The Tar Heels should be favored heading into tomorrow’s matchup against the Texas Longhorns even though it’s a road game. Star point guard Myck Kabongo continues to battle eligibility issues and his absence has had a much larger effect than Rick Barnes and his team had anticipated. Nonetheless, there are still areas of concern for North Carolina when it comes to this Texas lineup and they mainly involve Cameron Ridley.
Ridley is an opposing force inside for Texas that rivals North Carolina’s Joel James in terms of physique measuring at 6-9, 270. However, unlike James, he’s more developed skill wise at the game of basketball. In 20 minutes per contest so far this season, Ridley has averaged 6.1 ppg and 5.5 rpg while shooting an even 50% from the field. Don’t let those numbers fool you; he matches up extremely well against UNC’s much more undersized post.
If you look down the Tar Heel front line, there is plenty of height and athleticism, but not a ton of size. Outside of James, the Heels will throw several slender forwards on the floor to contend with Ridley. Unfortunately for Joel, he has only been getting 15.7 minutes of play a game which is less than what Ridley contributes. So at certain points, North Carolina is going to have to figure out how to contain while James is on the bench. The answer is going to have to come from either James Michael McAdoo or Desmond Hubert with JMM being choice number one. McAdoo isn’t nearly as bulky as James, but he is strong enough on the block to make guarding Ridley work while James catches his breath. JMM will undoubtedly have to rely on his quick hands on defense in order to break up any potential scoring outbreaks. As for Hubert, he may not be the biggest guy, but he has more height than guys like PJ Hairston and JP Tokoto and he isn’t nearly as skinny as Brice Johnson who, I’m afraid, would get tossed around like a rag doll making him a serviceable third option.
The key for James will be staying out of foul trouble. If he can do that, then I feel confident enough in his defensive ability to maybe keep Ridley around the six point mark. The concern for Joel is that this is the first time he will have to guard a guy that’s just as big as he is. To this point, everyone he’s faced has been a lot smaller and he’s been able to push himself deep into the post by out muscling defenders. Ridley has a lot more experience using his frame in game situations than James so hopefully, that won’t prove to be a huge variable.
Regardless of Ridley’s size, if North Carolina can hit their threes and create transition opportunities from their defense, then it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Either way, this is one player that will need to be addressed in the game plan for Roy Williams. Effectively being able to take him out of the game on defense will also help the Heels when it comes time to face Reggie Johnson and Miami in a few weeks.
Tune into the game tomorrow at 9:00 pm on ESPN2.