina was trekking through an up-and-down non-conference season, all of the talk surrounding the Tar Heels was about their inconsistency. Great wins followed by head-scratching losses meant that pundits and fans alike spent their time trying to diagnose the Tar Heels — attempting to figure out which team identity would become the prevailing one. Now, after a 1-4 start in ACC play, talk of inconsistency is a thing of the past. Wins over Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky are long forgotten now that UNC has fallen to Wake Forest and Miami in winnable games, was soundly defeated by Syracuse in its first match-up with the new conference member, and was then thrashed by Virginia on Monday night. A solitary win over an uninspiring Boston College team may have allowed temporary relief, but with Carolina now sporting an 11-7 overall record and looking like an unreliable but average team, the question should be raised: Is this the worst team of the Roy Williams era in Chapel Hill?

Roy Williams Frustrated

A frustrating year may lead some to wonder if this is Roy Williams’ least impressive Carolina squad to date. (USA TODAY Sports)

When considering the squads Williams has governed at Carolina (and to his credit, Williams has an aggregate record at the school that speaks for itself), most will point to the 2009-10 season as his worst year at the helm. The Tar Heels failed to make the NCAA Tournament that year, stumbling to an overall 20-17 record (5-11 ACC). That team was crippled by the graduations of three-time All-American Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green and the early entries of Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson. While this year’s team lost only Reggie Bullock to the NBA Draft, the ultimate decision to not seek reinstatement for PJ Hairston left the current version of the Tar Heels without two extremely important cogs in their offensive machine. They weren’t the defending national champions by any stretch, but prior to the season they appeared to be a team at least capable of making things interesting in postseason play. Those personnel losses weren’t as substantial, but they have proven very significant in the roster and rotation upheaval they caused Williams’ team.

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Duke and North Carolina Making Adjustments After Slow ACC Starts

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2014

After the second weekend of conference play, the ACC’s historically best two programs were in trouble. North Carolina was all alone at the bottom of the standings with an 0-3 record, and Duke wasn’t in much better shape at 1-2. Since then, both schools’ Hall of Fame coaches have made some changes to try and turn things around. At least for one week, each coach has managed to stop the bleeding. Duke has now won two straight games — over Virginia (69-65) and N.C. State (95-60) — since Mike Krzyzewski made some lineup and style changes; and North Carolina got its first ACC win Saturday over Boston College (82-71) in the Tar Heels’ only game of the week, featuring a starting lineup change from Roy Williams. Below we will look at the problems that each team was confronting, what the coaches did to address those issues, and consider the results and future expectations as a result.


Problems. The Blue Devils’ defense simply has not been good enough, ranking outside of Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 in adjusted efficiency for much of the season. Opponents were scoring easily in the paint — perhaps not surprising with Duke’s lack of interior size. But even worse was Duke’s inability to counter that deficiency with good perimeter pressure, and the lack of player communication and teamwork in defensive help situations. Offensively, the Blue Devils were not playing well as a unit, often falling into the habit of one-on-one play with little ball movement.

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(

Adjustments. Krzyzewski and his staff decided to not only make a change in the starting lineup — inserting freshman Matt Jones — but they adjusted the entire rotation. As the TV commentators noted in each game, it was as if Duke was making hockey-style line changes in the first half. Both games followed the same pattern. About three minutes after the tip, five new Blue Devils checked in. A few minutes later, all the starters returned. Soon after that, it was another complete change. At that point in each contest — roughly 10-12 minutes in — all 11 scholarship players had logged at least three minutes of action. While the five-at-a-time substituting did not continue into the second half, Krzyzewski kept using his bench, with no player seeing more than 30 minutes in either contest. There was also a subtle stylistic change on each end of the court. The Blue Devils extended their defense further out than they had been, and they played more of a motion offense instead of mostly using set plays.

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PJ Hairston Done In Chapel Hill

Posted by mpatton on December 20th, 2013

North Carolina‘s athletic department released a statement today asserting that it will not apply for PJ Hairston‘s reinstatement. Per athletic director Bubba Cunningham: “Unfortunately PJ made a number of mistakes that placed his eligibility at risk and the University’s joint review with the NCAA made it clear that seeking reinstatement for PJ would not be possible.” The news is obviously a blow to this North Carolina team’s ceiling, as Hairston filled a major hole in their rotation. The Tar Heels have three of the best wins in the country without Hairston, but possibly the only bright spot is that closure should allow the team to game plan with certainty going forward.

Without PJ Hairston, there's even more pressure on Marcus Paige the rest of the year. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Without PJ Hairston, there’s even more pressure on Marcus Paige the rest of the year. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

While Hairston’s case is complex, the decision is simple: North Carolina, with advice from the NCAA, chose not to seek reinstatement because the case wasn’t winnable. Who knows which evidence was the proverbial straw here, but only looking at the limited information available to the public, it was clear Hairston’s case was much more complicated than Leslie McDonald‘s. Little more needs to be said. It’s unclear where Hairston will go from here, but there will be a spot for him in the NBA eventually. This ordeal will probably affect his draft stock, but as Williams pointed out more than once, he’s handled the aftermath incredibly well.

In his press conference following the release (watch the presser), Roy Williams seemed to feel some responsibility in the case. A man who always wears his emotions on his sleeve, a beat-up looking Williams called the effective dismissal “the most difficult and saddest thing I’ve ever gone through as a coach.” He noted that Hairston’s departure would also affect the team saying, “My team is resilient, but they’re going to hurt from this.” All indications point to Hairston as one of the most liked members of the team, both by the team and the fans. There’s no denying his abilities, but there’s also something about his game — utterly without fear of taking any shot at any time — that drew people to him. Hairston and his quick trigger made watching North Carolina games more fun. But that’s an article for another time. Now the question is where the Tar Heels go from here knowing that he isn’t coming back.

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Previewing Texas vs. North Carolina

Posted by Taylor Erickson & Lathan Wells on December 18th, 2013

(Ed. note: news released on Wednesday afternoon that UNC’s Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play as soon as tonight’s game. This post was written prior to that release.)

On Wednesday night, Texas will head to the Dean Dome for a showdown with what suddenly looks like one of the better teams in the nation in North Carolina. North Carolina has had its struggles early this season with losses to UAB and Belmont, but has righted the ship with perhaps the best collection of wins in the country after knocking off Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky – the top three teams in the preseason AP rankings. Texas has opened the season with a 9-1 record itself, but has yet to see the type of talent that the Tar Heels will roll out. ACC correspondent Lathan Wells and the Big 12′s Taylor Erickson decided to discuss some key topics heading into the contest in the hopes of providing some insights to watch for as the game plays out.

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Taylor:  So I have to start with the obvious question: North Carolina has three of the best wins in non-conference play, but also has puzzling losses to UAB and Belmont. Which Tar Heels team are we going to see on Wednesday night?

Lathan: Prior to the Kentucky game, that would continue to be the prevailing question. But after their third marquee non-conference win of the season, it appears that UNC is starting to find some consistency. The players appear to be more comfortable in their roles. The fact that Texas has taken four of the last five since Roy Williams took over in Chapel Hill may be motivation enough. Speaking of adapting to roles, how has Texas been able to have such a solid start with a team that entered the season in the midst of major transition?

Taylor: The 9-1 start for Texas has certainly been refreshing to Longhorns fans, but when dissecting the schedule in more detail, it becomes apparent that most of those wins have come against clearly inferior teams. According to, Texas’ strength of schedule to this point ranks 100th in the nation, 91 spots behind what North Carolina (ninth) has faced. If Rick Barnes’ squad is truly improved, it will have a chance to prove it with tonight’s game followed by one against Michigan State in a span of three days this week. That said, Texas has gotten solid contributions from big man Cameron Ridley, who went for 22 points and 10 rebounds in his last outing. After the way North Carolina handled the talented front line of Kentucky, is there any reason to believe the Heels will struggle to do the same with the Longhorns’ frontcourt?

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Previewing Kentucky’s Visit to Chapel Hill

Posted by Lathan Wells & Matt Patton on December 14th, 2013

Today’s match-up between North Carolina and Kentucky in Chapel Hill looks a bit different than it did on paper at the start of the season. Some Kentucky fans talked up a perfect 40-0 record before reality set in with losses to a veteran, talent-laden Michigan State team and a more physical, driven Baylor squad. Neither loss is a bad one, of course, but both brought the Wildcats back to the realization that this year would not be a simple strut to the national championship game. North Carolina, meanwhile, has suffered puzzling losses to Belmont at home and UAB in a winnable game on the road, but also stunned then-#1 Michigan State in East Lansing and defending national champion Louisville on a neutral floor. No one seems to know what to make of this Tar Heels squad, especially with PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald still swimming in NCAA limbo. Today marks the renewal of the rivalry after a one-year hiatus between these goliath programs, each with plenty of question marks at this early stage of the season. RTC ACC microsite columnists Lathan Wells and Matt Patton break down the game in point/counterpoint style below.

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

How will North Carolina slow down Julius Randle? (M. Zerof/USA Today)

Lathan: Kentucky’s strength obviously lies in its overall athleticism, but it seems that its dominance in the paint early has been the key to their victories. Do you see them overwhelming North Carolina there, or do the guards have to be the difference?

Matt: Kentucky has to get something from its guards, as North Carolina is one of the few teams in the country with the size to match up against the Wildcats in the frontcourt. That said, Willie Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle are tough for anyone to stop. Randle’s strength and athleticism makes him an impossible match-up, but the real key is that Kentucky has to play good defense. It’s no coincidence that Kentucky’s two losses have come during the only two times opponents have topped 1.1 points per possession against them. But I’ll ask a similar question. No one on North Carolina, apart from Marcus Paige, has shown the ability to make a three, and Kentucky has the second best two-point field goal defense in the country. Which will give first: Kentucky’s defense or North Carolina’s offense?

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Who Won The Week? Shabazz Napier, Memphis and Villanova…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 6th, 2013

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill. 

WINNER: Shabazz Napier

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America's top player, and being Who Won The Week's top winner.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America’s top player, and being Who Won The Week’s top winner.

The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.

LOSER: Florida

Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.

To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.

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ACC M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 5th, 2013


  1. Raleigh News & Observer: The story of the night was North Carolina dismantling Michigan State in East Lansing. Roy Williams has owned the Spartans since taking the helm in Chapel Hill, and his team flat outplayed Izzo’s in every respect. But James Michael McAdoo‘s struggles continued, as he finished 3-of-11 from the floor, 2-of-6 from the free throw line, and grabbed only four rebounds. It’s starting to look like Brice Johnson (14 points on 11 shots) and Kennedy Meeks (15 points on eight shots) will see more of McAdoo’s playing time. To be fair to McAdoo, his game isn’t suited for the three position (where a lot of his minutes are coming thanks to North Carolina’s thin roster on the wing), but with the way the current frontcourt is playing, it’s hard to argue that the Tar Heels would be better off with him back at power forward.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Nearly all the talk from Duke’s rout of Michigan Tuesday night was about the Blue Devils’ newfound toughness, defense and rebounding (probably all correlated), and that was certainly the biggest story from the game. But a sidenote to the game was that Rasheed Sulaimon earned the old DNP (coach’s decision). Afterwards Tyler Thornton cut straight to the point: “As a man, he has to step up and accept what he needs to do,” Thornton said. “We need him. That’s all I can really say about that.” However, I was struck watching the game that Sulaimon needs to step up quickly not because Duke needs him but precisely the opposite. If he’s in some proverbial Coach K dog house, it doesn’t help for Matt Jones and Tyler Thornton to piece together Duke’s best wing defense of the season (with Andre Dawkins providing his patented spark off the bench). Still, Thornton is right in that Duke needs Sulaimon on the court to achieve its potential this season.
  3. Sports Illustrated: CJ Fair is quietly filling the “go-to” guy role for Syracuse this year — at least, that’s the perception (largely thanks to some clutch shooting against Baylor in Maui). And don’t get me wrong, Fair’s athleticism and mid-range game still make him one of the best players in the conference (and he’s Syracuse’s most important offensive player not named Tyler Ennis). But he’s the least efficient Orange starter by a significant margin thanks to his proclivity to turn the ball over. Part of that is due to the offense Fair often runs (high-risk isolations), and there’s no question he makes his teammates better. But he needs to cut down on his turnovers, or running the offense through him will ultimately prove an error in judgment.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Looks like the quest-for-40 joke yesterday wasn’t such a joke after all. Virginia lost to Wisconsin at home despite holding the Badgers to under 29 percent shooting from the field. Only one player eked his way into double figures (Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser with 11). The Cavaliers didn’t hit a field goal during the last nine minutes of regulation nor the first 8:42 of the second half. That’s right, Virginia made a grand total of three field goals in the second half (all in a span of just over two minutes). That’s downright abysmal. Toss in a nearly 10-minute field goal drought in the first half and it’s amazing Tony Bennett’s team kept the game as close as it did.
  5. Soaring to Glory: If December really is make-or-break for Boston College, it’s looking like a break. I guess winning the ACC Tournament is always possible, but more and more that looks like the only way the Eagles will earn a ticket to the Big Dance. Boston College got beat by a not so great Purdue team on Wednesday night. Speaking of guys in the dog house, Patrick Heckmann got all of four minutes against the Boilermakers. Steve Donahue has said Heckmann isn’t hurt, which is confusing to say the least (during his freshman year before contracting mononucleosis, Heckmann was the team’s leading scorer).
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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by Jesse Baumgartner on December 4th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. Arizona‘s balance. So far, this year has been all about the fantastic freshmen and the individual talents that have really driven early-season interest in the college game. But I have yet to see a team that looked as consistently balanced across the floor as the Wildcats did against Duke last Friday night, particularly down low with stud freshman Aaron Gordon and veterans Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. That tripod of length, skill and athleticism spells two things — high quality shots in the paint, and rebounds galore. And it’s really cleaning the glass that will be toughest on opponents in March and April, as we saw with Louisville’s run last season.

I LOVED…. a reasonable contract extension. Dana Altman has done a great job at Oregon, no question about it — he’s brought the Ducks back into the national picture, won NCAA Tournament games, and really put an exciting roster on the floor in Eugene (and hey, let’s just assume for argument’s sake that he had absolutely nothing to do with that horrific floor design). But while it seems like we see so many contracts these days that give out too much money/years on just a season or two of success, Altman’s three-year extension seems just right. Good job, here’s a cookie, and more to come as the program keeps growing.

Dana Altman Remains One of the Most Quietly Effective Coaches in the Country

I LOVED…. UMass back in the AP rankings for the first time in 15 years. You know, just another one of those programs John Calipari hit and ran on. Somewhere, someplace, Dr. J is smiling.

I LOVED…. seeing Villanova put in a solid performance in the Bahamas to outlast Kansas. I’ve always liked Jay Wright as a coach, and it seems like he’s nearing the point where he needs a solid NCAA Tournament run to reinforce that the program isn’t too far removed from the 2009 Final Four squad. For Kansas, that game seems to just reaffirm what is true for so many of these uber-talented, uber-young teams — any given night they can go down.

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North Carolina’s Collapse Against Belmont Exposes Lineup Problems

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2013

Brad Jenkins is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday afternoon’s North Carolina vs. Belmont game from Chapel Hill. 

Normally when a small school like Belmont wins a road game against a traditional power like North Carolina, it is deemed a major upset. But the Bruins’ 83-80 victory in Chapel Hill Sunday afternoon did not look like a big surprise. This statement has more to do with North Carolina’s team right now than it does with Belmont. After a lackluster win over a lightly-regarded Holy Cross on Friday night, RTC ACC microsite columnist Lathan Wells pointed out that North Carolina was suffering from an offensive identity crisis. As of Sunday, the Tar Heels are still looking for answers.

Roy Williams is Searching for Answers

Roy Williams is Searching for Answers in Chapel Hill

The story of the first half was certainly the pathetic 9-of-28 free throw performance by North Carolina, leaving the Heels behind by seven points at the half. They were better from the charity stripe in the second half but still finished a dismal 22-of-48 for the game. For a team with only one perimeter shooting threat in Marcus Paige, attacking the basket aggressively against the smaller Bruins would appear to be a sound strategy. The problem was that the two guys repeatedly getting fouled are both bad free throw shooters. J.P. Tokoto and James Michael McAdoo were a combined 15-of-35 from the free throw line on Sunday, but that’s not a total shock given their history: McAdoo shot 58% last year and Tokoto managed to make only 38.5% of his free throws. So maybe that strategy isn’t so great after all. The only real effective thing North Carolina did on the offensive end was hit the glass. The Heels collected 21 of their misses out of a possible 43, for a phenomenal offensive rebound rate approaching 50 percent.

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Sights & Sounds: Top Four Dunks, Season’s First RTC, & Cliff Alexander’s Fake-Out

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2013

Another full weekend of college hoops is in the books, and although it didn’t hold the same level of excitement of the opening weekend, there were plenty of memorable moments. Here’s a collection of sights and sounds — buzzer-beaters, top dunks, and of course, the season’s first RTC — from the last three days. Enjoy.

Hilton Magic. The season’s first RTC took place on November 17, perhaps the earliest we’ve ever seen when Iowa State beat Michigan. Was it justified?

#4 Dunkdafied. Marshall’s Elijah Pittman got way, way up, and-one, for this lob against Morehead State on Sunday.

Buzzer-Beating. Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison hit a 75-footer right before the halftime buzzer versus Robert Morris, but unfortunately, he traveled before he released it. No bucket.

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