The Unofficial RTC ACC Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 11th, 2014

While the more official hardware is beginning to be handed out, like Player and Coach of the Year and the All-ACC team’s, it’s worth looking at some more under-the-radar superlatives that players and coaches have earned through the course of the regular season on the precipice of ACC Tournament time in Greensboro.

Here are five awards that RTC found to be equally as important as some of their more official brethren:

Most Selfless Upperclassman: Joe Harris, Virginia.

His scoring dipped more than four points a game from a year ago as he watched Malcolm Brogdon become the go-to scorer and clutch player on the team, plummeting from preseason ACC Player of the Year prognostications seemingly from the first game’s opening tip. Nonetheless, Harris’ willingness to play team ball and enlarge his leadership role helped Virginia to their first outright ACC Title in 33 years and a current two-seed projection in the NCAA’s. Harris is a senior, so it’s rare for a player to back off in his final season and allow team success to trump personal statistics. Harris is still a force, but now knows he can operate in the background to help his team’s season become even more special.

Joe Harris' selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Joe Harris’ selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Best Coaching Job Outside of Charlottesville: Roy Williams, North Carolina.

Tony Bennett absolutely deserved the COY award for his unbelievable reclamation job with Virginia, but no one dealt with more adversity this year than Williams. Between the PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald saga, the academics issues brought to light by a former adviser, and the up-and-down start to the year with no set rotation and inconsistent effort, Williams had a ton on his plate in trying to get this team into postseason play. The Tar Heels won 12 conference games in a row, including a split with rival Duke, and own possibly the best non-conference wins of any team in the country. It’s arguably Williams’ best coaching job in Chapel Hill to date. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 74, Duke 66

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 21st, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina Had A Huge Edge in  Free Throws, Making 13-of-17 In the Second Half.

North Carolina Had A Huge Edge in Free Throws, Making 13-of-17 In the Second Half. (Brad Jenkins/RTC)

  1. North Carolina proves that the Heels can (still) compete with any team. It now seems like a distant memory, but back in November and December, North Carolina was maddeningly inconsistent, beating each of the top three teams in the preseason AP poll but also dropping games to UAB and Belmont. The Tar Heels are no longer losing to the average teams, but they still are rising to the challenge when facing the nation’s best. That was the case again on Thursday night, as the Tar Heels thoroughly outplayed #5 Duke in the second half, rallying from behind to notch the big home win. Not only did North Carolina win its eighth consecutive game, but they once again showed impressive mental toughness in coming from behind for the second time in three days. This is beginning to look like a team that could make a nice run in March. Read the rest of this entry »
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North Carolina Trending Upward With Three Wins in a Row

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 2nd, 2014

North Carolina continued its home dominance over N.C. State with an 84-70 win Saturday in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have now won 11 consecutive meetings with the Wolfpack in the Smith Center, coinciding with Roy Williams’ tenure as UNC’s head coach. The last win for the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill was back in 2003, which was Matt Doherty’s last season at the helm. More importantly, the Tar Heels’ victory was their third straight ACC win, raising them to 4-4 in league play. For N.C. State, this loss ended a three-game winning streak, albeit with all the wins in Raleigh, and drops the Wolfpack to 4-5 in the ACC standings.

Roy Williams' Still Perfect Against N.C. State in Chapel Hill. (Photo: Robert Willett / newsobserver.com)

Roy Williams’ Still Perfect Against N.C. State in Chapel Hill.
(Photo: Robert Willett / newsobserver.com)

The story of the first half was the dominant performance of the North Carolina defense versus the N.C. State offense. The Tar Heels held the Wolfpack to 25 percent shooting on its way to a 40-23 halftime lead. N.C. State struggled to get open shots and failed to convert from anywhere on the court. At the rim, North Carolina blocked six first half shots, and the Wolfpack made only 1-of-7 from three. Even the foul line was a source of misery for N.C. State in the opening stanza, shooting a dismal 2-of-7.

In the second half, N.C. State played much better offensively, more than doubling its first half point total by outscoring North Carolina 47-44 after the break. Mark Gottfried switched to a smaller lineup, using point guards Anthony Barber and Tyler Lewis together, and went with a spread offense. The move enabled the Wolfpack to attack the Tar Heels off the dribble and get much easier shots, making an impressive 65.4 percent of their second half field goals. JuCo transfer Desmond Lee was particularly effective, repeatedly beating a bigger Tar Heel defender off the bounce on the way to 18 second half points. But while the small lineup ignited the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels took advantage of their size advantage on the other end. In the second half, North Carolina grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and converted those into 13 points. In a game in which overall shooting and turnovers were virtually even, the difference in the outcome can be traced to the Tar Heels’ 52-36 overall rebounding advantage. Here are some key takeaways for each team after Saturday’s game.

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The Streak Continues: An Energized North Carolina Dismantles Clemson

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2014

North Carolina played its best game in weeks on Sunday night in handily beating Clemson, 80-61. The final margin of victory was quite deceptive, though, as the Tar Heels led by more than 25 points for most of the second half. This means, of course, that Clemson is still winless all-time in Chapel Hill, dropping to 0-57 after the latest loss, but the story from the game centered around a revitalized unit that showed some hustle and fight for the first time in a long while. North Carolina dominated the shooting at both ends, hitting 55.4 percent of its field goals, while holding Clemson below 30 percent for most of the contest. But even more importantly, the Tar Heels played with an intensity that’s been missing, frequently diving for loose balls and making hustle plays throughout the game.

An Intense James Michael McAdoo Leads North Carolina to Dominant Win. (THE HERALD-SUN, BERNARD THOMAS — AP Photo)

An Intense James Michael McAdoo Leads North Carolina to Dominant Win.
(THE HERALD-SUN, BERNARD THOMAS — AP Photo)

The Tigers started out cold and turned downright frigid quickly thereafter. Clemson only hit six of its first 20 shots and found itself down by eight with 6:27 left in the first half, but the Tigers then proceeded to miss 14 consecutive field goals over the next 13:21 of play. During that stretch, North Carolina outscored Clemson 30-7 and the outcome was already decided. In the postgame press conferences, both coaches singled out the play of Tar Heels’ forward, James Michael McAdoo, and rightfully so. McAdoo was in attack mode throughout the contest and finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting. While many have considered the junior a disappointment this season, he has been playing at a higher level for the past month. After 12 games, McAdoo was averaging 12.8 points per game and shooting a chilly 41.4 percent from the field. However, in his last eight outings, he has averaged a highly-efficient 15.9 points per game while converting an outstanding 59.1 percent of his field goals. For Clemson, K.J. McDaniels played well with 13 points and nine rebounds but got little support from the rest of his team. Here are some key takeaways for each team after Sunday night’s game.

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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.

Duke

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.(Photo:cbssports.com)

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(Photo:cbssports.com)

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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Could This Season Be the Breaking Point for Roy Williams at North Carolina?

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 10th, 2014

North Carolina’s loss Wednesday night to Miami, dropping the Tar Heels to 0-2 in the ACC, was depressing enough for head coach Roy Williams. Where once the storyline of their season was predicated on top-flight performances against the elite versus some head-scratching defeats, consecutive losses to Wake Forest and the Hurricanes have now relegated them to the status of a team merely fighting for relevance. If you watch Williams’ press conference following the most recent defeat (you can do just that in its entirety here), it’s easy to see that this season has already taken a monstrous toll on the legendary coach. Maddeningly inconsistent play has certainly played a major role, but negative headlines that have enveloped the school off the court have played an even bigger role in Williams’ angst. After years of signs that increasing disenchantment with the machine of big-time college sports and its evolution (or devolution, depending on how you look at it), has Williams reached a point where he might consider walking away after this season?

Roy Williams

Is this the year the outside facets of coaching college basketball gets to Roy Williams? (credit: goheels.com)

College basketball coaches will always have their ups and downs. Even the so-called perennial contenders still have years where they fail to fulfill their promise (Kentucky in 2013; Duke in 2012, etc.). Winning on the hardwood, especially with college basketball’s difficult one-and-done playoff system, is never going to be satisfying enough every year. Williams certainly knows that, having gone to seven Final Fours with Kansas and North Carolina and coming home with two trophies — in 2005 and 2009. It’s clear he enjoys coaching. He enjoys teaching and nurturing the players who come through his program. But it has been the outside factors — such as the AAU circuit and player “handlers,” parental involvement that has become rampant, and the enormous role sports plays in a university’s overall public perception — that are seeming to weigh on a self-described “old school” coach like Roy Williams.

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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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Will the Real North Carolina Please Stand Up? Maybe It Already Has

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 19th, 2013

Will the real North Carolina basketball team please stand up? Or maybe they already have. Maybe this Tar Heels squad is going to have major ups and downs all year. Has a high profile team ever had a stranger first 10 games than the 2013-14 Tar Heels? Consider that North Carolina swept all three games with this preseason’s consensus top three teams – Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville, but now has also lost to three unranked teams, and twice at home. After last night’s 86-83 loss to Texas, the Heels have managed to offset all three huge wins with three perplexing losses. Imagine what fun the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is going to have trying to evaluate this team’s resume.

North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams Was Not Pleased With His Team's Effort Against Texas (Photo: goheels.com)

North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams Was Not Pleased With His Team’s Effort Against Texas
(Photo: goheels.com)

While Roy Williams‘ team is difficult to understand, let’s at least try to figure out what causes such huge swings in performance by looking at all six pivotal games. The first thing that stands out is how important the first half has been for this team. In all six games the Tar Heels outscored their opponents in the second half — by an average of eight points in the three big wins; and by five in the three bad losses. However, North Carolina has trailed at the half in the three losses by an average of 10 points. In the three wins, they were tied at the half with Louisville and Michigan State and led Kentucky by three. So it’s safe to say that a good start is crucial to this Tar Heels team.

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Morning Five: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 19th, 2013

morning5

  1. Late on Tuesday night a video of Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson ranting went viral. By now, most of you have seen it. If you haven’t, we posted the clip on our Tumblr account. Outside of the amusing aspect of seeing Hinson rant, the one thing that caught our attention was the universal applause that Hinson has received. When we say universal we mean we have not seen a single media member criticize Hinson for his comments. We are not contrarian enough to go against that tide, but we do find it curious how coaches are able to go to the media and criticize the effort of a player (or group of players). However, when those same players exceed expectations the coach is praised for getting the best out of those players. If being able to motivate your players is a trait that generates applause, then failing to do so should also lead to an equal degree of criticism. Now, this is hardly the first time that a coach has gone off on his players (Pat Knight at Lamar comes to mind) so the long-term narrative around Hinson’s rant will probably be determined by how his players react to it.
  2. North Carolina has been one of the most confusing teams in the country so far this season. They have without question the three best wins in the country so far knocking off preseason #1-2-3 (Michigan State-Kentucky-Louisville), but also have a pair of home losses coming against Belmont and UAB. The most common excuse for the Tar Heels has been that they have had to adjust to playing without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Yesterday one of those problems was solved when the NCAA cleared McDonald to play. That announcement by itself is interesting on some level, but the most interesting aspect of the release was that UNC only submitted their request on December 11 and it is the only request from the school meaning that the school has not even approached the NCAA about a ruling on Hairston. Late last night the school said it hoped to have the Hairston issue resolved by the end of the week, but based on what we have heard we would not expect Hairston to return this season. It is also worth pointing out how long it took UNC to submit since many individuals–fans, media, and coaches–have been critical of how long the NCAA took to reach a decision when in fact it was UNC that took a long time.
  3. We saw it coming as soon as Alex Murphy announced that he was transferring from Duke and yesterday Murphy confirmed that he would be transferring to Florida. Murphy, who entered Duke a year early at the behest of Mike Krzyzewski, never became a regular in the Blue Devil rotation and although the Gators aren’t that far behind Blue Devils in terms of talent the change of venue and system might give Murphy a better chance to play. One of the more interesting aspects of Murphy’s transfer is that he was essentially pushed by the Duke coaching staff to leave high school a year early to help bolster the team’s depth, but it may have hurt his development as a player.
  4. While many of the early season made-for-TV events have fallen apart as the gimmicks that they are one event that appears to have staying power is the Armed Forces Classic, which is played at US military bases across the country. Yesterday, ESPN announced some of its schedule for the games for the next three years. The 2014 game will be played in Puerto Rico and will feature a father-son match-up when Rick Pitino (Louisville) will face-off against Richard Pitino (Minnesota). The 2015 event is completely up in the air both in terms of location and teams, but the 2016 event promises to be a particularly special one as it will be held in Pearl Harbor less than a month away from the 75th anniversary of the attack that propelled the US into World War II.
  5. It might be a little late for Christmas this year, but if you have at least $100,000 lying around and a Duke fan that you want to impress then Christian Laettner‘s jersey from the 1992 East Regional Final against Kentucky might be the perfect gift. According to Leland.com, they are auctioning off Laettner’s jersey from that game, which they claim to have authenticated through a variety of methods. The owner of the jersey reportedly had a relationship with Laettner and was given the jersey at the end of the 1991-92 season. Laettner has not commented on the auction yet, but given the reputation of the auction house we won’t question its authenticity. We will be interested to see just how high the final sale price will be as we can imagine there are plenty of Duke graduates who would love to hang that somewhere in their office.
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Leslie McDonald Reinstated; PJ Hairston Still Pending

Posted by mpatton on December 18th, 2013

Big news out of Chapel Hill today as Leslie McDonald was reinstated by the NCAA effective immediately, allowing him to play in tonight’s game against Texas. McDonald was suspended  for the first nine games of North Carolina‘s season for accepting impermissible benefits, including “the use of luxury cars, payment of parking tickets, a cell phone and lodging,” per the NCAA’s release. He will also be required to donate almost $1,800 to charity.

Leslie McDonald gives Roy Williams another offensive weapon. (credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati / North Carolina athletics)

Leslie McDonald gives Roy Williams another offensive weapon. (credit: Jeffrey A. Camarati / North Carolina athletics)

The strangest part of the story comes in the details of the NCAA’s release. While the general consensus has been that the NCAA has been holding up the decisions of McDonald and PJ Hairston for some unknown reason, it was revealed that North Carolina only submitted a reinstatement request on December 11 (after initially reporting the case in late October). The request was completed yesterday, so there was a very quick turnaround in Indianapolis while the holdup appears to have been in Chapel Hill. Raising even more eyebrows was the final line of the NCAA’s release: “At this time, McDonald’s reinstatement request is the only one the NCAA has received from North Carolina.” That means that it is the school that is still investigating the facts in Hairston’s case, rather than the NCAA. Hairston’s case is certainly more complex than McDonald’s, so it makes sense his case would take longer to sort out.

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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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