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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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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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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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Andrew Carter

Posted by Chris Stone on October 6th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

The college basketball season is just around the corner, so it’s the perfect time to start getting in the mood for hoops. To get the juices flowing, we reached out to North Carolina beat writer Andrew Carter to talk about the upcoming season, some of his Tar Heel favorites and the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity. 

Rush the Court: Talk to us a little bit as an introduction about how you came to become the North Carolina beat writer for The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Andrew Carter: This’ll be my sixth basketball season. I grew up in North Carolina. I grew up in Raleigh, so I’m familiar with the area. This is definitely home for me. Before this, I was covering the Miami Dolphins for the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel and before that I covered Florida State for four years for The Orlando Sentinel. The News & Observer had this job open and being from this area and having grown up here, it was especially of interest to me. I knew a couple people here and it just kind of worked out. Here I am.

Andrew Carter is the The News & Observer’s North Carolina beat writer. (The News & Observer)

RTC: Last year, the Tar Heels obviously had a pretty successful season, winning the ACC, the ACC Tournament, and making the national title game. What would you say are some expectations for the program this year?

Carter: I think expectations are always high at North Carolina, regardless of the roster and who they have coming back in a given year. The expectations are always going to be high. People always think that UNC should be good because it’s UNC. Naturally, with what they have coming back next year, I think those expectations are justified. They lose a couple really important pieces in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and Joel James was a valuable reserve by the end of his tenure. But everyone that could have come back is back. They bring back a solid nucleus: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson. You just go on down the list and I think they have a lot of solid pieces back. Last year, the expectations entering the year — it was a Final Four or bust kind of year. I don’t think it’s necessarily that for UNC this season, but certainly this is a team that probably is going to enter the year somewhere around the top 10, if not certainly in the top 10. It’s going to be a team that if it doesn’t make the second week of the NCAA Tournament, it’ll probably be viewed as something of a disappointment this season. There’s a lot of high expectations, that’s obviously nothing new. If pieces come together and things fall the right way, I think this is certainly a team that has the potential to get back to the Final Four.

RTC: Is there a player among the guys that you listed that you think might surprise people there?

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ACC M5: Exhibition Edition 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. On Friday night, top-ranked North Carolina played its first ‘competitive’ game without senior leader Marcus Paige — out several weeks with a broken hand — and easily handled Division II Guilford, 99-49. In addition to the loss of Paige, the Tar Heels were also without sophomore Justin Jackson, who missed the contest due to illness. The absence of the team’s top two returning perimeter players gave others an opportunity to step up, however, and three players certainly took advantage. Junior Nate Britt and sophomore Joel Berry combined for 26 points and 16 assists, but they weren’t the only unselfish players as North Carolina recorded 33 assists on its 42 field goals. Freshman guard Kenny Williams also made the most of the available minutes by posting 12 points in 22 minutes of action.
  2. N.C. State was the last ACC school to play a formal exhibition game this preseason, beating Division II Cal State Los Angeles by a score of 71-54 on Sunday afternoon. Star junior Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber led the Wolfpack’s attack with 21 points and six assists. It is widely expected that Abdul-Malik Abu is poised for a breakout season, and his performance yesterday indicates that is a reasonable opinion. The 6’9″ sophomore finished the game with 17 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks in 25 minutes of action. Terry Henderson, on the other hand, had a somewhat shaky debut, as the West Virginia transfer only managed five points in his 25 minutes, missing all four of his attempts from deep.
  3. Miami played its one and only exhibition game last Wednesday, defeating Division II Dowling by a score of 91-40. Sheldon McClellan led the way with 18 points, as the Hurricanes used a fast start (+15 points in first five minutes) to blow out the Golden Lions. Another encouraging result was the performance of Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy, who posted a double-double in his unofficial Miami debut. Murphy has also impressed his teammates — after the game, McClellan said, “He adds a lot of energy and a lot of length on defense. He can do a lot on offense; he just brings a lot to the team.” We know that Miami has a veteran backcourt, so if Murphy can combine with center Tonye Jekiri to give the Hurricanes a strong inside game, Jim Larranaga may have a very balanced team on his hands.
  4. A pair of ACC teams looking to make a move up the conference ladder this season showed promising flashes in their lone exhibition outings on Friday. Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon has been preaching defensive improvement this preseason and he apparently means what he says. Returning leading scorer Jamel Artis did not start in the Panthers’ 80-50 beatdown of Gannon, which the head coach explained afterward: “We’ve been preaching all year long, all offseason, all fall, about best defensive players, best rebounders, those are the guys that are going to play, so that’s the guys we went with,” The Panthers’ defense played well, limiting Gannon to 32.7 percent field goal shooting for the game. In other related news, Dixon announced that junior college transfer Rozelle Nix would sit out the current season as a redshirt. At first glance, Wake Forest’s 86-64 win over UNC-Pembroke may not look overly impressive. But considering that the Demon Deacons were playing the Division II preseason #13 team, and doing so without Codi Miller-McIntrye (fractured foot), it really wasn’t a bad effort. It did take the Deacs a while to get going, as they committed 17 first half turnovers and trailed at the break; but behind Devin Thomas, who finished the game with 25 points and 16 rebounds, Wake Forest dominated the second half of play.
  5. Two ACC teams projected near the bottom of the league played their sole preseason exhibitions on Thursday and both performances may have confirmed those low expectations. Clemson needed to rally from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, 87-84, in double overtime. This was the Tigers’ first real game in Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena, their home away from home this season while Littlejohn Coliseum undergoes renovation. If last week’s game is any indication, Clemson’s home court edge may be under renovation as well. Likewise, Boston College was pushed hard by a Division II opponent, defeating Bentley 85-75, after trailing much of the game. It looks like the Eagles may be in for a tough year in the paint, as the smaller Falcons were able to post a significant (+9) first half rebound advantage. Florida transfer Eli Carter was one bright spot for the Eagles, leading all scorers with 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting.
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Who’s Got Next? Jaylen Brown’s California Dreamin’ & UNC Lands Shooter

Posted by Sean Moran on May 5th, 2015

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

On Friday night prep small forward Jaylen Brown shocked the recruiting world and committed to California, spurning the likes of Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina in the process. With his second top-10 commitment in a month, Cuonzo Martin will have all eyes on him as his program makes the leap to become a favorite in the Pac-12 and a contender in the national title race. The 6’7” Brown is considered the No. 1 player in the country by Scout.com and among the top three from both ESPN and Rivals. DraftExpress also lists Brown in the No. 2 spot in their 2016 Mock Draft. The senior is a physically imposing small forward who at 220 pounds will make an impact on the Berkeley campus from Day 1. His playing style is that he prefers to attack the basket off the dribble while his outside shot is steadily improving. The young star is quite often compared to former Arizona star, Stanley Johnson, the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and All-American who averaged 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in his lone season in Tucson.

Brown’s recruiting history has been a mixed bag. The Marietta (GA) native took official visits to both Kansas and Kentucky for their Midnight Madness events last fall. He tacked on a UCLA official during the first weekend of November followed by a North Carolina visit for its exciting win over Louisville in January. Instead of cutting his list of college suitors down as his senior year progressed, however, Brown expanded it. After hitting the game-winning free throws in the Georgia 6A state championship, the senior took his last official visit to Michigan in March and then went on a surprise unofficial visit to California immediately afterward. He played his cards close to the vest and kept everyone guessing about where he was headed until the very last minute. He eliminated Kansas, Georgia, and Georgia Tech in the week prior to his announcement, and after his high school basketball banquet last week, he continued a curious trend of some five-star players spurning the college elite in committing to an unheralded Cal program.

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