Final Four Fact Sheet: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2017

Now that we’re down to the Final Four, let’s take a deep dive into each of the four remaining teams. Today: North Carolina.

How North Carolina Got Here

North Carolina is back in the Final Four (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

South Region Champions. This North Carolina run to the Final Four was equal parts exceedingly easy and excruciatingly difficult. The Tar Heels posted the largest margin of victory in the opening round against Texas Southern, but needed to overcome a five-point deficit in the final three minutes to escape Arkansas just two days later. The Sweet 16 brought a return to relaxation for Heels fans, as UNC exploded out of the gate en route to an “it-wasn’t-even-that-close” 12-point win over Butler. The final step was the hardest, however, as familiar Elite Eight foe Kentucky played the Heels even for 39 minutes and 59.7 seconds. Those finals tenths of a second are now history, of course, as Luke Maye propelled Carolina to another Final Four with his dramatic game-winner.

The Coach

Roy Williams. The UNC head man owns all eight of the career Final Four appearances (prior to this one) among the quartet of coaches still alive. He also earned a rare bit of praise for his timeout-avoidant tendencies last weekend, as it was Roy’s reticence to stop his offense that allowed Carolina to race down the court and beat an unsettled Kentucky defense for Maye’s game-winner. Few, Altman, and Martin have all been around and are respected coaches, but Williams’ experience sets him apart from his peers on the opposing sidelines in this Final Four. Whether or not it proves decisive is anyone’s guess, but Carolina fans should feel comfortable in the knowledge that Williams knows both his team and this stage better than anyone.

Style

The speed and efficiency of Carolina’s offense is well known as a Tar Heel strength, and deservedly so. UNC ranks 6th nationally in overall offensive efficiency, leads the country in offensive rebounding percentage, and has no problem playing fast, finishing possessions in an average of 15.4 seconds (22nd quickest in the country). The balanced Tar Heel offense is headlined by AP All-American Justin Jackson (18.2 PPG, UNC-record 99 3PM), but fellow upperclassmen Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks all join Jackson in averaging double-figure points per game. It’s an explosive offense, surely, but UNC’s success has been predicated off work on both ends of the floor. Amazingly, Williams’ bunch has been able to slow opponents down even while playing offense at a breakneck speed: Carolina foes average 17.8 seconds per possession, good for 272nd slowest in the nation. The underrated Tar Heel defense was on display in the South regional final against Kentucky, as Jackson and company harassed Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox into a combined 9-23 shooting from the field. A similar assignment will await in Phoenix, as Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey are likely to draw the bulk of the Carolina defensive attention. On paper, there’s no reason why Carolina, the 17th most efficient defensive team in the nation (one slot above Oregon), won’t be up to the challenge.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.06.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2017

Even though surprises and upsets galore dotted the national landscape on Saturday, the ACC experienced a fairly normal weekend of results. Still, there were some good conference storylines throughout the weekend: Jim Boeheim attained a milestone in his team’s home upset of Virginia; Mike Krzyzewski returned to the sideline following back surgery as Duke held off visiting Pittsburgh; and North Carolina triumphed over Notre Dame in a game that had to be rescheduled to Sunday in the Greensboro Coliseum due to a water crisis in Chapel Hill. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC:

Jim Boeheim celebrates Syracuse’s big win over Virginia, the 1,000th victory of his career.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Syracuse‘s 66-62 comeback win over Virginia on Saturday was important for several reasons. First, the fourth consecutive victory moved the Orange to a solid 7-4 mark in league play. Next, it also provides another high-quality win that will get them closer to the 10 or possibly even 11 conference wins that will be necessary for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Finally — even though the NCAA doesn’t agree — the 72-year-old Boeheim earned his 1,000th win as a head coach, every one of which came at his alma mater. The Orange were led by freshman Tyus Battle, who finished with a season-high 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting, as they rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to notch the big win. Tony Bennett‘s Virginia teams have only suffered two defeats when leading by double-figures at the half — last year’s Elite Eight loss and Saturday’s defeat.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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North Carolina Bench Showing Great Promise Already

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 15th, 2016

With six upperclassmen returning from last year’s National Runner-up, North Carolina entered the year with plenty of known commodities. As the 2016-17 campaign got under way, however, it was the Tar Heels’ young bench that represented the team’s biggest question mark. That group, comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores, has so far performed well. Roy Williams‘ preferred method of substitution is a one-for-one swap at each of the five positions. Ideally that means that Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley split time at the center position; Justin Jackson and Brandon Robinson do likewise on the wing; and so on. This strategy is tailor-made for North Carolina’s run-and-gun system — which requires quick attacks in transition and plenty of motion in the half-court. It correspondingly takes a deep bench to play this way, and Williams has always counted on using that depth to wear down his opponents.

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

As expected, North Carolina is getting great production from its top four returnees. Meeks and fellow senior Isaiah Hicks have been dominant around the basket and juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry are off to hot starts as well — Jackson tallied a career-high 27 points in the opener against Tulane, and Berry was so impressive that he was named co-ACC Player of the Week as a result. That veteran group is also getting good support from the youthful Tar Heels’ bench. Bradley has scored in double figures in both games and has already snagged a total of nine offensive rebounds. When asked about his young center’s exceptional play after Sunday’s win, Williams said, “He doesn’t try to do things that he can’t do.” The head coach also commended Bradley for his ability to run the floor.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2016

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

Can the reloaded Tar Heels get back to the Final Four?

There's no question this year: this is Joel Berry's team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

There’s no question this year: this is Joel Berry’s team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

As was well-documented, North Carolina’s 2015-16 season was equal parts fairy tale and horror film. Roy Williams loses Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson from last year’s National Runner-Up, but this season’s team will likely be just as talented. First off, Joel Berry is criminally underrated. He was without a doubt the most important player on last year’s team, and he has a good chance to wind up on the short list for National Player of the Year. Second, Isaiah Hicks may finally put everything together last season and will go a long way toward filling Johnson’s shoes. However, there are some open questions here. Theo Pinson is out indefinitely after breaking his foot again, leaving the team overly reliant on Berry in the backcourt. He’ll have help in Nate Britt and freshman Seventh Woods , both of whom should get plenty of minutes (especially considering Roy Williams’ penchant for deep rotations), and Justin Jackson is a likely All-ACC wing. But the dropoff from the talent of Berry to Britt is steep, and Woods is still a freshman. That means Williams will need Berry on the floor for most of the game — especially once conference play begins. With Pinson out indefinitely, Jackson won’t have much help on the wing either. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Jackson and Berry are both elite, championship-level players. Read the rest of this entry »

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Andrew Carter

Posted by Chris Stone on October 6th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

The college basketball season is just around the corner, so it’s the perfect time to start getting in the mood for hoops. To get the juices flowing, we reached out to North Carolina beat writer Andrew Carter to talk about the upcoming season, some of his Tar Heel favorites and the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity. 

Rush the Court: Talk to us a little bit as an introduction about how you came to become the North Carolina beat writer for The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Andrew Carter: This’ll be my sixth basketball season. I grew up in North Carolina. I grew up in Raleigh, so I’m familiar with the area. This is definitely home for me. Before this, I was covering the Miami Dolphins for the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel and before that I covered Florida State for four years for The Orlando Sentinel. The News & Observer had this job open and being from this area and having grown up here, it was especially of interest to me. I knew a couple people here and it just kind of worked out. Here I am.

Andrew Carter is the The News & Observer’s North Carolina beat writer. (The News & Observer)

RTC: Last year, the Tar Heels obviously had a pretty successful season, winning the ACC, the ACC Tournament, and making the national title game. What would you say are some expectations for the program this year?

Carter: I think expectations are always high at North Carolina, regardless of the roster and who they have coming back in a given year. The expectations are always going to be high. People always think that UNC should be good because it’s UNC. Naturally, with what they have coming back next year, I think those expectations are justified. They lose a couple really important pieces in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson and Joel James was a valuable reserve by the end of his tenure. But everyone that could have come back is back. They bring back a solid nucleus: Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Isaiah Hicks, Theo Pinson. You just go on down the list and I think they have a lot of solid pieces back. Last year, the expectations entering the year — it was a Final Four or bust kind of year. I don’t think it’s necessarily that for UNC this season, but certainly this is a team that probably is going to enter the year somewhere around the top 10, if not certainly in the top 10. It’s going to be a team that if it doesn’t make the second week of the NCAA Tournament, it’ll probably be viewed as something of a disappointment this season. There’s a lot of high expectations, that’s obviously nothing new. If pieces come together and things fall the right way, I think this is certainly a team that has the potential to get back to the Final Four.

RTC: Is there a player among the guys that you listed that you think might surprise people there?

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Seven Sweet Scoops: McDonald’s All-American Primer

Posted by Sean Moran on March 30th, 2016

7sweetscoops

Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date 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.

The 39th McDonald’s All-American game is set to take place tonight at 9PM ET (ESPN) at the United Center in Chicago. Each year this All-Star game gives the college basketball fan a sneak peak into the up and coming stars of next season. It also usually gives fans a first look at the top NBA draft picks for 2017.

Last year, the top two projected draft picks of 2016 competed in the game. Duke freshman Brandon Ingram scored 15 points after a breakout week in practice, while LSU freshman Ben Simmons scored seven points to go along with 10 rebounds. Five-star recruit Cheick Diallo was named MVP after he recorded an 18 point, 10 rebound double-double. After dealing with an early-season NCAA investigation, Diallo managed to score only 81 points on the whole season at Kansas before declaring for the NBA Draft.

The stars will be out tonight in Chicago. Below is a primer on who and what to watch for during the game:

1. Top Individual Matchup

Small forwards Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson are arguably the top two players in the country. The 6’8” Tatum will wear #22 for the East while the 6’7” Jackson will suit up as #11 for the West. Tatum is headed to Duke and has a smooth and skilled offensive game. He has the ability to play point forward and loves to emulate Kobe Bryant with a fade-away repertoire. Jackson is still undecided and set to choose from a list that includes Kansas, Arizona, and Michigan State. The Michigan native is an explosive wing with NBA athleticism who will surely be good for a highlight reel dunk or two.

2. Most Unique Player

Keep an eye out for 6’5” point guard Lonzo Ball (#2). Just last week the best passing guard in high school finished a spectacular senior season with a California state championship. His #1 ranked Chino Hills team went 35-0 on the year, breaking 100 points on a near-nightly basis in the process. High hopes and expectations await Ball at UCLA, as the Bruins are coming off a disappointing 15-17 season. Ball has an unorthodox outside shot, but he is still plenty capable of finding the bottom of the net from NBA range. He’s also been known to throw pinpoint three-quarter court passes just as often as does a fundamental bounce pass to a teammate on a look that few other players would see. Ball’s razzle-dazzle game is made for an All-Star event. Read the rest of this entry »

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