If there is one thing that head coach Roy Williams likes to do in his out of conference schedule is play big time games. This year, between a tournament, the usual ACC/Big 10 Challenge and a regular season game the Tar Heels did just that three times. But as the head man of the basketball program told his freshman after the win versus NC-Wilmington, that is nothing as conference play arrives…
“I told them the level of intensity goes up about 10 levels and you better be ready to go up with it or just stay in the locker room,” Williams said.
And that is exactly what happens tonight at Joel Coliseum, tip off at 8:00 p.m. EST (ESPNU), as #19 North Carolina (10-3) heads to play an in-state foe in Wake Forest (10-3) in what is the first ACC game for both programs this year. In a series that is dominated by the Heels overall, 155 to 65, as well as recently, 8 out of the last 10, it’s a lot closer when it comes to playing in tonight’s venue, with the Heels only being 12-9 at the Joel. Adding to the fact this is the first ACC game of the year is the reality that UNC hasn’t played on the road for over a month.
From what I have seen of these two teams, not just their records are similar, also their ways of missing at the charity stripe resemble one another. The Tar Heels (21st KenPom) have shot 62.4%, while the Demon Deacons (84th KenPom) are even worst, shooting 61.9%. But there is more that the two teams are very close to in the stats. Effective field goal percentage is one category, where North Carolina is at 50.3% to Wake Forest’s 49.8%. While in turnovers UNC gives it up 17.3% of the time they have the ball while the Deacs do that 17.2%.
UNC as a whole has been quite good in ACC opening games, with a 50 and 10 record, coach Williams has an even better record, winning seven and losing three in the first conference game, but one of the losses did come on the road last season when Carolina lost to Virginia.
For coach Williams, who has had to mix and match his perimeter game due to missing players from suspensions, now the juggling act is in the paint, since anyone he starts just does not seem to do well at the center position. Sophomore Joel James, who is still out, has averaged less than four points when playing, sophomore Brice Johnson in his couple of starts played the worst games of this campaign, and freshman Kennedy Meeks, who got the nod last game and will start once again tonight, was held scoreless for the first time in his UNC career.
Besides missing players the team has not been consistent throughout the first part of the schedule. Great wins nestled next to head scratching losses, sharp play on offense and D followed by sloppy execution on both sides of the ball. It is a young team, that has gone through a lot this season, both on and off the court, and this will happen. However, with the beginning of the ACC season, all of that will be a lot more looked at.
“The biggest thing that I have been displeased with is the consistency of our attention and, sometimes, our effort,” Williams said. “But I’ve got hope. I’ve got hope that we can be good defensively.”
Now the leaders, which in my opinion are sophomore shooting guard Marcus Paige, junior power forward James McAdoo and coming off the bench, senior shooting guard Leslie McDonald, all have to be consistent in their roles. Hit their shots, play good on both side of the ball and stay physically and mentally in the game from the first whistle to the final buzzer. The trio will also have to make sure to keep the rest of the team motivated and in the game no matter the score, no matter the situation. If they can do that this squad, which is still young, can mature and be a force to be reckon with both in conference play and past it.
From the sounds of it a duo of the leaders might just be ready for the task…
“Just the feeling of conference play and the excitement that comes with it,” said McAdoo, “We’re confident. We’re ready for this.
“Marcus and I realize what it’s going to take and it starts Sunday.”
…and playing against a team that is 9 and 0 at home and looking to stop a four game losing streak against North Carolina everyone best realize what it takes and get it done tonight or the Heels might be coming back to Chapel Hill with their first ACC loss of the season.
Every other team in the ACC has played at least one conference game so far. So for UNC and Wake, they are the last ones to the party, but both want to have their first game in 2014 be a win! For that to happen for the Heels it is going to take several things…
- Big Mac’s two ways. First, in the paint, get McAdoo going early with shots he can make inside. Second, when Leslie McDonald comes off the bench, get the open looks from beyond the arc, do not force them, and open up the offense inside to help the first Mac even more. When UNC plays inside out they are their best.
- Bigs in the Paint. Whomever is going to be playing inside has to be a force to be reckon with on both sides of the ball. Grabbing rebounds, getting tip ins, working the ball to the open man if doubled up.
- Britt & Meeks at work. Sounds like it could be a law firm of the future, but for now it is the two freshmen who will see their first ACC action and have to deal with it and overcome it on the road to play like they can and have so far.
- Paige leading the way. He might always be the top scorer, or the one that everyone will talk about when the game is over and done, but Marcus Paige is the catalyst of this team and he needs to be the one that the offense goes through if this team is going to win its share of games.
- Spark off the bench. McDonald and Johnson are usually the first two off the bench. The first on the outside and the latter in the blocks need to bring in energy and points to help out the starters and give them breathers.
At his Friday presser coach Williams brought one of his more popular sayings…
“You can’t come in there tiptoeing through the tulips,” said the North Carolina men’s basketball coach. “You’ve got to come in, plant your feet and be ready to make a stand.”
…That stand comes tonight for this UNC squad that has a lot of people believing in it, some doubting it and many still trying to figure it out. A good win against a team that has not lost yet at home and is looking to make a name in this year’s ACC race could go a long way in showing what this Heels squad is made of.
The Vegas insiders have North Carolina has a 4.5 points favorite, which basically in the ACC, playing on the road, this game is all but a toss up. KenPow sees the chances of UNC winning at Wake Forest a 64% possibility, again, basically nothing more than a toss up. I believe it’s going to be a tough game, with Carolina pulling it out in the end, by the final of 71 to 67.