ACC M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 10th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. ESPN and One Foot Down: Major team swag news as Darren Rovell reports that Notre Dame will be moving from Adidas to Under Armour after this year. In a weird way the move shows just how self involved the Fighting Irish are when it comes to these sorts of things. There was a minor uproar when Michigan became Adidas’s “flagship” deal a few years back, so it appears Notre Dame headed towards a smaller pond. Seriously, if this deal isn’t massive, I don’t understand it. But hey, this means the ACC will maintain two Under Armour schools (Boston College is the only other once Maryland leaves) to go with two Adidas schools once Louisville joins.
  2. Blogger So Dear: A statistical breakdown of Winston-Salem’s very own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? That’s right, Wake Forest has outscored its last ten conference opponents by 49 points at home, going 7-3 in the process. Ken Pomeroy expected that the Demon Deacons would be outscored by 40, meaning the team overachieved by a whopping 89 points (8.9 points a game). Meanwhile on the road the team is 0-10 in its last such games on the road. Opponents have outscored Jeff Bzdelik‘s squad by 161 points (16.1 a game) over the stretch which 46 points worse than Ken Pomeroy predicted. So Wake Forest’s current home-road differential is a 13.5 points a game more than what would be predicted by statistical models. That’s insane.
  3. Greensboro News-Record: Good stuff breaking down North Carolina‘s struggles to start conference play, but I can’t help but wonder whether the skid has more to do with Marcus Paige returning to earth. Paige literally carried this team through non-conference play. Every time they needed a bucket he was there. But at Wake Forest and against Miami Paige had two of his worst games of the season. Also if you’re looking for another good take on Roy Williams’ struggles this season, Brian Barbour has you covered.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Good work by Luke DeCock who agrees that Jabari Parker‘s mini-slump is nothing to be concerned with going forward. But wait. Did he notice that Parker and Paige had their two worst games at the same points? In all seriousness, Parker will be just fine once his jump shots start falling again. One (unrelated) thing I’m interested to see is how more teams playing more zone will affect the game in the long run. I think Syracuse’s zone is partially effective because opponents don’t play it very often. But with nearly everyone playing at least a little zone this season, I wonder if that will hurt the Orange against teams like Duke and North Carolina (though the Tar Heels haven’t exactly lit up the zones they’ve played).
  5. Tomahawk Nation: With focus turned back to basketball, Florida State rebounded from its home beat down from Virginia with a win at Littlejohn Coliseum. Their defense was suffocating, exposing a Clemson offense gorged on non-conference cupcakes. Even more impressive is the Seminoles were only 1-11 from three. My only other takeaway is there’s a huge drop-off for Brad Brownell’s team after KJ McDaniels. He was the only player who had any offensive success.

EXTRA: Georgia Tech has decided to bribe students for showing up to men’s and women’s basketball games this year with a point system where students will be awarded prizes ranging from t-shirts and gift cards to the grand prize of a PlayStation 4.

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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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Award Tour: Jabari Parker Remains No. 1 Despite Heavy Shakeup

Posted by Jameson Fleming on December 20th, 2013

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

Two new players, Wichita State’s Ron Baker and North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, cracked the NPOY Top 10 for the first time this week. Their overall performances could no longer be outranked by high-scoring guards Roberto Nelson and Jahii Carson. Nelson’s drop is more justifiable after playing just eight minutes against Towson. He was ejected for attempting to punch another player in the first half. Carson will ultimately have a better shot of making it back into the Top 10 because he’s a more complete player for a better team. This week’s list…

Player of the Year

10. Ron Baker – Wichita State. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 14 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 134.9 oRTG

For a player who only had scholarship offers to South Dakota State and Arkansas-Little Rock, Ron Baker has turned into a bona fide star. Only 31 players in all of college basketball have turned in a higher offensive rating than the Shockers’ sophomore. He’s excellent at creating his own shot inside the arc as his teammates are only assisting on 11 percent of his jumpers. And oh by the way, he’s drilling 64 percent of those two-point shots. He could lead the Shockers into February without a loss.

9. Marcus Paige – North Carolina. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 19.6 PPG, 4.1 APG, 124.3 oRTG

I held off putting Marcus Paige in the rankings for as long as possible, but his performance in a loss against Texas was enough that he could no longer be denied his rightful place in the Top 10. The hesitation with Paige was whether he could maintain the incredible improvement from his freshman season. With 23 points in each game against Kentucky and Texas, it’s obvious Paige is North Carolina’s star. On twos, threes and free throws, he’s shooting 49.3/40.0/91.2 compared to 36.8/34.4/83.6 in 2012-13. With the return of Leslie McDonald to the rotation, Paige should be freer to take better shots and those percentages could rise even more.

How pretty is this move by Paige? (via TarHeelTimes.com)

8. Nick Johnson – Arizona. Last Week: 8
2013-14 stats: 15.5 PPG, 2.5 APG, 120.7 oRTG

Nick Johnson continued his stellar junior season with a 17-point performance on just eight field goal attempts thanks to 11 trips to the free throw line against Southern. With other stars like Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell in the Wildcats’ lineup, Johnson has stood out the most. He’s scored in double-figures in every game except one and put up an oRTG of 100+ in all but two games.

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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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Previewing Texas vs. North Carolina

Posted by Taylor Erickson & Lathan Wells on December 18th, 2013

(Ed. note: news released on Wednesday afternoon that UNC’s Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play as soon as tonight’s game. This post was written prior to that release.)

On Wednesday night, Texas will head to the Dean Dome for a showdown with what suddenly looks like one of the better teams in the nation in North Carolina. North Carolina has had its struggles early this season with losses to UAB and Belmont, but has righted the ship with perhaps the best collection of wins in the country after knocking off Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky – the top three teams in the preseason AP rankings. Texas has opened the season with a 9-1 record itself, but has yet to see the type of talent that the Tar Heels will roll out. ACC correspondent Lathan Wells and the Big 12′s Taylor Erickson decided to discuss some key topics heading into the contest in the hopes of providing some insights to watch for as the game plays out.

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Can Marcus Paige continue his hot streak against Texas on Wednesday? (Scott Muthersbaugh / The Times News)

Taylor:  So I have to start with the obvious question: North Carolina has three of the best wins in non-conference play, but also has puzzling losses to UAB and Belmont. Which Tar Heels team are we going to see on Wednesday night?

Lathan: Prior to the Kentucky game, that would continue to be the prevailing question. But after their third marquee non-conference win of the season, it appears that UNC is starting to find some consistency. The players appear to be more comfortable in their roles. The fact that Texas has taken four of the last five since Roy Williams took over in Chapel Hill may be motivation enough. Speaking of adapting to roles, how has Texas been able to have such a solid start with a team that entered the season in the midst of major transition?

Taylor: The 9-1 start for Texas has certainly been refreshing to Longhorns fans, but when dissecting the schedule in more detail, it becomes apparent that most of those wins have come against clearly inferior teams. According to CBSSports.com, Texas’ strength of schedule to this point ranks 100th in the nation, 91 spots behind what North Carolina (ninth) has faced. If Rick Barnes’ squad is truly improved, it will have a chance to prove it with tonight’s game followed by one against Michigan State in a span of three days this week. That said, Texas has gotten solid contributions from big man Cameron Ridley, who went for 22 points and 10 rebounds in his last outing. After the way North Carolina handled the talented front line of Kentucky, is there any reason to believe the Heels will struggle to do the same with the Longhorns’ frontcourt?

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Rushed Reactions: Kentucky vs. North Carolina

Posted by Brad Jenkins on December 14th, 2013

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

UNC's Big Men Were Able to Outduel Kentucky's Tonight

UNC’s Big Men Were Able to Outduel Kentucky’s Tonight

  1. The Kentucky talented freshmen played like freshmen. This should not be a surprise since it was the first true road game in their Kentucky freshmen’s college careers, and it was against a quality opponent with an energized crowd behind it. It showed up mostly in how they reacted to the strong North Carolina defensive effort. Kentucky turned the ball over 17 times compared to North Carolina’s nine, while Julius Randle had the toughest performance of his young career, struggling with foul trouble and finding openings in the half-court, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting. The Harrison twins — Andrew and Aaron — have a reputation for sometimes displaying bad body language when things don’t go their way, and despite keeping their team in the game for much of the evening, that was true down the stretch of this game.
  2. North Carolina held its own in the paint. Before the game, this was an area where Kentucky looked to have the advantage. Kentucky led the nation in offensive rebounding, pulling down an impressive 46 percent of its misses. For the game the Wildcats pulled down 17 offensive rebounds and were right on their average, but the problem was that they turned those boards into only 19 points. On the other end of the floor the Wildcats came in as the second best team in the country in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage at 38 percent. North Carolina was able to smash through that number with 51 percent shooting on their two-point attempts and actually finished with a four-point edge in points in the paint.
  3. Both teams need to work on free throw shooting. Even though we knew this was the case beforehand, it was certainly on display in Chapel Hill tonight. Kentucky did better in the second half (77 percent compared to 53 percent in the first half) so perhaps they have hope in this area. But other than Marcus Paige, who made all 10 of his free throw attempts, the Tar Heels continue to be horrible from the charity stripe. If you take away Paige’s effort, the rest of the team made 16 out of 35 trips to the line. With the attacking inside styles of both Kentucky and North Carolina on full display in this game, this deficiency could be a nagging problem all year for both.

Star of the Game. Marcus Paige, North Carolina. After a quiet two-point effort in the first half, the sophomore guard responded with 21 second half points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with his perfect performance from the foul line. He made several big shots down the stretch — none bigger than a baseline floater that gave UNC a much more comfortable five-point lead — and ended as the game’s leading scorer. Paige also chipped in on the defensive end with three steals. 

Quotable.

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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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North Carolina’s Big Upset Over Sparty Only Begs More Questions

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2013

College basketball fans, welcome to the most perplexing team in the nation. North Carolina pulled off the stunning upset last night in East Lansing, besting the top team in the nation, Michigan State. A team beset by ongoing suspensions, inconsistent play and horrendous foul shooting went into a hostile road environment following an ugly loss to UAB and promptly outplayed and outhustled the nation’s top team. A confounding team? Absolutely. A team that can be pegged as playing to its competition thus far? Perhaps. But most importantly, this might be a team with just a short enough memory to continue to make noise as the season progresses.

UNC Was Quicker to the Ball All Night Long Versus Michigan State (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

UNC Was Quicker to the Ball All Night Long Versus Michigan State (DFP/J. Gonzalez)

What might be most striking thus far in the Tar Heels’ season is this squad’s resiliency. This is a team that has been forced to juggle lineups with a lot of young players forced to play significantly larger roles than they’d anticipated. Freshmen Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks were supposed to play complementary roles while their elders carried the torch early.Instead, the suspensions of PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald have forced a lineup shift that saw UNC running 11 players in just the first half against the Spartans. Britt was invaluable, playing perhaps his best game thus far. His ability to handle the ball without turning it over as the Michigan State team pressed out of necessity in the closing minutes was huge for this team. He was also a solid 7-of-8 from the line (UNC’s Achilles heel, 61.8 percent on the season), most of which was in crunch time when the Spartans turned to fouling in the hopes of mounting a comeback. Meeks’ passing ability and impressive touch down low was again on display; despite facing taller big men most of the game, he still finished with an impressive line of 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench and made numerous gorgeous passes to facilitate the team’s half-court sets. Not to be outdone was the continually impressive Brice Johnson. His 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks helped North Carolina control the paint.

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ACC M5: 12.03.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 3rd, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Backing the Pack: Brief tempo-free comparison between TJ Warren‘s stats last season and this season. Somehow despite being involved in 10 percent more possessions and shooting more than a third of the Wolfpack’s shots when he’s on the floor, Warren is essentially just as efficient this year as he was last year. The big difference is that he’s turning the ball over less, which makes up for his slightly depressed shooting percentage. That’s terrific news for NC State. If Warren can draw more fouls, look out.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: Want to know how much North Carolina misses PJ Hairston (and to a lesser extent Leslie McDonald)? Well Barry Jacobs found it. Currently Marcus Paige has hit 85 percent of the team’s threes this season. For comparison, Trevor Cooney is the next most important distance shooter at 56.8 percent (comparable to Scott Wood for NC State last year). His teammates have hit a whopping three long balls on the entire season. That’s one simple scouting report. Going forward someone in light blue needs to find some range, or look for teams to start sagging off everyone else at 20 feet and beyond.
  3. Syracuse Post-Standard: Speaking of somewhat obscure statistical tidbits, props to Patrick Stevens for hunting down ACC coaching records in November (and read the article for his asides). Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski are neck and neck… for second place. Jamie Dixon actually leads the way, having only lost three games in the month of November at Pittsburgh. I suspect Dixon’s record will go down as early season tournaments continue to get better fields, though.
  4. Chicago Tribune: This article is only peripherally related to the ACC, but cool story here from Chris Hine on Fran McCaffery and his close ties to Notre Dame. McCaffery was an assistant at Notre Dame and is currently good friends with Mike Brey. Interestingly, their friendship goes back to their assistant coaching days on the recruiting trail. His wife also played basketball in South Bend. But now McCaffery, who is in his fourth year at Iowa and has his best team there yet, is the favorite.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pittsburgh has been one of the biggest surprises of the year (for me), and Lamar Patterson, last week’s ACC Player of the Week, is a big reason why. He’s playing very efficiently all the way across the board. Patterson is shooting better, more often, assisting more, turning the ball over less, fouling less and drawing more fouls. Oh, and he’s also grabbed more steals. That’s amazing. Right now he’s playing like an ACC Player of the Year contender. If Patterson continues his torrid Renaissance Man production into December and beyond, Pittsburgh absolutely will be one of the favorites in the ACC this season.
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ACC M5: 12.02.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on December 2nd, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. CBS Sports and NBC Sports: After Duke lost another game to a very good team after leading most of the game, the popular question is whether or not the Kansas and Arizona losses are reasons to toss Duke out as a national contender. There’s no doubt, the losses bring up some concerns (though my question was “Why did Mike Krzyzewski randomly start playing zone?”). But not many teams are as big and athletic as Kansas and Arizona. Those are tough match-ups for Duke, which is still a young team. It’s not a surprise they struggled. The other story that didn’t get a ton of publicity after the game is how quiet Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon were in the second half for Duke. The backcourt holds the key.
  2. NBC Sports and Tar Heel Blog: Speaking of raising questions, North Carolina didn’t exactly silence its doubters by losing a close game at Roy Williams protege Jerod Haase’s UAB Blazers. The Tar Heels got killed on the boards, and the Blazers concentrated on stopping Marcus Paige with considerable success. Look for Michigan State to key on Paige again this week. Until someone else shows the ability to be the man in his place, there’s no downside. That said, I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tar Heels pull out the win because (1) I have no idea what to think about this team and (2) Roy Williams is Tom Izzo’s kryptonite.
  3. Burlington Times-News: NC State looked significantly better against Eastern Kentucky and showed the ability to score against a zone–albeit a shorter, less athletic one than Syracuse will trot out in ACC play. Promising signs came from Jordan Vandenberg, who set a career high, and TJ Warren, who managed 26 points in the second half. This team is already improving, which is a good sign. To keep up his success on the recruiting trail, Mark Gottfried needs to keep showing player and program development.
  4. Tomahawk Nation: If you haven’t watched Florida State, you should know that Leonard Hamilton’s team looks for real. The Seminoles came a touch-foul away from taking Florida to overtime on the road. Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky looked terrific. The twin sophomore towers kept the game within reach. Ojo in particular is a completely new player. Hamilton is the best coach in the league at developing big men. Last year Ojo looked completely lost. This year, he still has his moments, but is much more confident with the ball and is a terror on the boards. This team is good (much better than anyone predicted), but the next couple years could really be special.
  5. Duke Basketball Report: Barry Jacobs took a look at the hottest ACC teams historically from downtown. Number one? Virginia Tech. Yep, this year’s Hokie team is shooting an unbelievable 45.5% from deep. This year’s Duke team is third on the list. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh also check in at over 40%. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, that percentage is likely to drop, which will hurt its already mediocre offensive efficiency.

EXTRA: Joe Harris has ups.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume II

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 25th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. teams playing havoc with the minds and emotions of AP Poll voters. Perfect example this week – North Carolina. After laying a giant stink bomb at home against Belmont and making everyone wonder exactly how much of a difference P.J. Hairston will make even when he’s back, those same short-handed Heels went out and took it straight to the defending champs during Sunday’s convincing win over Louisville. So which is the real Carolina? Hard to say at this point, but yet another reminder that this is a year where almost any team can put up a W.

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

I LOVED…. efficient scorers. Marcus Paige‘s 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting brought to my attention that we do have a number of examples this year of quantity scorers who are putting up their numbers without dominating the ball — not the most common find with today’s shoot-first mentality. The two names that immediately come to mind are Duke’s Jabari Parker (after two weeks, still for real) and UK’s Julius Randle. Parker is now shooting almost 56 percent for the year (65 percent from three) and has only been under 50 percent shooting once all year, while Randle has never been below that mark. Meanwhile, both are still putting up over 20 points per game. It’s hard to not love a teammate who can fill it up while still leaving shots for the other guys on the floor.

I LOVED…. Russ Smith‘s ability to slice the double team. I’ll harp on his decision-making when appropriate, but there is no one better in the college game about sizing up two defenders at the top of the key, hesitating momentarily to draw them closer and then knifing through to create an instantaneous 5-on-3 situation in the lane that usually results in a layup. He’s a fun talent to see up close.

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UNC Answers Critics With Statement Win Versus Louisville Sunday

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 25th, 2013

Coming into the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic over the weekend, North Carolina had generated plenty of concern from a fervent fan base after a less-than-stellar start to the season. Uneven performances against Oakland and Holy Cross were worrisome enough, but then the Tar Heels dropped a home game to Belmont that caused a plummet in the rankings and had pundits predicting a very long year for the storied program. While many blamed the ongoing suspensions of PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald for a startling lack of offensive continuity and inability to put lesser competition away, there were other major questions for the team as it headed into the tournament. Could the team continue to rely so heavily on Marcus Paige, a point guard by nature, as its primary scoring threat playing off the ball? Would the freshmen and sophomores begin to show the promise and consistency expected of them? Had Roy Williams suddenly been exposed as a mediocre in-game coach, unwilling to make adjustments when his system doesn’t run smoothly?

Brice Johnson's emergence has provided more offensive punch for UNC (credit: collegebasketball.ap.org)

Brice Johnson’s emergence has provided more offensive punch for UNC (credit: collegebasketball.ap.org)

All three questions were answered over the course of the weekend, none more dramatically than when the Tar Heels shocked the world by upsetting defending national champion Louisville in the tournament title game on Sunday. Paige continued his torrid scoring stretch over the weekend, netting a career-high 26 points against Richmond on Saturday in the semifinals and then topping that mark with 32 against the Cardinals. While the converted shooting guard remains the team’s lone outside threat, his noticeable improvement from long range has proven to be a godsend during the absence of the team’s primary perimeter shooters. While holdover James Michael McAdoo has proven inconsistent in this young season, Paige has been Carolina’s go-to guy in all the critical moments and right now he’s producing with that burden on his shoulders.

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