North Carolina Bench Showing Great Promise Already

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 15th, 2016

With six upperclassmen returning from last year’s National Runner-up, North Carolina entered the year with plenty of known commodities. As the 2016-17 campaign got under way, however, it was the Tar Heels’ young bench that represented the team’s biggest question mark. That group, comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores, has so far performed well. Roy Williams‘ preferred method of substitution is a one-for-one swap at each of the five positions. Ideally that means that Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley split time at the center position; Justin Jackson and Brandon Robinson do likewise on the wing; and so on. This strategy is tailor-made for North Carolina’s run-and-gun system — which requires quick attacks in transition and plenty of motion in the half-court. It correspondingly takes a deep bench to play this way, and Williams has always counted on using that depth to wear down his opponents.

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

As expected, North Carolina is getting great production from its top four returnees. Meeks and fellow senior Isaiah Hicks have been dominant around the basket and juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry are off to hot starts as well — Jackson tallied a career-high 27 points in the opener against Tulane, and Berry was so impressive that he was named co-ACC Player of the Week as a result. That veteran group is also getting good support from the youthful Tar Heels’ bench. Bradley has scored in double figures in both games and has already snagged a total of nine offensive rebounds. When asked about his young center’s exceptional play after Sunday’s win, Williams said, “He doesn’t try to do things that he can’t do.” The head coach also commended Bradley for his ability to run the floor.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2016

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

Can the reloaded Tar Heels get back to the Final Four?

There's no question this year: this is Joel Berry's team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

There’s no question this year: this is Joel Berry’s team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

As was well-documented, North Carolina’s 2015-16 season was equal parts fairy tale and horror film. Roy Williams loses Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson from last year’s National Runner-Up, but this season’s team will likely be just as talented. First off, Joel Berry is criminally underrated. He was without a doubt the most important player on last year’s team, and he has a good chance to wind up on the short list for National Player of the Year. Second, Isaiah Hicks may finally put everything together last season and will go a long way toward filling Johnson’s shoes. However, there are some open questions here. Theo Pinson is out indefinitely after breaking his foot again, leaving the team overly reliant on Berry in the backcourt. He’ll have help in Nate Britt and freshman Seventh Woods , both of whom should get plenty of minutes (especially considering Roy Williams’ penchant for deep rotations), and Justin Jackson is a likely All-ACC wing. But the dropoff from the talent of Berry to Britt is steep, and Woods is still a freshman. That means Williams will need Berry on the floor for most of the game — especially once conference play begins. With Pinson out indefinitely, Jackson won’t have much help on the wing either. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Jackson and Berry are both elite, championship-level players. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Twitter 2016-17 Must-Follows: Ga Tech, Louisville, Miami & UNC

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2016

We are continuing our ACC Must-Follow List for the year with Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, and North Carolina in this post. If there are any other Twitter accounts that you think should be included, send us a tweet @rtcACC or leave a message in the comments section below.

For the rest of our ACC Must-Follow List, check out the rest of our posts for this year. Note that these will release throughout the day on Thursday.

Georgia Tech

He might not believe in golf, but he does believe in Twitter (RamblinWreck.com)

He might not believe in golf, but he does believe in Twitter (RamblinWreck.com)

Players

Bloggers and Beat Writers

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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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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

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, theACC.com)

    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, theACC.com)

  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 Weekend Review: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Saturday was a day for upsets in the ACC as four underdogs were victorious. Notre Dame won a shootout over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in the marquee matchup of the weekend; the Clemson Tigers continued their amazing run with a home rally over Miami; Virginia Tech overcame a large late deficit to beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta; and Syracuse got its second ACC win by blasting Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The other two games on the day ended as expected – Pittsburgh handled Boston College at home and North Carolina, the ACC’s only undefeated team in conference play, overcame a slow start to finish off North Carolina State in Chapel Hill. In the only ACC action on Sunday, Virginia‘s road woes continued in a loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Here are some of the other highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson's five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson’s five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

  • Best Win: In one of the most improbable occurrences in college basketball this year, Clemson has overcome one of the ACC’s toughest early league schedules by winning five straight games as an underdog. The latest victim was Miami by a score of 76-65 on Saturday afternoon in Greenville. With seven minutes to go and Miami holding a six point lead, it looked like the Tigers’ streak was near its end. But Clemson closed out the game with a 25-8 run and has now won five straight ACC games for the first time since Rick Barnes was coaching the Tigers in 1997. Jaron Blossomgame led the way with 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting. During the Brad Brownell era, the Tigers have always played good defense, but the difference this year is the Tigers’ offense. After finishing among the bottom three in ACC offensive efficiency the last three years (and never above 1.00 points per possession), Clemson is currently sixth in the league at a much improved 1.12 points per possession. A huge part of that success is the Tigers’ ability to punish teams from the foul line – they rank second in the ACC in free throw rate (45.1%) and first in accuracy (79.6%).
  • Worst Loss: Even though Wake Forest’s dismal effort in a home blowout to Syracuse technically may be the worst performance, we instead will go with the squad that suffered the most heartbreaking defeat, mainly because of what it may mean for that team’s confidence going forward. The team in question is Georgia Tech, who suffered a total meltdown at home against Virginia Tech. In our last weekend recap, we lauded Brian Gregory’s team for finally getting over the hump in winning a close league game. Well, the praise may have been a bit premature. The end of Saturday’s game in Atlanta played out exactly like many of the Yellow Jackets’ league games did a year ago, as the Jackets blew a 10-point lead over the last 4:14 of the game. In its final 12 possessions, Georgia Tech had more turnovers (4) than points (3). It certainly didn’t help that Adam Smith, the Jackets’ main outside threat, only made one three-pointer in seven tries from deep.
Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish's big road win. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish’s big road win.
(Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has many weapons at his disposal, and that includes sophomore Bonzie Colson, who apparently loves to play against Duke. Colson helped the Irish defeat the Blue Devils in last season’s ACC Tournament semifinals with a then career-best 17 points. He nearly doubled that output on Saturday afternoon, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds (eight offensive) to lead the Irish to their fourth win over Duke in five meetings as ACC members. Colson scored in a variety of ways: post moves, putbacks, free throws (5-5) and even from deep (2-3 on threes). Afterwards, Brey commented on his play, “He gets pretty fired up when he does play them. Bonzie’s a big game guy. He loves a big game, and I thought he helped his teammates get confident.” Colson did not start the contest but logged 33 minutes as Brey recognized early on that the burly forward was a huge matchup problem for the Blue Devils’ thin frontcourt.
  • Unsung Heroes: With North Carolina’s top three scorers struggling against NC State, Roy Williams needed someone else to step up. That someone turned out to be Kennedy Meeks, who scored 25 points, grabbed six boards and blocked three shots to help the Tar Heels pull away from their rival. In only his second game back from a knee injury, Meeks had his highest point total since he tallied 25 in the season opener. Syracuse has not been a balanced team this year, having been carried by its backcourt to this point. But in Saturday’s rout of Wake Forest, junior forward Tyler Roberson delivered a dose of frontcourt production with 16 points and 13 rebounds. That makes four consecutive double figure scoring games for Roberson, who also helped the Orange’s defense Saturday with three steals. Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson only played 15 minutes in the Panthers’ win over Boston College, but he maximized that time with 20 points on an efficient seven of ten shooting performance. The redshirt freshman wing flashed a nice touch from deep, making four of his seven long-range attempts. He is now shooting 42.4 percent for the season from three-point range.
  • Most Efficient Offense/Least Efficient Defense: With Notre Dame visiting Duke in a game featuring two of the top four offenses in the country, we expected a shootout. Boy did we ever get one. Rare are games in which both teams score at a rate higher than 1.30 points per possession, but that’s what happened in Cameron Indoor on Saturday. The Irish prevailed with an offense that posted 1.36 points per possession in the exciting 95-91 win. That’s the most points per possession allowed by Duke to an ACC foe at home in the 15-year KenPom era. As one might expect in a performance that efficient, Notre Dame was outstanding in multiple offensive areas. They made 51.8 percent of their two-point attempts; hit 43.8 percent from three-point range; converted 80 percent from the foul line; grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, and only gave the ball away six times. It took every bit of that efficiency to hold off a Duke team that made half of their 24 three-point attempts.
  • Most Efficient Defense/Least Efficient Offense: In the weekend’s most lopsided game, Wake Forest managed only 0.77 points per possession in its 83-55 home loss to Syracuse. The Deacons had a tough time figuring out how to attack the Orange’s 2-3 zone from the outset and finished with 18 turnovers. When the Demon Deacons did get shot opportunities, they failed miserably, making just two of 20 from deep and missing 17 of 42 free throw attempts. Coming into the game, Wake figured to take advantage of Syracuse’s normally weak defensive rebounding, but things played out differently, as the Deacons only grabbed 25 percent of their misses. That percentage is well below Wake’s season average (35.1%) and that of Syracuse’s opponents (also 35.1%). Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim said, “This was the best defensive game we’ve had all year. We just were tremendously active. We had been doing a good job at the three-point line, but not so much inside. We were much better inside tonight.”

 

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ACC M5: 01.13.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 13th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Kennedy Meeks is back for North Carolina. He’s not 100 percent yet, but it’s a good sign that he’s back and in stark contrast with those of Amile Jefferson (Duke) and Terry Henderson (NC State). The Tar Heels need the junior big man in the lineup to meet their National Championship aspirations. It also looks increasingly clear that North Carolina is the team to beat in the ACC this season. Miami doesn’t appear far behind, but the road to a conference title will go through Chapel Hill.
  2. Slap the Sign: This is a decent Notre Dame primer, as the Irish are still searching for a leader after the departures of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Demetrius Jackson is very talented but his best games have come in losses rather than wins. The most damning statistic working against the Irish may be that of “good wins.” — their only one so far came against Iowa. All of its other top-50 opponents have resulted in losses. That’s something Mike Brey will have to change to avoid a disappointing conference finish.
  3. Boston College Heights: Dennis Clifford is starting to look like his old self at Boston College. He’s still not consistent (he turns the ball over too much to be efficient), but he’s moving better and will likely be the reason the Eagles beat a team they shouldn’t. Boston College is horrid this season (the only two worse major conference teams worse are St. John’s and Rutgers), but its defense will give it a fighting chance a few times during conference play.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Amile Jefferson’s injury has made Duke worse in the short run because the team has no depth. Mike Krzyzewski has been using a six-man rotation (sometimes seven by playing Chase Jeter for a few minutes) since Jefferson went down. But Duke isn’t known for playing large rotations to begin with, and it’s unlikely that either Luke Kennard or Marshall Plumlee would have seen this sort of time without the starting center’s absence. It’s still hard to tell if this Duke’s team is fool’s gold thanks to nearly all of its recent opponents being helplessly outclassed, but all of that will change at the end of the month when the team travels to Coral Gables.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Why is Pittsburgh getting no love from the national media? The Panthers’ only loss came against a very good Purdue team that’s frankly a nightmare matchup (size plus shooting). Sure, Pitt’s non-conference schedule was nothing to write home about, but it’s odd that Jamie Dixon’s group isn’t getting a little more publicity. Even if they go into the Yum! Center and beat Louisville later this week, many people may blame the inconsistent Cardinals.

EXTRA: GIF power rankings??? Don’t mind if I do. If you only look at one, look at NC State. It’s perfection.

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Morning Five: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 18th, 2015

morning5

  1. With this being finals week at most schools we expected this to be a quiet week with the exception of injuries and transfers, but that all came to an end on Tuesday night when Bo Ryan announced that he would be retiring immediately. Prior to the season Ryan had discussed his plans to retire at the end of the season, but there were some reports that he was considering staying longer. Ryan’s decision to leave his team during the season led to many questions about the timing: Was it because this is his worst Wisconsin team ever? Was he quitting on his team or helping long-time assistant Greg Gard get a chance to prove himself when the school probably would have not if Ryan had retired at the end of the season? Going through Ryan’s achievements, legacy, and potential successors is much too involved for this column (we have other posts about it on the site) so we will just say that Ryan might be as responsible for the development of an elite program as anybody in the sport today.
  2. Iowa State‘s national title hopes took a big hit earlier this week when they announced that senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long will seek a medical redshirt as he continues to recover from nagging issues with his hips. Long, who had arthroscopic surgery on both hips over the summer, was averaging 12 points per game, but felt that the pain was too great to play through at this point. Fortunately for the Cyclones they do have help in the form of mid-year transfer Deonte Burton, but Long’s absence will keep them at a seven-man rotation. There were also couple of notable injuries to big men on Tobacco Road. The more significant of the two injuries is the one to Amile Jefferson, who will be out indefinitely after fracturing a bone in his right foot. Given Duke‘s lack of depth on the inside a prolonged absence by Jefferson or even worse any lingering issues for Jefferson (averaging 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds this season) would severely limit Duke’s upside in March. The injury to Kennedy Meeks appears to be less severe as he is expected to be out at least two weeks with a bone bruise on his right knee. Meeks is also a key part of North Carolina‘s rotation, but the Tar Heels have enough depth on the inside that they should be able to survive his absence without missing too much.
  3. Christmas break is always a popular time for players (sorry, student-athletes) to decide to transfer. As we seem to state every year the biggest reasons are likely that they head home and hear from everybody about how they should be playing a bigger role and that the coaching staff isn’t putting them in position to succeed. So we are not usually surprised to see transfers at this time of year, but as you can see by the transfer list that Jeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello are keeping there are already quite a few who have decided it is time to move on. Most of these transfers won’t raise many eyebrows, but a few like Texas A&M freshman Elijah Thomas, a top 30-/50-recruit depending on which rating agency you follow, are notable and will probably attract a substantial amount of interest from programs around the country.
  4. When the NCAA issued its rules changes before the start of the season it was met with quite a bit of criticism, but now that we are approaching the start of conference play we think that most people have to be happy with the results so far. As Mike Lopresti notes scoring is up by more than 10 points per game from this time last year with most of that apparently being driven the increased pace of the game. However as some coaches note there is concern about a regression particularly with freedom of movement and foul calls. While we think it is too early to reach any conclusions about the impact of the changes it seems like a good start.
  5. It seems like we hear about different models to pay student-athletes, but it is pretty rare to see an idea get an article on it in The New York Times so we were pretty surprised to see them write about a site that proposes to use crowdfunding as a means of payment. The idea that is being proposed allows fans to donate money to a student-athlete (less a 5% fee the site takes) with a note possibly encouraging them to attend a school with the donation period closing once an individual commits to a school. The student-athlete would be able to collect the money after their college career was over regardless of where they went to school. Even before the NCAA’s lawyers rip this to shreds there are a couple of key things that bother us: the monetary donations when a player hasn’t committed seems like a not-so-subtle way of buying a player to come to a school, issues with fans getting upset of having spent their money on a recruit who goes somewhere else, and finally the issue with a company/trust holding the money until their college career is over seems like a recipe for corruption.
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North Carolina’s Other Guards Looking Strong Thus Far

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2015

When Marcus Paige broke his hand on November 4 and it was announced that North Carolina’s star guard would miss the first several games of the season, the obvious positive spin on the situation was easy to anticipate. The Tar Heels would still win its first several games comfortably while the other guards on the roster would be gifted a great opportunity to improve. Upon Paige’s return, the narrative went, his backcourt mates would have greater in-game experience to support the ACC’s Co-Preseason Player of the Year in their quest for a National Championship. Sometimes spin turns out to be reality: After the Tar Heels’ first two games of the season, that plan seems to working out beautifully.

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Theo Pinson has shown good playmaking skills with Marcus Paige out. (Will Bratton/WRAL)

Last Friday night North Carolina tipped off the season with an impressive 91-67 neutral court win over Temple in Annapolis. The Heels followed that up with a lackluster performance in its Sunday home opener against Fairfield, a game in which the final score of 92-65 was not indicative of how close the game was. In both games, the Tar Heels have received great offensive production from its current backcourt rotation — sophomores Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson along with junior Nate Britt. This trio has combined to average 39.5 points per game thus far, complementing the strong production from the Tar Heels’ frontcourt. In a bit of a surprise, Pinson has been the most effective playmaker on the floor, twice leading the team in assists, including a super performance on Sunday: eight assists and zero turnovers. Meanwhile, Berry and Britt have been lighting it up from deep, combining to make 12-of-20 threes. Perhaps Paige’s absence has helped to answer one of the biggest questions about perimeter shooting going into this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 5th, 2015

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

Burning Question: Is this really the best team in the country?

The Tar Heels were a very good team last season — remember, they led national runner-up Wisconsin until the final six minutes of the Sweet Sixteen (and were within one point in the final minute). But JP Tokoto opted to play basketball for money, leaving Roy Williams without much depth on the wing. Theo Pinson will likely get the call to replace him and seems a good fit for the role. He was a worse than average shooter last season but he was a good prep free throw shooter which usually tracks well with shooting ability. Pinson should immediately assume the role as this team’s defensive stopper.

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (photo: USATSI)

Is a healthy Theo Pinson the difference between a good and great North Carolina team? (USATSI)

The x-factors for this team are twofold. First and foremost, Marcus Paige has to get healthy — his recently broken hand will put him out of action for a month. The real x-factor, however, is Joel Berry. Berry was quietly very efficient last season. It was shocking that he finished the season with an offensive efficiency rating of over 110 (the best of the bench). With Paige out of the lineup, this will be Berry’s offense to run from day one along with Nate Britt. The good news for Tar Heels fans is that both point guards are competent three-point shooters, and it’s also good for both to get early season experience at point guard so that when Paige comes back he’ll mostly be able to play off the ball. Read the rest of this entry »

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