What a roller coaster ride the Tar Heels have been on so far this season. Don’t expect anything less before March.
The Heels have not been quiet in the national spotlight to say the least, and for the most part have impressed basketball fans around the country. The Tar Heels already have two top-five wins after defeating third-ranked Louisville on a neutral court and top-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing.
I saw a very interesting stat on Twitter the other day which explained that as a head coach Roy Williams is a combined 30-3 all-time against Bobby Knight, Rick Pitino (Louisville), Jim Calhoun, Bo Ryan (Wisconsin), Thad Matta (Ohio State), and Tom Izzo (Michigan State). As a recent graduate of UNC, I gotta admit that when the Heels start playing badly, a fair amount of friends and classmates I had in Chapel Hill began to quietly blame Roy for the problems on the court, which sometimes he is responsible for. However, this statistic has to give UNC fans confidence in their coach, especially when March Madness rolls around and Coach Williams will have to face other future hall-of-fame coaches with powerhouse programs.
Now I’d like to play a game that I just invented in my mind called “Impressives and Disappointments.” The game is fairly self-explanatory; I think you can figure out what is going to happen next.
Let’s start with the disappointments first, that way we can end on a positive note. This is a way for me to vent about the things I would like to see improve throughout the season, so think of it more as constructive criticism (as if the team ever needed my input). The things that have been disappointments to me during the first quarter of the season have been the Tar Heels’ upperclassmen and their intensity level against lesser opponents.
The upperclassmen, at least the ones who were/still are expected to be the leaders for this year’s team, have either not stepped foot on the court because of poor life choices during the off-season (P.J. Hairston & Leslie McDonald) or at times might as well not have stepped on the court anyways (James Michael McAdoo). These three upperclassmen could have been one of, if not the most talented trio of upperclassmen on any team in the country, but it wouldn’t be surprising if two of them never put on a UNC basketball jersey again because of NCAA violations and legal trouble. The one that does get to play, McAdoo, has been a consensus disappointment so far this season among college basketball experts and the confidence level that most realistic UNC fans have in McAdoo seems to be wavering. One positive that can be drawn from McAdoo’s seemingly poor play thus far is that the sky is the limit for his potential: He’s one of the most athletic big men in the country, he has a decent touch from outside, and he plays hard. If he is able to put it all together, there is no telling how good this team can become.
The Tar Heels have two losses that ultimately shouldn’t have happened, and it is because they have played down to their opponent’s level and seemed to lack intensity. In the home loss to Belmont which was the first loss of the season, the Tar Heels shot just 22-48 free throws, an absolutely unacceptable percentage. While Belmont is a good team, the Bruins of Belmont led most of the game, and owned a 7-point halftime lead. Few teams ever come to Chapel Hill and lead most of the game, especially not mid-major programs. In the road loss to UAB, the Heels scored only 59 points, shot 1-12 from 3-point range, shot just 4-11 from the free throw line, and recorded only one more assist than they had turnovers. The Heels cannot afford to come out flat against inferior ACC opponents and give away conference games.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. The things that have been impressive to me so far this season are Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks, and the Heels’ ability to win as a team. Paige has emerged as one of the best point guards in the country, especially in terms of his ability to score the basketball. Paige averages just under 19 points per game, 4.5 assists per game, and has become the unquestioned leader of this team. All the hype this season in the ACC has been about freshman phenom Jabari Parker for Duke, but Kennedy Meeks has been impressive in his own right. While only averaging 14 minutes per game so far this season, Meeks is averaging close to 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists, which is incredibly productive given his limited minutes. The thing I like most about these two is UNC should expect both of them to stick around for four years, which will help them both blossom into dominant superstars by the time they are seniors.
The Tar Heels’ ability to win as a team has been impressive to me as well. In their two big wins which I previously discussed, everyone on the court for the Heels looked as though they knew their role and the Heels executed successfully as a team. My favorite lineup for the Heels is Nate Britt, Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson, and Kennedy Meeks. Johnson and Meeks are both excellent passing big-men; when these two are in the game together watch how much better the Tar Heels move the ball on offense. Tokoto isn’t known for being a shooter but has shown tremendous improvement with his jumpshot. If he can continue to knock down the mid-range jumper and the Heels continue to pass the basketball, we could see significant improvement on the offensive end.
The Heels have a highly-anticipated showdown with the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday, December 14 in Chapel Hill. The Heels enter the game ranked 18th in the land, while the Wildcats are ranked 11th overall. The Wildcats are led by sensational freshman big man Julius Randle, who I often mistake for a grown man because of his size and strength. Look for Randle to have a monster game, especially if James Michael McAdoo continues in his passive ways.
We all know the story of Kentucky: They are a team loaded with young talent, but freshmen take up most of the minutes for the Wildcats. Expect the Dean Dome to be rocking, and if it is, the Wildcats may have a hard time keeping their composure in one of the best basketball venues in the country. The Heels have played their best this season against their best competition, so don’t be surprised if this game turns into a shootout as two of the most storied programs in the country compete in one of the nation’s best non-conference rivalries.