With the ACC schedule under way UNC is still looking for its first conference win as well as consistence on both side of the ball. Tonight, at the Dean Dome, tip off time 9:00 p.m. EST (ESPN2) North Carolina (10-4 – 0-1) will host Miami (FL) (8-6 ~ 0-2) trying to find both things. In someways the `Canes resemble the Tar Heels, having taken undefeated #2 Syracuse to the wire before losing by five points, but also going to overtime and losing to possibly the worst program in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Virginia Tech. UNC is going to try to avoid going 0 and 2 in the ACC for only the fifth time in its history, but something they did last year.
The Tar Heels, who fell out of the Top 25 after the loss to the Demon Deacons, had won 10 in a row against the Hurricanes until last season, when the program from the sunshine state took three games from UNC, two on its way to winning the ACC and one during the conference post season tournament title game. However neither of the two teams will be anything like last year, as UNC has lost two of its top players and Miami (Fl) lost most everyone from then.
The good news for head coach Roy Williams is that he will finally have all the players for this game, as sophomore center Joel James, who has missed four games with a sprained MCL, will be back in action against the `Canes. At “Roy Williams live”, which airs Monday evening on Tar Heel Sports Network said this about the his starting big man…
“He’s there. It’s just that we made the decision that we were going to hold him out for a certain number of days to see how he felt. On Friday’s practice that was the decision maker because we asked him to do a little bit more and he was sore afterwards so then we cut him back a little bit Saturday and played the game Sunday. We put his name in the book in case of an emergency. We could’ve played him but at the same time I said let’s let him shoot layups and stretch and work out a little bit, get one more day and see how the knee feels. He was full go today at practice with no limitations. Unless he gets some pain or swelling or something he will be able to play.”
After how both sophomore Brice Johnson and freshman Kennedy Meeks have fared starting in the middle, if James is ready he most probably will be back in the starting five for this game. The only way this could be different if coach Williams wants James to ease back into playing. And while I am sure that the addition of James to the core of men in the paint will help out, it is pretty fair to safe that it is the back court that will need to step it up if North Carolina wants to win this game. However it is also fair to say that Carolina has to play much better interior defense, and not allow twenty layups like they did in their last match up.
The two shooting guards, sophomore Marcus Paige and senior Leslie McDonald, need to hit their shots in this game, and for the rest of the season, if UNC is going to have a chance to be in each game from here on out. As I wrote after the Wake Forest game, had the two shooters hit their forty percent average UNC would have had twelve more points, and in a six point game that would have been enormous. Paige also needs to get into the flow of the game much quicker, as he has not done that of late, and Carolina needs his points to get into the groove.
“I thought Wake Forest really wanted to win the game a lot more than we did,” Williams said on his weekly radio show Monday night. “I’ve done a poor job getting these kids fired up to play and it better change. That’s the bottom line.”
Coach Williams had his team practicing on Monday, which was supposed to be a day off, for the squad for what people said was the most physical hour of practice they had. The squad also watched tape of the loss to Wake. Somehow, someway, it feels like the coaching staff is trying to push and motivate the squad no matter who the competition is.
“Hopefully it got their attention,” Williams said. “And if it didn’t, then they’re not alive.”
This is a young team, of the nine players that get enough minutes to count, only a pair of them, junior power forward James McAdoo and senior McDonald, are upperclassmen. And if you think about it, the first has had to play a position he did not know, the small forward slot, due to missing players, and the latter has missed the first nine games of the season.
My keys to this game are…
- Shooters must hit. As I said before, Paige and McDonald need to make the shots from the outside.
- D to Offense. The players need to work hard on defense, as it will turn to easy points, and will get the team going.
- Focus for forty. The team has yet to play an entire game where they do not have lapses. Getting one will help them see they can do that all the time.
- Big Mac. McAdoo has been stepping up, he needs to continue to do that with each and every game he plays.
The Vegas odds makers have North Carolina as a ten point favorite. With the way the season has been going, I would say that is a quite big spread. On the other hand, if the team can do as one of their leaders say…
“At the end of the day, there’s only so much he can do,” Paige said. “We have to make the decision to change, change our behavior, change our habits, change our effort. Otherwise, he’s preaching to the choir.
“It’s up to us. It’s our responsibility to take action and change if we want to be a good team.”
…then the squad could easily win by double digits. In the end I see UNC winning this one by the final of 71 to 66, once again being in a battle, but being able to hit more from the outside while defending the inside better.