The first thing that comes to mind when you look at tonight’s match up at the Dean Dome, tip off at 7:00 p.m. EST (ESPN2), between Texas (9-1) and #14 North Carolina (7-2) is… trap game. UNC has already earned non conference victories over Top 5 programs such as Louisville and Michigan State before Saturday’s 82-77 win over then #11 Kentucky. Now it’s up to this group of young men to stay focus and keep playing with the same intensity when it comes to non ranked squads.
This is a game where the Heels are the hunted and not the hunters. Where it’s the other team that has something to gain in winning this game, while UNC only has something to lose if they come out of it on the wrong side of the scoreboard. The Dean Dome should be pretty packed tonight, but the intensity will not be as intense as it was when Carolina and Kentucky went at it.
On the other hand, this game comes a year after the Longhorns demolished the Tar Heels by 20+ points on their home court, a team head coach Roy Williams is 1 and 3 since coming back to Chapel Hill, and a program that is looking for a quality out of conference win. Add to that all that is going on of late… the great wins over ranked opponents, the somewhat unexpected announcement, the over the top crowd at the Dome last Saturday, if this is not a trap game, not sure there is such a thing. And that, after the two losses this season, has to scare a lot of people.
To add to all of this it seems that the NCAA should be arriving at a conclusion about P.J. Hairston, while it’s being announced that Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play tonight. Another player involved in Hairston’s story line, Miykael Faulcon, has been reinstated by the NCAA. While yesterday David Glenn said on his show that he believes that the NCAA will announce on the two UNC players this week. From the Yahoo article the news on Hairston would not be the one that the Heels fan base would want. In other words… McDonald plays and Hairston no one is still sure about his outcome.
But for now this team will have to once again focus on the task at hand with the players that will be on the court. So far they have been able to avoid thinking about the “could have been”, they must keep doing so. With one back and the other still in limbo it will be interesting if the team’s chemistry will shift, or stay as it has been for the first nine games. The more I think about it, the more this, if the team comes out stagnant and/or without intensity, feels like a trap game!
Sophomore shooting guard Marcus Paige has done a heck of a job, especially since for the most part he has been the only true outside threat for the Heels, even more so when considering he was the team’s point guard last season. While his back court partner, freshman point guard Nate Britt, has slowly but surely gotten better and better in the last couple of games. The pair have over exceed any and all expectations for themselves early on this season. Even more so when you think that the starting point guard should have been the back up, and the starting shooting guard should be the point guard.
In the paint junior forward James McAdoo had a nice come back game against the Wildcats last Saturday, but he needs to do this each and every game as he is one of the leader of this team. Even more so if Hairston was not to come back for this season. While other bigs have stepped up plenty this season all are looking to McAdoo to be the focal point in the paint. McDonald coming back should place McAdoo back in the paint, where he has felt a lot more comfortable. However, if the young man wants to make it at the next level working out on the perimeter is going to be useful.
Texas has the same size as the last team North Carolina faced, but definitely does not the same amount of bodies as Kentucky. An active McAdoo, along with the rest of the front court players, should get the Longhorns in foul trouble, which could make this a much easier game for the Tar Heels. Of course this also means that the team has to improve on their free throws shooting, which has lacked over the season.
The addition of McDonald should also give the team another defensive minded player, which will help them as the squad has been doing very well on that side of the ball. How long the senior shooting guard plays is unsure, how much he can do is also unsure. The only clear thing is that… he is back!
The Vegas lines have North Carolina an eleven points favorite. I would say that is about right, and put the game final score at 85 to 73 for the Tar Heels, with a few threes put in by the returning McDonald that will help the perimeter game as well as free up the interior as well.