With the new year upon us #19 North Carolina (9-3) will be playing its last non conference game of the season as they host NC Wilmington (6-8) and another former Heel player turned head coach, Buzz Peterson. In his time at Carolina the guard won a national title and was the room mate to Michael Jordan, who then was the best man at Peterson’s wedding. What is particular about this game is that UNC will be wearing their blue uniforms while playing in the friendly confine of the Dean Dome. With this game, which will be televised on ESPNU, the Heels will finish their six game home stand.
“Coach Williams has been a mentor to me from high school on,” Peterson said. “I look up to him a lot. … I’m looking forward to coming back and playing against my alma mater.”
After their Christmas break Carolina (#19 KenPow) did not play as well as many thought they could against North Kentucky. Head coach Roy Williams took some of the blame in this since the squad did not practice for five days. Now the team is looking to prove that they have what it takes to beat the Seahawks (#255 KenPow) and head into the ACC part of the schedule with the right frame of mind.
The problem with this game, just like many others that North Carolina has played up to now, is that their opponents have nothing to lose playing the game, as most see it as a loss. On the other hand, the Tar Heels have everything to lose. Only a lopsided win for the Heels, dominating in every category, will make it so that coach Williams’ team did its job. Anything else and there will be the naysayers that will find something to nitpick about. I am not saying that this team does not need improvements, as it does… free throws, outside shooting and rebounding being the key ones.
“It’s a game where I think there’s no pressure. Nobody is thinking we can win. We can go in there and work hard, and, maybe, some good things will happen for us, we can get some confidence and carry it over to the game against James Madison.” – UNCW head coach Buzz Peterson
On the other hand, for me the key is to keep sophomore shooting guard Marcus Paige off the court as much as possible, just like the last game, so that he can rest going into the rest of the season. This is also going to force a young Carolina squad into finding another floor leader. While it could be junior forward James McAdoo, who has been playing better in the last couple of games, the other choice could be senior shooting guard Leslie McDonald, who has come back from his suspension and helped with the lack outside shooting. And while the search for a second team leader is on going, the floor general for the Heels, freshman Nate Britt, has been showing more and more that he can handle the position. Will be interesting if the first year player can handle the pressure once facing ACC foes.
In the paint freshman center Kennedy Meeks seems to be improving with each game, while sophomore forward Brice Johnson has not had the best of games in the last few match ups. The Tar Heels need Johnson to play well once the team hits the conference games part of the season, as his energy off the bench can spark some runs with the young team. The starting center for Carolina, sophomore Joel James, will still not be playing in this game, and coach Williams said he probably will also not be in the line up for the Heels’ first ACC game this Sunday. The head man spoke about missing James…
“There’s no question we have. Brice (Johnson) was playing really well and then all of sudden I started Brice and he didn’t play as well as we wanted him to play or as well as he wanted to play. Joel does give you that size that’s really difficult for people to handle inside and we’d like to get him back. We’d like to get Brice playing better, Kennedy (Meeks) playing better, Desmond (Hubert) playing better and all of them.”
Speaking of big men, Sean May has been a regular at the Heels’ practice as he comes back from a broken foot injury and coach Williams had high praise for him…
“one of the three or four smartest guys on the court I’ve ever coached”
adding that he believes that the 2005 Final Four MVP could be a coach if he so choose…
“When Sean played his last year with us, I felt like I could put him in any position on the court. He knew what every position on the court was supposed to do…If you don’t see the big picture offensively and defensively, you will not be a good coach.”
You have to wonder with the many young talented players in the paint if having the former Tar Heel around has not helped them grow up quicker than expected.
Overall the team is getting a reputation that it plays up or down to its competition. With three quality wins over teams that could be in the thick of things come March Madness, as well as three losses to inferior squads, that assessment is pretty much right on the mark. On the other hand, this squad is young, has gone through much off the field, and has had to adjust. And in the end, it has done all of that and is about go go into conference play with double digit wins and one of the top squads in the ACC. Like it or not, most teams in the conference that lose their top player for the year can not say that.
A good win against NC-Wilmington will not cancel most of the doubts that people may have about North Carolina this season, but a bad game, win or lose, would add to those doubts, and that is the last thing this squad needs right now. With UNC being a 22.5 favorite in this one I do believe they will cover, but what the team won’t do is give its fans biscuits this out of conference games, as UNC wins 89 to 64.