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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North Carolina Looks Complete With Marcus Paige Back

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 8th, 2015

Coming into this season, North Carolina was considered one of the best bets to make it to Houston for the Final Four. Those expectations for Roy Williams’ squad were in large part due to the return of senior guard Marcus Paige. Unfortunately, Paige suffered a broken hand before the season began and the Tar Heels dropped an early game against Northern Iowa in his absence. But Paige made an impressive return to the lineup last week in convincing wins over Maryland and Davidson, helping North Carolina look like the team that many expect to challenge for a spot in the season’s final weekend.

As expected, Marcus Paige has helped North Carolina's perimeter on both ends of the floor. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

As expected, Marcus Paige has helped North Carolina’s perimeter on both ends of the floor. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Although North Carolina performed reasonably well without Paige, the Heels are clearly a better team with their senior leader back on the court. A solid two-way player throughout his career, Paige has already had a positive impact on both ends of the floor. Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Nate Britt admirably filled in as long-range threats without Paige in the lineup for the team’s first four games against top-100 competition, but eventually that trio cooled from three-point range (see below table). In the two games since his return, Paige has directly contributed (6-of-10 on threes) to UNC’s improved shooting, but he has also helped his teammates get better looks. The rest of the team has made 42.3 percent of its long-range attempts since he returned, for a total of 47.2 percent.

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ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

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North Carolina’s Other Guards Looking Strong Thus Far

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

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

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

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

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

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ACC 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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ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 5th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marcus Paige Injury Could Help Heels in Long Run

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 5th, 2015

North Carolina announced on Wednesday that senior point guard Marcus Paige has suffered a fractured third metacarpal on his right (non-shooting) hand in practice and will be sidelined three to four weeks as a result. Paige, the leading returning scorer for the Heels and the key cog to the nation’s top rated preseason squad, was selected as the Co-Preseason Conference Player of the Year just last week by the members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.

Marcus Paige Will Miss the Start of His Senior Season (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige Will Miss the Start of His Senior Season (newsobserver.com)

Paige is coming off a season where he was slowed by plantar fasciitis in his right foot, causing his offensive production to dip after a stellar sophomore campaign. In that second year in Chapel Hill, Paige was named to the all-ACC first team, averaging a career-high 17.5 points per contest. Slogging through the much of his junior season with the nagging injury, Paige still managed to lead the club in points and assists, garnering third-team all-ACC honors.

With Paige likely to miss the first few weeks of game action, sophomore Joel Berry II will likely get the first look to replace the senior captain. Berry, a McDonald’s All-American, averaged a shade over four points per game as a freshman, but saw his opportunities and production rise as he got more acclimated to the collegiate game. He scored a season-high 15 points in a March victory over Georgia Tech and was very effective off the bench in the NCAA Tournament, highlighted by a nine-point, three-assist game in 19 minutes in a regional semifinals loss to eventual national runner-up Wisconsin.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

This week was an eye-opening one for ACC teams, with several marquee match-ups that shed greater light on the haves and have-nots of the conference race. Now moving into February, the teams with staying power are starting to emerge and those that are disappointing are showing their true colors as well. This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish keep beating good teams and are a stellar 8-1 in ACC play at the turn. They withstood a 10-point deficit from Duke on Wednesday night and never lost their composure. This is starting to look like a team that has major potential come NCAA Tournament time.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ six-game winning streak has put them in the thick of the conference race through four weeks. Marcus Paige seems to have regained some of his missing star power, and some timely shots falling for Justin Jackson and Nate Britt make the team more dangerous from the perimeter. Don’t forget Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are expected to return before year’s end, too.
  • Virginia Tech. Hokies’ fans had been waiting to see some early returns on Buzz Williams’ hiring, and this may have been the week they got a glimpse of what he’s building. Virginia Tech nearly knocked off undefeated Virginia last weekend before bowing out by just three points, then procured an overtime win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday for Williams’ first ACC win. Progress, people.
Adam Smith's game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams (USATodaySports)

Adam Smith’s (far left) game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams and reason for hope in the future (USATodaySports)

  • Nate Britt, North Carolina. After learning of the emotional state Britt was in prior to North Carolina’s ESPN Big Monday match-up with Syracuse, his performance became that much more admirable. Britt set a career high with 17 points, but perhaps more importantly for Roy Williams’ team was his 4-of-5 shooting from three. Could he finally be the long-range complement to Paige the Tar Heels desperately need?
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. No need to talk too much about how outstanding Grant’s season has been as the national media has that pretty well covered, but anyone who watched his performance live against Duke had to be amazed. He was the best player on the court in that game (yes, including Jahlil Okafor) en route to a stat line of 23 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, three steals and two blocks. Yes, he’s for real.
  • Louisville’s Backcourt. The much-maligned Cardinals’ offense has shown signs of life, largely because of the clearly improved shooting of their guards. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had an especially dominant week in wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College on the road; combined, they scored 94 points in the two contests on 65 percent shooting from the field and 67 percent from three.

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ACC M5: 01.27.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 27th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Justin Anderson woke from his slumber with seven minutes left and saved Virginia from a truly horrendous Sunday loss at Virginia Tech. Anderson has been unreal this season, shooting over 50 percent from three on the year. After a five-point mini-run from Anderson, Tony Bennett unveiled his secret weapon: a drawn-up lob for his junior wing. Apparently Anderson has been lobbying Bennett for lob plays since he got to Charlottesville, and with more and more teams going to zones, you have to wonder if Bennett will start to look his way more often.
  2. Savannah Morning News: In addition to asking if Virginia can go undefeated (Ken Pomeroy predicts the Cavaliers will finish with one loss, with a 26 percent chance of finishing unblemished), it’s time to start asking harder questions about Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. They are a combined 0-13 in ACC play, but the good news is that there are plenty of games left to play (including against each other in Blacksburg). Incidentally, Pomeroy puts the odds of either going winless in the ACC at less than two percent. The Yellow Jackets are actually favored in four straight games but that won’t make Brian Gregory feel any more secure in his job. Recent quotes from athletic director Mike Bobinski definitely haven’t quieted rumors that Gregory is on the hot seat, but it remains to be seen whether the department is willing to pay enough money to find an upgrade.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal: Florida State president John Thrasher said that the goal is to have an ACC Network ready by 2016. I’ve made my case before in this space but I’ll make it again. Going after a network now may be the wrong time if things start moving in the direction of a la carte broadcast shopping. What should make the league revenue no matter what is more games getting shown, but the days of windfall profits from the likes of the Big Ten Network are numbered. Soon it won’t be every house paying two dollars per subscriber because cable forces them to do so, but people will be able to subscribe to individual networks and stream them online. That likely means less revenue than a network in the short run, but it would still be a big boost over what the league gets right now.
  4. Fayetteville Observer: NC State (kind of got jobbed) lost a weekend heartbreaker to Notre Dame, but it was classic Wolfpack to blow a big second half lead. Still, there were some positives to take away from the loss, as freshmen Cody and Caleb Martin both gave Mark Gottfried good minutes. Had they won, NC State would have been in the driver’s seat for an NCAA bid; instead, the Wolfpack may still have work to do. Assuming they win the games they should the rest of the way, though, everything will probably be OK. But this team has been up and down already with a few head-scratching losses. One person the game didn’t look good for is Cat Barber, who only played two minutes in the loss.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: Looks like the old local paper jinx. In a statistic surprising absolutely no one, North Carolina doesn’t shoot many threes (other than Marcus Paige) but Nate Britt was feeling it in the Tar Heels’ win last night over Syracuse, going 4-of-5 from long range. Britt hadn’t hit a single three in his last four games, and the team (other than Marcus Paige) had only hit 11 threes in conference play. He didn’t carry the team alone (North Carolina feasted against the Orange in the paint), but his shooting played a big role in the win. Side note: Rakeem Christmas put up a cool 22/12.
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ACC Stock Watch – Week One

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 21st, 2014

Each week here at the microsite we’ll take a look at which ACC teams and players are trending up, down, or remaining flat. It’s still very early in the season, but there are some trends to be gleaned from the first week of opening games. Let’s take a look below:

Trending Up

  • Duke. Despite all of the preseason hype placed on Duke’s freshmen (Jahlil Okafor in particular) and speculative questions about overall team chemistry, the Blue Devils have looked the part of a title contender thus far. Their blowouts over Presbyterian and Fairfield may not have convinced anyone, but their wire-to-wire victory over Michigan State showed that Duke is already in top form.
  • Miami. The Hurricanes’ early returns on their big-name transfers have been outstanding. Sheldon McClellan (from Texas) is putting up 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game through two contests, and former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez is not only averaging a team-high 18.3 points per contest, but he also hit the game-winning three over rival Florida that ended the Gators’ 33-game home winning streak. Pretty solid start for Jim Larranaga’s newcomers.
Angel Rodriguez has brought pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

Angel Rodriguez has produced pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

  • Virginia Tech. Why are the Hokies trending up when they only have wins over Maryland-Eastern Shore and Liberty? Well, go back in time one year ago and Virginia Tech had just lost its season opener to South Carolina Upstate. At a minimum, Buzz Williams has his team beating the teams it should beat, something last year’s group couldn’t boast. Freshman Justin Bibbs’ solid start to the season has been a pleasant surprise as well.

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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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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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