Improved Junior Class Keeping North Carolina in the Hunt

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 7th, 2017

After losing four key pieces from its 2016-17 National Championship team, many observers expected North Carolina to take a significant step backward this year. And with no proven frontcourt players returning to Chapel Hill, it was widely expected that head coach Roy Williams would need to make some major adjustments to his traditional style of inside-out offense. Through 10 games so far this season, neither of those assumptions have proven true. The nation’s eighth-best team, per KenPom, suffered its only defeat against a powerful Michigan State squad in the finals of the PK80 event — a game in which the Tar Heels logged their worst shooting night (24.6%) in school history.

Juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams have given North Carolina fans much to cheer about in the early season. (Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

Joel Berry and Theo Pinson — the Tar Heels’ returning starters — were expected as seniors to shoulder the burden of carrying the team. And while each has made slight increases to his usage and production, they are getting far more help than was originaally anticipated. Berry scores (16.5 PPG) and takes good care of the basketball (10.1% TO Rate) while Pinson anchors the defense and leads the team with 4.1 assists per game. But the main reason these Tar Heels appear to once again be national contenders is because of the improved play of juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. After missing the final 14 games of last season with an injury, Williams was a forgotten man coming into this campaign. He has responded to his new role by becoming the team’s third leading scorer (13.4 PPG) and scoring in double-figures in all but one outing this season. As for his classmate Maye, the numbers speak for themselves. In the below table, we compare Maye’s production with the eight forwards in college basketball who received votes on the AP Preseason All-American First Team. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Preview: December 1-3

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 1st, 2017

After overwhelming the Big Ten this week by a final tally of 11-3, the ACC now moves into a weekend that features a handful of very interesting non-conference tilts. (All ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through games of November 30)

Friday, December 1

  • North Carolina (#12) vs. Davidson (#77). Two of the highest-scoring teams in the country (both coming in at over 85.0 PPG) will face off tonight in Charlotte in what promises to be a very fast-paced affair. Tar Heels point guard Joel Berry II has improved his scoring (career-high 20.0 PPG) thanks to tempo and opportunity, but he is clearly still shaking off some rust from an early-season hand injury — logging career lows in shooting (34.1 FG% and 35.9% from three-point range). While his shooting should improve over time, he has been terrific in taking care of the ball (career-low 6.9% turnover rate) and will have an opportunity to find his touch against a Davidson team that is allowing opponents to shoot 38.4% from from behind the three-point line.

Saturday, December 2

Ahmed Hill has led a prolific Hokies offense early on. Can it continue as the competition picks up? (Hokie Sports)

  • Virginia Tech (#37) at Mississippi (#60).  A road contest at Ole Miss will represent the biggest challenge faced by Buzz Williams’ team so far this season. Both teams are guard-oriented and love to shoot the three, with the Hokies’ scorching 46.8 percent mark good for fourth nationally. With the caveat that Virginia Tech’s competition this far has been bad, not enough has been said about the play of Ahmed Hill this season. The junior wing is shooting the lights out, with marks of 63.9% FG, 54.3% 3FG and an insane 73.8% eFG. His elite offensive performance alongside guards Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker has made Williams’ offense especially dangerous. Those three will need to outperform a loaded Rebels’ backcourt that features Terence Davis (61.8% eFG) and Deandre Burnett (45.2% 3FG).

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ACC Preseason Predictions and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2017

While it’s true that the season is already several days old, it is not yet too late for the ACC microsite to present you with our humble preseason predictions and superlatives. Before season tip-off, the four microsite writers ranked all 15 ACC squads by predicted order of finish, made some all-league selections and projected the player and coach of the year. Should you choose to not take my word for it, none of the panelists — Brad Jenkins, Matt Patton, Mick McDonald or myself — picked Duke’s Marvin Bagley III as our ACC Player of the Year. After his first two collegiate contests, I would already like a mulligan on that.

Bonzie Colson is the ACC Microsite’s Preseason Player of the Year (USA Today Images)

That honor instead went to Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson in unanimous fashion. Diminutive for his position, the 6’5” Colson is coming off an all-ACC first team selection in which he averaged a double-double, and finished 10th in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings.

Preseason All-ACC First Team

  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (40)
  • Joel Berry, North Carolina (30)
  • Grayson Allen, Duke (29)
  • Marvin Bagley III, Duke (28)
  • Bruce Brown, Miami (FL) (24)

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How much will Roy Williams adapt to his team’s strengths?

Roy Williams‘ incredible success over the last two seasons should have silenced all of his doubters. By nearly any standard his teams were exceptionally talented — loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and consensus four- and five-star players. But Duke and Kentucky were recruiting better classes, and that role reversal led to some grumbling from fans and overreaction from the media. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, of course, with the added bonus that even the ongoing specter of the NCAA disappeared after it punted on the academic fraud scandal. However, it is important to note that this year’s North Carolina team isn’t comprised of the same successful group of the last two seasons and it doesn’t profile like any of Williams’ best teams. The Tar Heels have a strong backcourt led by Joel Berry II and Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson, but Tony Bradley’s early departure to the NBA left the frontcourt lacking in depth, experience and talent.

Joel Berry will start the season on the sidelines, making Roy Williams’ job even tougher. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

It’s no secret Williams’ best teams have a blueprint roster. Two very good bigs (or, one great one), an elite point guard and an army of players on the wing (with at least one sharp-shooter). Berry is the elite point guard; Johnson is the sharp-shooting wing; but Luke Maye (despite his NCAA Tournament heroics) is no Sean May. With Bradley back, the Tar Heels would have had a good chance at a third straight trip to the Final Four. Without him it’s up to Williams to figure out how to adopt his system to accommodate three true post players (two of whom are freshmen). There’s still plenty of talent on the roster: Theo Pinson is back and consensus top-50 recruit Jalek Felton should get playing time right away. Seventh Woods still has a long way to go, but should have improved considerably during the offseason. Expect this year’s roster to be better shooting on the whole than the last few North Carolina teams (although maybe not, without the individual prowess of Justin Jackson), but it’s hard to see the secondary break working well without significant changes.

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ACC Weekend Preview: Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 10th, 2017

Teams around the ACC tip off their regular seasons this weekend with a host of games that will start the canvas to what will undoubtedly be a competitive and unpredictable conference slate. Here are the key games this weekend that will whet your appetite for the season ahead:

Friday, November 10

  • Northern Iowa (KenPom #129) at North Carolina: The Tar Heels begin the season without star point guard Joel Berry II, but the senior point guard is expected back for the PK80 event in Portland, Oregon, later this month. Until then, games like these are good opportunities for some of the younger guards like Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods to gain some experience. Keep an eye out for freshman Jalek Felton, especially in Berry’s absence, to leap onto the scene. Northern Iowa is part of a wide-open Missouri Valley landscape that no longer includes Wichita State, but a meticulous style of play and 6’10” senior Bennett Koch (57% eFG last season) could give a young North Carolina front line some issues.

Can Bryant Crawford and a talented but crowded backcourt ease the loss of John Collins? (AP)

  • Elon (KenPom #106) at Duke: Our first chance to see Duke’s highly-touted freshman class comes against an Elon team expected to compete for the CAA championship. How will Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter co-exist in the frontcourt? Is Trevon Duval the point guard Mike Krzyzewski has been searching for since Tyus Jones left campus? Will there be any further Grayson Allen drama? Tonight gives us our first opportunity to overreact wildly. Keep an eye on Elon’s Tyler Siebring, a 6’8” forward who led the Phoenix in scoring a year ago and shot nearly 40 percent from three.

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Morning Five: 10.25.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 25th, 2017

morning5

  1. The news that North Carolina senior point guard Joel Berry is expected to miss four weeks recovering from a broken bone in his right hand after he punched a door following a video game loss has widely been viewed as a major hit to the defending champions. While we won’t argue that it will adversely affect them in the short-term, we tend to agree with Andrew Carter who argues that it offers the Tar Heels with the ability to develop other players such as freshman Talek Felton (Raymond’s cousin) and sophomore Seventh Woods rather than relying on Berry early in the season. Berry’s presence would have been invaluable to a team filled with players trying to replace departed stars early in the season, but his absence early in the season might be more valuable to them down the road.
  2. We haven’t heard much discussion about Virginia hiring Carla Williams to be its new director of athletics. Typically these announcements do not merit much attention, but it does seem newsworthy to us because Williams is the first African-American woman to be named an athletic director at a Power 5 school. Some might argue that these distinctions are nothing more than winning the press conference, but having more diversity in the field or at least a broader pool of candidates to pick from seems like a good thing. Hopefully, this will encourage other schools to look beyond the typical retreads we usually see hired and instead pursue more promising candidates.
  3. Most of the media’s attention on the FBI investigation has been focused on another ACC school (more on that in a bit), but it appears that Miami may have its own issues as Jim Larranaga has stated that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI investigation. According to the FBI report, that coach was involved in trying to get Adidas to give $150,000 to convince a recruit (widely believed to be Nassir Little, who later signed with UNC) to commit to that school. For his part, Larranaga denies any wrongdoing and the school appears to be standing behind him for now, which is more than we can say for other schools.
  4. Speaking of other schools, the fight between Louisville and Rick Pitino/Tom Jurich does not appear to be lightening up as Jurich’s attorneys are claiming that the board of trustees failed to explain the cause of Jurich’s firing and are trying to “smear him.”  Without going into too much detail the school basically accused Jurich of not maintaining proper oversight of the department while Jurich’s team says that he kept a close eye on everything and the men’s basketball team was the only part of the athletic department that has had any issues. Our guess is that similar to most cases like this the only people who will end up winning are the lawyers and their bloated billable hours.
  5. The NCAA is an easy target for people particularly lately with the FBI investigation and the never-ending debate about financial compensation for student-athletes. As Sam Mellinger points out, the one thing that the NCAA should not have any problem doing is using its platform to give to the less fortunate (and generate some positive publicity for itself), but it seems to have a hard time doing that. Most people will point to concerns that schools will use charity events as a way to promote themselves (like Houston was supposedly going to do by giving out apparel for different schools to Hurricane Harvey victims), but it seems like inertia is the biggest obstacle. The powers that be are just too comfortable sitting back and waiting for individual schools to make the case to them rather than being proactive.
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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 28th, 2017

Now that we are back in the midst of the long offseason, it’s time to look at some key ACC storylines to keep an eye on in coming months.

NCAA Punishments (Maybe): Rinse – Recycle – Repeat! This has become an annual bullet point on the ACC offseason storyline list, but maybe it will be the last time we have to include it pertaining to North Carolina and Louisville. The North Carolina academic scandal investigation — which has now dragged on for nearly half a decade — may finally be moving toward a conclusion. Despite the best efforts of UNC’s Four Corners stalling strategy, a recent letter from NCAA infractions committee chairman Greg Sankey indicated that a hearing has been scheduled for mid-August. Still, as we are all aware given the prolonged nature of this case, nothing has proceeded at more than a snail’s pace to this point.

Rick Pitino and Louisville are still waiting on the NCAA to rule on the school’s 2015 stripper scandal. (Jamie Rhodes – USA TODAY Sports)

Louisville’s stripper scandal is a much less complicated case so it seems to be closer to a resolution. The school recently held its own hearing with the NCAA infractions committee and a commonly held belief is that the NCAA will have its final answer on penalties in about two months. The school’s argument that Rick Pitino should not be charged with failure to monitor his assistant coach has already been rejected by the NCAA, so barring a late reprieve, expect the Cardinals’ head coach to serve a suspension at some point next season.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: North Carolina.

How North Carolina Got Here

North Carolina is back in the Final Four (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

South Region Champions. This North Carolina run to the Final Four was equal parts exceedingly easy and excruciatingly difficult. The Tar Heels posted the largest margin of victory in the opening round against Texas Southern, but needed to overcome a five-point deficit in the final three minutes to escape Arkansas just two days later. The Sweet 16 brought a return to relaxation for Heels fans, as UNC exploded out of the gate en route to an “it-wasn’t-even-that-close” 12-point win over Butler. The final step was the hardest, however, as familiar Elite Eight foe Kentucky played the Heels even for 39 minutes and 59.7 seconds. Those finals tenths of a second are now history, of course, as Luke Maye propelled Carolina to another Final Four with his dramatic game-winner.

The Coach

Roy Williams. The UNC head man owns all eight of the career Final Four appearances (prior to this one) among the quartet of coaches still alive. He also earned a rare bit of praise for his timeout-avoidant tendencies last weekend, as it was Roy’s reticence to stop his offense that allowed Carolina to race down the court and beat an unsettled Kentucky defense for Maye’s game-winner. Few, Altman, and Martin have all been around and are respected coaches, but Williams’ experience sets him apart from his peers on the opposing sidelines in this Final Four. Whether or not it proves decisive is anyone’s guess, but Carolina fans should feel comfortable in the knowledge that Williams knows both his team and this stage better than anyone.

Style

The speed and efficiency of Carolina’s offense is well known as a Tar Heel strength, and deservedly so. UNC ranks 6th nationally in overall offensive efficiency, leads the country in offensive rebounding percentage, and has no problem playing fast, finishing possessions in an average of 15.4 seconds (22nd quickest in the country). The balanced Tar Heel offense is headlined by AP All-American Justin Jackson (18.2 PPG, UNC-record 99 3PM), but fellow upperclassmen Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks all join Jackson in averaging double-figure points per game. It’s an explosive offense, surely, but UNC’s success has been predicated off work on both ends of the floor. Amazingly, Williams’ bunch has been able to slow opponents down even while playing offense at a breakneck speed: Carolina foes average 17.8 seconds per possession, good for 272nd slowest in the nation. The underrated Tar Heel defense was on display in the South regional final against Kentucky, as Jackson and company harassed Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox into a combined 9-23 shooting from the field. A similar assignment will await in Phoenix, as Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are likely to draw the bulk of the Carolina defensive attention. On paper, there’s no reason why Carolina, the 17th most efficient defensive team in the nation (one slot above Oregon), won’t be up to the challenge.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 75, #2 Kentucky 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 26th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Luke Maye capped a phenomenal individual weekend with one of the biggest shots of this, or any, NCAA Tournament (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. First half foul trouble and questionable officiating. Kentucky clawed its way back into this game in the second half, but early foul trouble and a tough first half whistle greatly imperiled the Wildcats’ bid to advance to another Final Four. De’Aaron Fox watched 75 percent of the first half from the sideline after picking up two early fouls, and backcourt mate Malik Monk joined him there later in the half after also picking up his second foul. There were also a number of questionable first half calls that seemed to go North Carolina’s way every time, including a Bam Adebayo tip-in that was ruled offensive goaltending. North Carolina emerges as a deserving victor, but Kentucky wasn’t helped at all by the first half whistle.
  2. Where was the offense? After the Tar Heels and Wildcats combined for 203 total regulation points in December, there was going to be an offensive come-down. However, few could have expected the drop-off in combined offensive efficiency to be so severe. The two teams combined to shoot just 44 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three-point range, and 67 percent from the free throw line. We have seen far uglier offensive games in this NCAA Tournament, for certain, but the early season wizardry in Las Vegas delivered by these teams allowed us to dream of a more explosive, uptempo battle than what played out.
  3. Justin Jackson and Malik Monk duel. The individual match-up between Monk and Justin Jackson was much discussed before action tipped, and with good reason. These two stars combined for 81 points in the first game, and each player has repeatedly showed the ability to single-handedly take over games. No such dominance was on display today, however, as Jackson harassed Monk into a quiet 12-point afternoon. The UNC star wasn’t at his best today, but his two-way effort (he had 19 points on the other end) gave him the edge in this decisive matchup.

Star of the Game. Luke Maye, North Carolina. Maye posted an unlikely but casual double-double on Friday (16 points, 12 rebounds), yet saved plenty of energy for a memorable encore. He made six of his nine field goal attempts en route to a 17-point night, including the game-winning jumper just before the final horn that won’t soon be forgotten by North Carolina fans. Maye played with swagger and energy all afternoon, and ultimately it was his contributions that pushed the Tar Heels into next weekend’s Final Four in Glendale.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 92, #4 Butler 80

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Kennedy Meeks and the Heels had a lot to cheer about Friday night (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Tar Heels explode in the first half. North Carolina raced out to a 16-point lead in the first 10 minutes and never looked back. The Tar Heels would maintain that edge for the second 10 minutes of the first half, taking a 52-36 advantage to the locker room. Three Tar Heels scored in double figures – Justin Jackson with 17 points, Luke Maye with 14, Joel Berry with 10 – in a quintessential display of Carolina offense. They played fast (43 possessions), made three-point shots (8-of-17 from long-range), and exploited their size advantage inside in outrebounding Butler by 11. UCLA and Kansas each boast offenses as good, if not better, than that of North Carolina, but neither possess the inside-outside balance of the Heels. The first 20 minutes of this game was a potent expression of this reality.
  2. Unexpected and expected Carolina contributors. UNC has relied upon Jackson and Berry all season, and the Tar Heels’ junior duo delivered again tonight. They combined for 50 points, five three-pointers, and committed just three turnovers. However, it wasn’t just Jackson and Berry fronting the load this evening. Maye provided an unexpected spark in leading the first half surge, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the opening frame. Roy Williams expressed immense appreciation for the contributions and skills of UNC’s very unlikely catalyst, saying he was not surprised by Maye’s night because he sees it every day in practice. Either way, the Heels should benefit from a confident Maye, as his ability to step out and shoot the three provides a nice balance to the bruising interior duo of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
  3. Butler three-point shooting struggles. The Bulldogs were an efficient offensive outfit for the better part of their first 33 games of the season, with top-100 percentages nationally in 3FG, 2FG, and FT%. However, the 21st-most efficient offense in the country struggled to generate the points needed to hang with North Carolina this evening. The origin of the drought was obvious, as Butler made just eight of its 28 three-point attempts. Chris Holtmann couldn’t have had a problem with most of the rest of the offensive stat sheet, as his team shot 55 percent from two-point range, 86 percent from the free throw line, and turned the ball over just nine times in a high-possession game. Missed three-point shots is a familiar killer of seasons this time of year; tonight, Butler’s long-range struggles ensured its season would not continue.

Star of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. The versatile Tar Heels star had the full arsenal working Friday night. He was confident and effective in shooting the three, lofting floaters in the half-court, and getting out on the fast break for easy buckets. Jackson finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Honorable mention goes to Maye, who unexpectedly delivered a career high 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Berry, who finished with a game-high 26 points.

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