All Aboard the Isaiah Hicks Bandwagon

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2016

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Notre Dame’s Supporting Cast Provides Staying Power

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 6th, 2015

Most of the accolades associated with Notre Dame’s 14-1 start have been bestowed on star senior Jerian Grant, the ACC’s second-leading scorer and top assist man. Skepticism over the Irish’s relatively unimposing non-conference slate were correlated questions about how the team would operate when Grant was held in check. After a thrilling one-point win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night, the Notre Dame trio of Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton have silenced those questions and put the rest of the conference on notice that the Irish are a team capable of contending with the ACC’s elite.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

It was apparent early in Monday’s game that North Carolina’s top defender, J.P. Tokoto, was tasked with slowing Grant. He and the other Tar Heels who took turns defending the explosive wing were extremely successful, as Grant contributed a season-low eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and eventually fouling out. With as much as Grant has produced this year — he uses a quarter of the Irish’s offensive possessions — such a performance would have appeared to doom the Irish in a tough road environment. Instead, Mike Brey’s team showed that its supporting cast is strong enough to overcome his occasional lack of production by contributing a combined 49 points and 16 rebounds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Preview: North Carolina’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 10th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can North Carolina’s frontcourt live up to its potential?

North Carolina underwent a major roster re-shuffling last season due to the dismissal of P.J. Hairston and the late insertion of Leslie McDonald into the lineup. The team was all over the place in the season’s first half, notching impressive wins over highly-ranked teams while suffering several head-scratching losses to lesser opponents. The Tar Heels finally found their footing come conference play, however, and finished 24-10 overall (13-5 ACC) en route to the NCAA Tournament’s Third Round, where they lost to Iowa State. This year’s edition is projected as a better team, but the Tar Heels’ chances of making a deep run in March will directly tie to the success of its deep but sometimes inconsistent frontcourt.

Johnson will need to use his added bulk to help him bang with the bigs in the ACC this year (gettyimages)

Johnson will need to use his added bulk to help him bang with the bigs in the ACC this year (gettyimages)

Brice Johnson was a sort of super-sub for North Carolina last year, spelling enigmatic James Michael McAdoo at power forward and occasionally filling in at the center position. He averaged 10.3 points per game, largely on transition baskets and buckets around the rim. Johnson’s biggest weaknesses were his lack of bulk, causing him to struggle playing against bigger, stronger opponents, and his propensity for foul trouble. He has reportedly added about 20 pounds to his frame, so the Heels hope that his improved strength will allow him to handle the night-in, night-out pounding in the paint. If he can also become a more well-rounded defender by tempering the tendency to send every opponent’s shot into the fifth row, Johnson can better remain on the floor and become a very dependable contributor on both ends of the court.

Johnson’s running mate in the paint, Kennedy Meeks, was a polar opposite of Johnson. Meeks came into Chapel Hill as a freshman needing to lose weight, and he has done so to the tune of a whopping 50 pounds in the last year-plus. Meeks is not a prototypical center at 6’8″, but he has excellent offensive moves around the basket and understands his limitations in playing below the rim. He is also an exceptional passer, helping to ignite fast breaks and finding open men from the post. Like Johnson, Meeks needs to stay on the floor with McAdoo no longer in the mix, but if his conditioning has greatly improved that will prove much easier for the sophomore. Meeks and Johnson also showed great chemistry in executing the high-low game when they shared court time last year, which bodes very well for the team when they are operating together in the Tar Heels’ starting lineup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

What North Carolina Needs to Do to Beat Providence

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 19th, 2014

North Carolina has its hands full tonight with its first round match-up against #11 Providence. The Friars are red-hot at the moment, coming off a Big East Tournament title that included an upset win over Creighton. Head coach Ed Cooley placed a premium on winning the title in Madison Square Garden because the Friars hadn’t won it since 1994 and only once in the past 34 years. Providence may have lucked out in avoiding top seed Villanova after the Wildcats were upset by Seton Hall at the buzzer, but they still managed to get past the Bluejays and college basketball’s likely NPOY. The Friars’ best player, senior guard Bryce Cotton, was a unanimous first team all-Big East selection and he is a handful for any defense. A capable scorer who has increased his distribution skills this year, Cotton is much like North Carolina’s Marcus Paige in that they are both rail-thin, ball-dominating guards that are relied upon heavily from the perimeter. Their battle at that position will be one of the key match-ups in this game, and if Paige can play Cotton even or better, the Tar Heels will be well positioned to advance.

Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

The competitor in Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton ( Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Kennedy Meeks Needs the Majority Of Minutes for UNC Down Low

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 31st, 2014

Even with all the uncertainty swirling around the North Carolina roster through the first half of the season, the consensus among most was that interior depth would not be a problem. And sure enough, Williams has shown that he will play his surplus of big bodies in nearly every game. Each Tar Heel post player has a unique skill set that lends itself to different moments and match-ups, but the center position has been an area that UNC has not been able to count on for consistent production. Recent ACC wins against Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech have indicated, perhaps, that this may be a concern of the past.

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (USA TODAY Sports)

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

One reason for the up-and-down production over the course of the year can be tied to the fact that the individual manning the post at the opening tip-off has not gotten starter’s minutes. Sophomore Joel James started the first 10 games of the year before getting injured versus Texas, and he’s started two games since, averaging just shy of 11 minutes per game. James started all three games against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, and yet played fewer minutes than Kennedy Meeks versus the Cardinals (11 minutes to 24) and Spartans (16 to 18), and fewer than both Brice Johnson and Meeks in the victory over Kentucky (13 minutes compared to Johnson’s 24 and Meeks’ 19). Surely Williams saw something in James to name him the starter for those contests, but if he was going to play so sparingly, why not let someone else man the post to get in an early rhythm?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Truth or Myth: Reviewing Roy Williams’ Key Lineup Decision Last Year

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 17th, 2013

On February 13, 2013, North Carolina’s season was in limbo. That evening the Tar Heels would take a 6-4 ACC record into Durham against a highly favored Duke team, while coming off their worst performance of the conference season, a 26-point blowout loss at Miami. But for Roy Williams’ team, that UNC-Duke game was the debut of a new smaller lineup featuring P.J. Hairston starting in place of big man Desmond Hubert. Although UNC would lose that game by five points, 73-68, the new lineup had bigger Duke looking slow and confused for much of the night. From that point, the Tar Heels ran off  six straight conference wins, finished third in the league with a 12-6 record, and went on to make the ACC Tournament championship game before losing to top-seed Miami for the third time. National media types lauded the lineup change as a brilliant coaching move by Williams, while many local media and Tar Heel fans were left asking what took so long for the head coach to make the move in the first place. Before we turn our full attention to the upcoming season, let’s look back at some of the truths and myths concerning that North Carolina lineup decision as well as address some reasons as to why the move wasn’t made sooner.

PJ Hairston and Friends Survived the Villanova Comeback

Inserting PJ Hairston Was The Key Lineup Change Last Season

Truth or Myth #1 – The Lineup Change Had a Tremendous Positive Impact

This would be a big affirmative. UNC’s record improved from 6-4 in the ACC before the switch to 8-3 afterward, including the games in the ACC Tourney. But more than that, North Carolina just looked like a much better team and the stats back that up. Basically the net effect of the lineup change was to remove 20 minutes from post players Hubert, Joel James, and Brice Johnson and redistribute them among the perimeter players, with Hairston picking up more than half of what was left. As expected from a decision to take away significant minutes from big players, defensive efficiency was most negatively impacted.

In comparing the Tar Heels’ last 11 ACC games with the first 10, defensive two-point field goal percentage rose three percent and opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage rose seven percent. But the new and much quicker lineup forced more turnovers and defended the three much better. The net result was that the defense got slightly worse, allowing 1.02 points per possession (PPP) compared with 0.98 PPP in the first 10 ACC games, but the flip side is that the Carolina offense really took off. The smaller unit cut turnover percentage down by three percent, improved their effective field goal percentage by three percent, and raised the team’s overall PPP from 1.02 to 1.12.  They clearly were a much better overall team after the switch — even more than the improved record indicates — especially when you consider that the only three ACC losses after the switch were to either Duke or Miami, two of the top 10 teams in the country last season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Night Line: Indiana Displays Just Some Of Its Potential In 24-Point Blowout of UNC

Posted by EJacoby on November 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that evening’s games.

So this is why Indiana garnered the #1 preseason ranking for the 2012-13 season. Despite coming into Tuesday night’s game with a 6-0 record and 32-point average margin of victory, the AP poll’s top-ranked Hoosiers had yet to produce a statement performance to legitimize their candidacy as the best squad in all of college hoops. It took overtime to dispose of previously unranked Georgetown last week, and Tom Crean’s team faced another tough test with the Tar Heels coming to town for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Indiana did not fool around this time, easily disposing of North Carolina, 83-59, in a game that showcased a tantalizing display of offensive basketball by the Hoosiers from start to finish. All doubts about IU’s true “top-seed upside” are quelled for the time being after it ran a young-but-explosive UNC team off the floor in Bloomington by out-executing and out-smarting the Tar Heels; even in an imperfect shooting night.

Cody Zeller and Indiana soared past North Carolina on Tuesday night (AP Photo)

For long stretches of Tuesday night’s game, the Hoosiers – ranked #2 in this week’s RTC Top 25 – played a completely flawless brand of unselfish basketball. Crisp passes flew around the Assembly Hall floor at seemingly light speed, leaving the Carolina defense with no chance to rotate quick enough to challenge IU’s knockdown outside shooters or strong post finishers. Strong outlet passes from forwards reached lead guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls before UNC could catch up, and the Hoosiers converted time and time again in transition. Indiana totaled 21 assists on 33 made field goals through its balanced attack. The game film of this 24-point blowout ought to become its own best-selling clinic video in ball movement, as IU converted at 1.12 points per possession against the #14-ranked team in the country. Tonight’s IU assist total (21) outpaced that of the leading team in that category nationally (Maryland, 19.3 per game), and the performance boosted IU up to the top offensive efficiency rating (125.5) in the nation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by EJacoby on March 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in St. Louis with with North Carolina vs. Ohio followed by Kansas vs. NC State. Our East Regional Reset and West Regional Reset published Tuesday, while our South Regional Reset will publish later today.Make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from St. Louis throughout the weekend.

New Favorite: #2 Kansas (29-6, 16-2 Big 12). How do the Jayhawks become the favorite in this region after nearly being upset last round by #10 Purdue, in a game they should have lost? First of all, the regional semifinals and finals are being played in St. Louis, a much closer destination for KU fans than any of the other teams, making for a solid home-court advantage for the #2 seed. But more importantly, the #1 seed just lost its point guard and floor leader to a broken wrist. Kendall Marshall is arguably the most indispensable player to his team in this entire tournament, and North Carolina has no backup for its star PG. This makes Kansas the favorite going forward in the wacky Midwest.

St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome Hosts the Midwest Regional Finals

Horse of Darkness: #11 NC State (24-12, 9-7 ACC). Don’t let the #11 fool you; NC State is an incredibly talented team from the ACC that has the talent, size, and coaching experience to compete with anyone it matches up against. Despite underachieving for much of the season and barely getting into this tournament, the Wolfpack found that perfect match of offensive firepower and collective defense to take down their first two opponents. It won’t be a shock if this team can give Kansas a game on Friday night. NC State used its size inside (Richard Howell, C.J. Leslie) to hold Henry Sims of Georgetown to just four points last round, and they will look to do the same against Thomas Robinson and Kansas this weekend. Should they advance, the Wolfpack are familiar with conference foe UNC and nearly beat the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament, and that was with a healthy Kendall Marshall. NC State is a serious dark horse here, despite facing the regional favorite on Friday.

Biggest Surprise, 1st Weekend: #13 Ohio (29-7, 11-5 MAC). We thought that John Groce’s team had a great matchup in the round of 64 against #4 Michigan, a team that plays a similar perimeter style, but it’s still a huge surprise that the #13 seed took down the Big Ten co-champions in a game that it controlled almost the entire way. D.J. Cooper and company then outplayed #12 South Florida in the second half to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, becoming this year’s Cinderella story as the mid-major, double-digit seed to advance to the second weekend. Now Ohio has to match up with powerhouse #1 North Carolina on Friday, but the Bobcats are on a roll and will try to make magic happen once again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Night Line: Instant Classic a Result of Duke’s Late-Game Execution, UNC’s Lack of It

Posted by EJacoby on February 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Austin Rivers’ three-ball went down for Duke at the buzzer, and Mike Krzyzewski’s team walked away with a stunning road victory in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night. This 85-84 Blue Devils win will always be remembered for the freshman guard’s late-game heroics, but there were plenty of other factors that played into the result. By now, I assume everyone has seen the shot, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time great moments in the 92-year history of the Tobacco Road rivalry. But it cannot be forgotten that this game was actually not a back-and-forth classic between the two teams. North Carolina led the entire second half, including a nine-point advantage at the under-four minute timeout, and gave the game away by failing to make any winning plays down the stretch. Meanwhile, Duke was clinical from the outside and knocked down clutch shot after clutch shot, capped off by the game-winning shot by Rivers as time expired. All that was left from there was a completely silenced Dean Smith Center, an elated Blue Devils sideline, and a moment that will be replayed hundreds of times this season.

Austin Rivers is About to Silence a Crowd of Thousands in this Game-Winning Shot for Duke (Getty Images)

If you want to know why North Carolina blew an 11-point lead at home with 4:09 to play, the answer certainly begins with the clutch play of Duke’s Rivers. But it doesn’t end there. He had a career-high 29 points on 6-10 shooting from three, but one man cannot be solely responsible for erasing a double-figure lead in four minutes. Instead, look at the home team’s attempts to close out the game and what they did wrong, which includes three missed free throws, three offensive rebounds allowed, two turnovers, and a total of one field-goal attempted in the final four-plus minutes. Leading 79-68, UNC allowed Duke to score after a missed three with a second-chance putback. Then came the barrage of mistakes, which were incurred on offense by way of clanked free throws and lost-ball turnovers. On the other end, Duke was 6-8 from the field to close out the game with three huge three-pointers and three other deep jumpers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Chronicling the Georgetown-Syracuse and Duke-Carolina Rivalries

Posted by EJacoby on February 8th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

Two of the four or five greatest rivalries in college basketball resume this evening in one of the best nights of the regular season. Georgetown-Syracuse is the longest powerhouse rivalry of the Big East, while the battle for Tobacco Road is one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports. Here’s a look at their histories:

Georgetown Hoyas vs. Syracuse Orange:

Georgetown and Syracuse Have Been Elite Rivals Since the Days of Patrick Ewing and Long Before (SI Photo/A. Hayt)

  • Last 5 Years – Recently, Syracuse holds a 6-4 edge in meetings since 2007. Each team has won at least once on the other’s home floor, with the road team actually winning the past three games of the series and the home team winning the previous seven. The Hoyas made the Final Four in 2007.
  • Last 10 Years – Going back further in the decade, the Orange were more dominant, holding a 12-7 total lead in the past 10 years of games. They won five in a row at one point from 2003-05, which includes their 2003 National Championship season.
  • Last 30 Years – Syracuse holds a 36-31 overall advantage in all matchups since 1980, with a total average score of 71-71 in those games. Pretty crazy. They are also in a 6-6 tie during this span in Big East Tournament matchups. Each team holds one National Championship during this time, as Georgetown got theirs in 1984. The Hoyas have four Final Four appearances, the Cuse with three. This is a truly juggernaut rivalry of Big East supremacy.

Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels:

Duke vs. Carolina: Rivalry, Defined (SI Vault)

  • Last 5 Years – North Carolina has a 6-5 edge in meetings since 2007, with each team having been crowned National Champions once during this recent history. Carolina made the Final Four in both 2008 and 2009, while Duke was the champion in 2010. Home court advantage is nearly a non-factor recently, as the road team is 5-6 in this period.
  • Last 10 Years – Duke was the much more dominant team earlier in the past decade, going 8-3 in the rivalry from 2002-06. Each team reached the Final Four, with UNC crowned as National Champions once again in 2005. Overall, Duke leads 13-11 in the past 10 years with each team taking four road games.
  • Last 30 Years – North Carolina holds a slight 38-36 edge in all matchups since 1980, with a total average score of 78-78 in the games. Again, an incredibly close matchup here. Duke has gotten the better of the Tar Heels during their ACC Tournament matchups, holding an 8-3 edge during this span. Incredibly, each team has made exactly 11 Final Four runs and won four National Titles during the past 30 years. That’s why this is the best rivalry in the game.

Tonight, Georgetown and Duke are the road teams in these games. Syracuse and Carolina are each the higher-ranked team and are expected to win, but things never go as planned in intense rivalries like these. This could be one of the final times that the Hoyas and Orange meet as Big East rivals, as Syracuse is headed to the ACC by the 2014 season and possibly before then. It will be awesome tonight, so tune in to the ESPN double-header starting at 7:00 PM ET.

Share this story