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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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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A Closer Look at the ACC’s Early Impact Freshmen

Posted by Chris Kehoe on December 11th, 2013

The ACC has struggled as a whole to live up to its self-proclaimed billing as the best basketball conference of all-time. It can’t even lay a claim to the best conference currently, as it came out with a tie in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an event in which three of the ACC’s worst teams weren’t invited. However, the talent in the ACC is deep and it remains an exciting conference from top to bottom. Part of the reason for that is the emergence of new and exciting young players across the league, tantalizing casual fans with skills usually reserved for seasoned veterans. These ACC newcomers play various roles on their teams, some shouldering a large offensive burden while others bring a spark off the bench. Whether these players are one-and-done or around for the long haul, they represent the future of the ACC and have fan bases optimistically looking toward future conference championships and Final Four runs. While some relatively high-profile freshmen have struggled to adapt to the college game — UNC’s Isaiah Hicks and N.C. State’s Beejay Anya come to mind there are plenty of freshmen to note who are already producing. Broken down into a tiered system based on efficacy and impact, the following 13 freshmen represent the best of the ACC so far this season.

Tyler Ennis is a major reason for Syracuse's success

Tyler Ennis is a major reason for Syracuse’s success this season.

The Elite ACC ROY Candidates

1). Jabari Parker, F, Duke: Parker is not only an ACC ROY front-runner but an ACC Player of the Year favorite as well. His offensive game has been compared to Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony and he possesses an abundance of elite moves in isolation, ranging from the perimeter to the post. Parker carries a large burden of Duke’s offense this season and his ultimate performance will be judged largely on the Blue Devils’ success. If he can lead his team to an ACC title, he’ll probably win both awards.

2). Tyler Ennis, G, Syracuse: Ennis is a calming and consistent offensive presence for Syracuse. He rarely gets flustered and is a key member at the top of the Orange’s 2-3 zone. He has started since day one for Jim Boeheim and is a large reason why Syracuse remains undefeated and an ACC title favorite. On ESPN‘s college basketball podcast, ESPN commentator and former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said Syracuse would be a “borderline NCAA Tournament team without Ennis.” This shows how much of an impact the youngster has had.

On the Cusp

3). Anthony Barber, G, N.C. State: Barber is playing nearly 30 minutes and averaging 13 points per game for the Wolfpack. A lightning-quick, reed-thin guard, Barber shares the floor with diminutive point guard Tyler Lewis and has been relied on thus far for his scoring more than his distributing abilities.

4). Kennedy Meeks, F/C, UNC: Kennedy Meeks recently took home the ACC Rookie of the Week award after a pair of convincing performances versus UNC-Greensboro and a statement win at Michigan State. The big-bodied, 290-pound frontcourt player is known for his Kevin Love-like outlet passes and is an efficient interior scorer and big-time rebounder for this Tar Heels’ team.

Kennedy Meeks took home ACC Rookie of the Week honors (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennedy Meeks took home ACC Rookie of the Week honors (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

5). Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame: Jackson has to back up one of the best backcourt tandems in the country in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, but it is a testament to his abilities that Mike Brey finds 24 minutes per game for him. Jackson is the future of the Notre Dame backcourt and is having a very successful, if not understated, freshman campaign, averaging almost eight points per game with very good shooting numbers — 50 percent from three and 53.7 percent from the floor.

6). Ben Emelogu, G, Virginia Tech: Much was made of Emelogu getting named a freshman captain for the Hokies, but he has validated James Johnson’s decision to the tune of 14.0 PPG for the 7-3 squad.

Productive and Will Continue to Improve

7). Davon Reed, G, Miami (FL): Reed averages 9.0 PPG in almost 29 minutes per game for a rebuilding Miami program, and he will be a key cog for the Hurricanes’ future.

8). Roddy Peters, G, Maryland: Peters has taken over some point guard duties (along with Dez Wells) since Seth Allen’s early injury, and he has risen to the occasion.

Roddy Peters has been a bright spot for a disappointing Maryland team.

Roddy Peters has been a bright spot for a disappointing Maryland team.

9). Michael Young, F, Pittsburgh: A highly-regarded recruit coming out of high school, Young has complemented the experience and maturity of Pitt’s seniors well.

10). Devin Wilson, G, Virginia Tech: This rookie guard is handling 32 minutes per game well for the inexperienced Hokies, whose true talent will be tested come conference play.

11). Jaron Blossomgame, F, Clemson: Blossomgame has shown himself to be a versatile interior force, averaging close to 5.0 RPG and PPG while blocking over a shot per contest as well.

12). Nate Britt, G, North Carolina: Britt plays 25 minutes per game and has taken on the point guard duties as Marcus Paige has become the Tar Heels’ primary perimeter scoring option with P.J. Hairston still sidelined.

13). Lennard Freeman, F, N.C. State: Freeman plays 26 minutes per game for Mark Gottfried, and the Washington, D.C., native is a huge help on the boards, averaging almost seven rebounds per contest.

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ACC M10: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 10th, 2013

morning5_ACC

Author’s note: As technical difficulties prevented yesterday’s M5, please accept 10 blurbs as repayment.

  1. Boston Globe and BC Interruption: Both of these stories were written following Boston College‘s loss to USC. The former stressed Steve Donahue’s point of view: “The bottom line is we have a group of kids who are not playing with confidence.” The latter was from a fan, calling for Donahue’s job. Strangely enough the two aren’t that far off from each other. This was Donahue’s year to show he could make the leap, and he scheduled accordingly. Unfortunately his team didn’t play like the group that almost played spoiler in the ACC Tournament last season. They played like the athletically overmatched group that they are on paper. The team’s performance last March shows its potential (as do countless previews coming into this season), but Brian Favat is right about the season effectively being over barring a miraculous conference run. What exactly has been the problem?
  2. BC Interruption: Defense! The fine bloggers over at BC Interruption are breaking down the Eagles and their technical difficulties so far this season, starting with transition defense. Luckily, Boston College doesn’t turn the ball over that often, but the second GIF example certainly points to a team running at half-speed. That’s what Steve Donahue has to fix before the end of the season to keep fans in his corner. Everyone knows he won’t beat anyone as an elite recruiter (although he is a good evaluator of talent), but he’s got to show that his X’s and O’s can create a competitive team if he wants to stick around Chestnut Hill a lot longer. The one thing people forget about the Eagles this season is that they’re still pretty young — not nearly as young as the last two seasons, but well below average nevertheless. That’s the main reason I’d probably lean towards giving Donahue another season after this one.
  3. Streaking the Lawn: Speaking of ACC teams with rough starts, Virginia appears to have taken a step backwards since last season. The big reason for that is the Cavaliers’ sudden propensity to turn the ball over. Weirdly enough, this is a spot Jontel Evans isn’t missed (at least on paper), but all of Virginia’s players are turning it over at a higher rate than last season. That combined with stop-and-go offense certainly points to point guard issues (something many forecasted as the team’s Achilles heel). Whatever the underlying reason, Tony Bennett needs to get more offensively from Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell.
  4. Baltimore Sun: Filling out our trio of below mediocrity is Maryland. Mark Turgeon held true on his promise to start Varun Ram against George Washington, although the redshirt junior played fewer minutes than he had in the blowout loss to Ohio State. But Ram isn’t the answer, and I expect Turgeon knows this. Seth Allen isn’t the answer either, which is why Turgeon has to find another way to curb the team’s rampant turnovers. As Dez Wells and Allen mature, I expect both to get better at valuing the basketball, but expecting any changes overnight is naive.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: According to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics, Pittsburgh has the 12th-ranked defense in the country, but Jamie Dixon still isn’t happy with it. Specifically, his team’s rebounding against Loyola Marymount appeared to get under his skin, despite winning the game by 17 points. This certainly sounds like a coach trying to keep his team focused heading into conference play. If you haven’t watched the Panthers play already, Lamar Patterson is worth the price of admission. He’s the quiet leader (who admittedly hasn’t played much real competition) for ACC Player of the Year at this point.
  6. Syracuse Post-Standard: Dajuan Coleman came to Syracuse loaded with potential but has still yet to earn a significant spot in the team’s rotation. But before you’re too quick to write him off as a bust, remember that it took three and a half years for Brian Zoubek to find his role on Duke’s 2010 national championship team. Like Zoubek, Coleman is an elite offensive rebounder but that’s where the comparisons should end. Big men generally take longer to adjust to the college game, and Jim Boeheim’s system is probably nothing like what Coleman saw in high school. His breakout season might not be this year, but expect progressively more good games as the season unfolds for the sophomore.
  7. South Bend Tribune: Jerian Grant is really blossoming this season. He’s on par with North Carolina’s Marcus Paige right now as far as best guards in the league as conference play trickles to a start. Grant is shouldering a similar load — strictly speaking about possessions here — but he’s much more efficient. The big difference between this year and the last couple has been Grant’s consistency. His two-point field goal percentage is up over 15 points and his three-point field goal percentage is up nearly 10 points. That’s outrageous. Also notable is that Notre Dame is 1-2 this season when Grant scores fewer than 19 points.
  8. Greensboro News-Record: Nate Britt is finally starting to look a like he’s ready to play significant minutes this season, which is very good news for a North Carolina team that’s not very deep at the two. Playing Britt allows JP Tokoto to move to his more natural small forward position. Marcus Paige will continue to be the star of this team unless PJ Hairston eventually comes back into the fold, but meaningful minutes for Britt can only help Roy Williams’ squad.
  9. Winston-Salem Journal: Devin Thomas is a big part of why Wake Forest is so much improved over last year. He’s arguably the best rebounder in the league, which evidences his high-level motor. His intensity has gotten him in trouble at times (see: Wake Forest’s game against Kansas), but it also gives him a bit of an edge. Also, what sort of odds would you have gotten at the beginning of the season on Wake Forest at 8-2 and Boston College at 3-6 at this point in the season?
  10. Fayetteville Observer: While its offense has taken a few steps back towards earth, Duke’s defense is finally coming around. A lot of the change is from an effort and focus standpoint. Mike Krzyzewski even slapped the floor a couple of times against Michigan to help fire up his team. What remains to be seen is if and how Duke can put it all together. If Marshall Plumlee can give Coach K productive minutes like he did against the Wolverines, Duke may retake its lofty ranking yet. If not, the team will be highly dependent on the match-ups before them.
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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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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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Roy Williams’ Two-Point Guard Lineup Not a Return to Small Ball for UNC

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 23rd, 2013

When Roy Williams stated on Tuesday that he is “convinced” that he will play both of his point guards (incumbent starter Marcus Paige and freshman Nate Britt) on the floor at the same time in the season opener against Oakland on November 8, North Carolina fans undoubtedly had immediate and mixed emotions. Last season’s UNC squad stumbled out of the gates by attempting to run a conventional five-man starting lineup, clearly not possessing enough refined talent in the post to stick with that brand of personnel. So at mid-season when Williams finally opted for a four-guard lineup that fans had been calling for, inserting P.J. Hairston into the lineup as an undersized four and moving James Michael McAdoo to the center position, the team won six straight after a close road loss to Duke and finished third in the conference, going so far as to advance to the ACC Tournament championship game.

Nate Britt will be paired at times this season with Marcus Paige in the UNC Backcourt.

Nate Britt will be paired at times this season with Marcus Paige in the UNC Backcourt.

All of that was great, Tar Heels fans would readily admit, but this is not a program that hangs its hat on regular season or even ACC Tournament success. This is a blue-blood basketball factory, and one that is supposed to reap its greatest rewards in the Big Dance. It was there that UNC ran into a Kansas team with size and experience in the frontcourt that their smaller lineup could not match, and the Jayhawks ended North Carolina’s season in the NCAA Tournament’s second round. For many, the season was not a success despite the encouraging uptick in play when the four-guard lineup was instituted.

This season is not last season, however, at least in terms of personnel and the way Williams expects to employ it. The Tar Heels’ 2013 recruiting class included forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, talented freshmen big men who are expected to contribute immediately. UNC also expects substantially more consistent sophomore campaigns from returnees Joel James and Brice Johnson. James’ offseason has been spent making his game more refined to go along with his prodigious size in the middle, while Johnson conversely has been trying to beef up in order to be able to more successfully bang with opponents down low. Each showed flashes last year, and assistant coach Steve Robinson has long been lauded for his ability to maximize the potential from big men as they move from their freshmen to sophomore campaigns (see: John Henson). With the return of McAdoo for his junior season as well as the presence of steady if unspectacular reserves Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons, the Tar Heels can suddenly point to the frontcourt as their greatest area of depth.

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Who’s Got Next? North Carolina Lands Five-Star Point Guard Joel Berry

Posted by CLykins on January 22nd, 2013

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

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player ranking

The North Carolina Tar Heels are currently in the middle of a very up-and-down season, with five losses and uncharacteristic play through the team’s first 17 games. However, while the Tar Heels continue to search for success on the basketball court, they remain a perennial powerhouse on the recruiting trail. On Monday, five-star junior point guard Joel Berry pledged his verbal commitment to North Carolina, as he will join a long line of highly-ranked floor generals under head coach Roy Williams to don Carolina blue. Berry chose the Tar Heels over offers from Florida, Florida State, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina State, Ohio State, and others.

Joel Berry becomes the first commit for North Carolina from the class of 2014

Joel Berry becomes the first commitment for North Carolina from the class of 2014

“I feel honored and blessed to officially be apart of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels tradition and excellence,” Berry tweeted. The #12 overall ranked junior and #3 ranked point guard in the class of 2014, Berry becomes the first player from that class to commit to North Carolina. Taking advantage of a new NCAA rule that allows juniors to take official visits following January 1 of that year, the 6’0″ standout visited Chapel Hill first for the Tar Heels’ ACC clash against the Maryland Terrapins this past weekend.

Berry will bring to North Carolina a lethal dosage of scoring and speed, two aspects of the game that the Tar Heels are traditionally known for. With great quickness and athleticism, he is capable of breaking down his defender and getting into the lane  under control and scoring around the rim using his outstanding leaping ability. Berry is also a threat from the outside and mid-range, as he can light up a scoreboard quickly. He is an exceptional ball-handler and sees the floor very well in an up-tempo environment.

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