Where 2016-17 Happens: Reason #2 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2016

As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 11. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#2 – Where This Can’t Be Real Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15 and 2015-16 preseasons.

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All Aboard the Isaiah Hicks Bandwagon

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2016

North Carolina never comes out of nowhere. When you’re an historic program with a Hall of Fame coach, why should you? Last year the Tar Heels were ranked first in the preseason AP Top 25 and finished the season a miracle shot away from capturing Roy Williams’ third National Championship. Despite losing All-America forward Brice Johnson and star lead guard Marcus Paige, the Heels are ranked #6 in this preseason’s Top 25 and were picked to finish second in the ACC at Operation Basketball in late October. Point guard Joel Berry was voted to the preseason All-ACC First Team and wing Justin Jackson was named to the Second Team.

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if they want to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if it wants to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

There is (rightfully) a lot of love for Williams’ squad heading into the season, but the player on the team not getting nearly enough hype is senior forward Isaiah Hicks. Hicks, who was the ACC Sixth Man of the Year last season, was a dominant force in short batches. However, the presence of Johnson at the four prevented him from logging the kind of minutes (45.2% minutes rate) that would have facilitated bigger numbers (8.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG). With Johnson no longer around, Hicks figures to become a key piece to a North Carolina team looking to get back to the Final Four and finish the job. Somewhat surprisingly, Hicks was not chosen for the All-ACC First or Second Team at Operation Basketball. That omission may look silly come March.

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North Carolina’s No Good Very Bad Ending to Fairy Tale Season

Posted by Matt Patton on April 7th, 2016

There’s no arguing that North Carolina is among college basketball royalty. The Tar Heels are one of only three programs with a truly national fan base (the other two are Duke and Kentucky). They own five national championships and consistently recruit a level of talent that most programs can only dream of. But with the news of a multi-year academic scandal and corresponding NCAA investigation hanging overhead, the carefully-curated lustre of “the Carolina Way” had faded. The uncertainty of the drawn-out investigation resulted in a surplus of negative recruiting and several classes that lagged behind the other national powerhouses.

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (Photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

“When you’re a kid growing up, you don’t dream of missing the last second shot, or a team beating you at the buzzer,” he said. “You dream of having that moment. That confetti. Seeing your family over there crying tears of joy. Hugging guys you’ve had blood, sweat and tears with for four years. That’s what you dream of. We were close to that dream.”Marcus Paige

All of this set the stage for Roy Williams to rebrand his team — one of college basketball’s elites — as a Cinderella despite starting the season as the top dog (preseason AP #1). Some experts quickly left the Tar Heels’ bandwagon after they blew a mid-November double-figure second half lead at Northern Iowa (a team that was ultimately one broken press away from the Sweet Sixteen, remember). A narrative has existed over the last few years — promoted incessantly by Dan Dakich’s egocentric view of history — that North Carolina lacked toughness. The early loss to the Panthers played into that narrative, but it more or less became gospel when the Tar Heels allowed a lesser Duke squad to steal a February victory in Chapel Hill even with Matt Jones injured for most of the game. Suddenly Doug Gottlieb was mentioning that Williams was considering retirement to allow Hubert Davis to assume the helm. Since that loss on February 17, the Tar Heels played with an “us against the world” mentality that we hadn’t seen from them. Read the rest of this entry »

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National Championship Preview: North Carolina/Villanova Will Win If…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine & Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2016

Only one game remains this college basketball season, and it tips off in about six hours. What needs to happen for North Carolina and Villanova if they expect to win a National Championship in Houston later tonight? Here are the keys to victory for both sides.

North Carolina Will Win If…

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina must rule the interior on Monday night.(Photo: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The Tar Heels’ front line imposes its will. Five North Carolina regulars are 6’8” or taller, a fact that will matter even more than usual against a Villanova team with a de facto starting power forward (Kris Jenkins) who is just 6’6”. The Wildcats will have their hands very full with Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and the rest – particularly on the backboards. Jay Wright has found plenty of advantages to exploit with his smaller lineup, but there’s no denying that the undersized Wildcats will be playing at a significant disadvantage when the ball comes off the rim. Villanova ranks 209th and 134th nationally in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, respectively, and gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Oklahoma on Saturday (about the only thing the Wildcats didn’t do well). No shift in offensive philosophy is needed tonight, but expect North Carolina to wage a full-blown assault on its offensive backboard.
  • Joel Berry is effective offensively. Senior Marcus Paige is usually noted as the most effective barometer for the Tar Heels’ offense, but it has been the play of Berry this season (not Paige), that has more closely correlated with the overall success of North Carolina. Berry has averaged 12.6 points and 3.8 assists per game this season, but has managed only 9.8 PPG and 2.2 APG in UNC’s six losses. He had eight points, 10 assists and seven rebounds on Saturday against Syracuse; finding a way to have a similarly significant impact against Villanova’s tenacious perimeter defense will take a lot of the pressure off the UNC frontcourt.
  • They make Villanova take difficult three-point shots. Carolina’s length is sure to bother a Villanova team that has excelled inside the arc this season (the Wildcats rank second in the country in shooting 57.3 percent on two-point field goals), so expect them to rely on the three-point shot even more than they normally do. Forty-three percent of Villanova’s field goals come from behind the arc, (29th highest mark in the nation), and while they don’t shoot an outstanding percentage from there (35.9%), nearly every Villanova regular is a threat to convert — six Wildcats have made at least 23 three-pointers this season. North Carolina has not defended the arc well this season – the Heels rank 247th nationally in allowing opponents to shoot 35.9 percent from three – but must be able to challenge Villanova’s shooters tonight.
  • They don’t turn the ball over. The North Carolina recipe for offensive success, in its most succinct form, is to limit turnovers and collect offensive rebounds. Doing the former will not be easy against a pesky Villanova team that will surely look to utilize its disruptive 1-2-2 press, but it will be no less important. The more field goal attempts that go up, the more offensive rebounds that will be available to a North Carolina frontcourt that is the Tar Heels’ biggest advantage in this game.

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The Ten Players Who Will Decide the Final Four

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 31st, 2016

No single player is going to decide either of Saturday’s semifinal games or the ensuing championship tilt on Monday night, but many will have a hand in those results. Some players’ “shining moments” will last longer than others (no matter who sings about it), however, so with that in mind, let’s examine the 10 players likely to make the biggest impact this weekend (in descending order).

Buddy Hield Holds Oversized Influence This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Buddy Hield Carries Some Oversized Influence This Weekend (USA Today Images)

10. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma

Every team Oklahoma plays focuses its defensive game plan on Buddy Hield with good reason. Other than the presumptive NPOY, however, Cousins has proven especially effective at finding and exploiting the resulting holes in opposing defenses, scoring more than 15 points in 14 different games this season. Opponents place so much attention on Hield that it allows Cousins to locate driving lanes and space to create his own, very effective, offense.

9. Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova

It’s not easy to predict how Arcidiacono will affect a game but you can count on him finding some way to do so. He is capable of anything ranging from a hot shooting streak, double-figure assists, complete control of the flow and tempo, or defensive mastery. The bottom line is that Arcidiacono will make plays. It will be up to Oklahoma to limit his overall effect. If at some point in the second half on Saturday, you think, “We haven’t seen much from Arch,” things are probably going pretty well for the Sooners.

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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: #1 North Carolina 101, #5 Indiana 86

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Marcus Paige's Best Game in Over a Month Led UNC to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Marcus Paige’s Best Game in Over a Month Led UNC to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Nobody can keep North Carolina off the offensive glass. It didn’t matter how much size Indiana had in the low post. The simple truth is that the Tar Heels have more frontcourt depth than any other team in the field and can attack the glass in waves. A starting lineup of 6’8″, 6’10” and 6’10” creates instant mismatches and posed a problem all night long for a group of Hoosiers that only wanted to get out and run. The team is impressively connected when it comes to timing and anticipation and each forward is skilled in maneuvering himself to gain good rebounding position inside.
  2. Indiana’s defensive struggles became its downfall. The Hoosiers’ 13-of-31 performance from three and 41 percent shooting night from the field was not disparate from their season averages. In fact, their 1.23 points per possession tonight was better than its season average of 1.18 PPP. In the wake of a 15-point defeat, there was no degree of shooting that could have saved Indiana in this game. The effort instead needed to come on the defensive end, and it wasn’t there. The Tar Heels, normally a subpar 31 percent three-point shooting team, shot an uncanny 11-of-20 from deep and complemented it with a 50 percent shooting inside. That long-range shooting performance was certainly not something Tom Crean expected and the added focus on defending the perimeter resulted in wide-open driving lanes.
  3. Does any team have the personnel to beat the Tar Heels? With a string of outright dominant performances starting with its rout of the ACC Tournament field, the question lingers. Yes, UNC shot abnormally well against Indiana, but the fact remains that few teams have the frontcourt depth and defensive wherewithal to slow it down. Moreover, attempting to beat Roy Williams at his own game by pushing the tempo is a recipe for disaster. Interestingly, five of the Tar Heels’ six losses this season have been in games played well below the team’s average tempo.

Star of the Game. Marcus Paige was on point tonight from the moment the ball was tipped. The senior point guard got off to an explosive start, connecting on four consecutive threes in the opening five minutes to give his team an early lead. He ultimately finished with 21 points — his highest output since February 6 — along with six assists. His outside shooting sparked what was North Carolina’s second-most efficient offensive performance of the season.

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Key Matchups Loom Large in UNC-Indiana Battle

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 25th, 2016

During a postgame interview after Indiana’s tough win over Kentucky, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said that he “didn’t want to stop coaching this team.” His sentiment makes sense. Crean has a fun and talented team, led by one of the best players in Hoosiers history. But while Yogi Ferrell played his heart out (18 points, five rebounds, four assists) against Tyler Ulis and the Wildcats, he can’t do it by himself against North Carolina. The Hoosiers should be in good shape on the offensive end, especially if freshman Thomas Bryant continues to stay out of foul trouble; however, expect Indiana to be challenged in different ways by the Tar Heels. For Crean to get his wish and continue coaching this team, the Hoosiers will have figure out the answers to tonight’s following matchups.

Tom Crean's defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet 16 round. (Getty)

Tom Crean’s defense will have its work cut out against Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige in the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Getty)

  • Brice Johnson vs. Troy Williams or Thomas Bryant. Johnson has been arguably the best forward in the country over the course of a season in which he averaged 16.8 PPG and 10.5 RPG. His athleticism around the rim will definitely demand double-teams from the Hoosiers’ defense. Indiana’s help defense against Kentucky’s big men was successful because neither Alex Poythress nor Marcus Lee are comfortable with their backs to the basket; Johnson, however, has the exact opposite skill set. Bryant has the weight to push Johnson away from the paint but the Tar Heels big man could run circles around him if he chooses to face the basket. Williams, on the other hand, has the wingspan to defend Johnson but will be susceptible to picking up easy fouls against him. Those would hurt the Hoosiers considerably on the other end of the floor. Even if they end up letting Johnson get his 20 points in the paint, protecting the defensive glass is paramount. It will not be a close contest if Johnson ends up with multiple second chances on the offensive end.

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Rushed Reaction: North Carolina 61, Virginia 57

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. North Carolina’s defense was tremendous, as it was all tournament long in Washington. Marcus Paige was mostly tasked with guarding Malcolm Brogdon (along with Kenny Williams, of all people) and held him to 15 points on 22 shots including only one trip to the foul line. After the game, Brogdon gave North Carolina credit for flooding the lane when he drove, but he also took a lot of responsibility for the poor performance. For his part, Roy Williams called Paige one of the five best defensive guards he’s ever coached. Looking past Brogdon, London Perrantes also struggled shooting with Joel Berry smothering him (he finished 3-of-14 from the field). The Cavaliers did a great job on the offensive boards, but couldn’t convert enough of those to second chance points.

    North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrate winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

    North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks (3) and North Carolina forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrate winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  2. In the first 13 minutes of the game, North Carolina committed eight turnovers on 19 possessions. They were careless with the ball in the post, often trying to make passes that weren’t there. And while Virginia didn’t light up the scoreboard off of those turnovers, they led to a lot of extra shots. Some post turnovers are inevitable against Virginia — especially considering the Tar Heels’ love of quick post passes — but once North Carolina started hitting some jump shots, their post players started playing better with the ball.
  3. There’s not much Virginia should take away from tonight’s game because the Cavaliers controlled the tempo and dominated the offensive boards. Roy Williams was asked what he thought North Carolina’s chances would be if they had been killed on the glass and didn’t make their threes: “Zero,” he responded. The more I reflect on the game, the more it felt like this was Virginia’s game to win. That shouldn’t take away from what North Carolina accomplished here, but Virginia played a near-perfect game apart from missing its jump shots. One game sample sizes are cruel bedfellows, but don’t use this game to say that Tony Bennett’s team can’t win the NCAA Tournament over the next several weeks.

Star of the Game: It’s tough to choose, but Joel Berry was North Carolina’s difference-maker this whole tournament. As he’s evolved into a backcourt leader, the Heels have started taking on his persona as a team. They have more of an edge than they did at the start of the year, and a lot of the credit for that change in character should go to Berry. He plays for contact and isn’t scared of tough jump shots. Against Pittsburgh, Berry put the team on his back when their shots weren’t falling. Against Virginia, Berry hit the shot to take the lead for good along with a dagger three and four free throws to ice the game. Tonight, his defense and 19 points carried the day.

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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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