The North Carolina Tar Heels are basically halfway through the season and to say the least, its been one bumpy ride. Carolina is 10-5 overall (0-2 in the ACC) and the only consistent thing about this team is that there inconsistent. This squad has the best non-conference wins in the country, on the other hand they may have the worse non-conference losses in America. With their backs against the wall and a grueling ACC schedule ahead of them things will not get any easier, but for now lets look back at how we they here.
Coming into the season I had higher expectations than most for the Heels. I felt like this squad was underrated and that this would be the Roy Williams led bunch that would make that unexpected final four run. I had those expectations assuming that P.J. Hairston would become eligible at some point. Even before the NCAA and the University dropped the ball in the Hairston case, it was crystal clear that Carolina wasn’t the same team without him…then the Belmont game happened. UNC trailed for most of the contest but took a lead late. During the final minutes of this game they played horrific defense, continued to miss free throws and that resulted in a shocking home loss.
That’s when the roller coaster ride officially took off!
It seemed as if all was good when Carolina pulled a “shocker” of its own, by defeating then #3 ranked and defending national champ Louisville. Well, a week later the Heels lacked passion and effort, so they took an unexpected “L” at UAB. Are you dizzy yet? Hope not because this ride is just getting started. At this point most people in the college basketball world are really down on Ol’ Roy’s bunch, and to make things worst they have a date in East Lansing with then #1 Michigan State. To the surprise of many, Carolina played it’s most complete of the season and knocked off the mighty Spartans, in their house.
After this victory the team was confident and it was evident in the next couple of outings, including a win versus Kentucky. With 3 top-notch wins in the non-con, everybody was feeling good-then Texas came to town. Earlier in the day senior guard Leslie McDonald was reinstated from his suspension, and that was also the day it became clear to see that P.J. wasn’t coming back. Following what had to be an emotional day, the Heels came out flat, missed a boatload of free throws and suffered another home loss to a less talented team.
Toss in a handful of wins versus smaller competition as well as losses to Wake Forest and Miami and its easy to see why this team is the biggest mystery in college basketball.
When watching this team play for a few possessions, its easy to see why the season has been like a see-saw. On a game to game basis it’s difficult to tell who’s going to have a decent outing, minus Marcus Paige. For starters, this team just can’t shoot. Paige and McDonald are the only players who shoot the rock from the perimeter with confidence and it’s really killing this team. Freshman guard Nate Britt struggles shooting from the outside, sophomore J.P. Tokoto has shown flashes of brilliance but his shot is a major work in progress. Speaking of shooting, Carolina’s adventures at the charity strike has directly resulted in three losses. At the pace their own, these guys will finish as the worst free throw shooting squad in the history of UNC basketball.
Inside play has been OK for the most part. James Michael McAdoo hasn’t become the super star many thought he’d be- however he’s been pretty steady, especially when play the “4”. Brice Johnson has been the most consistent of the post players. His quick leaping ability and soft touch around the basket makes him a real threat. If Johnson can continue to progress, it will be tough to keep him of the court. The trio in the middle has been unspectacular to be honest. Freshman Kennedy Meeks has been the best of the bunch, but as of late he’s looked like a freshman. Joel James is just back from injury, but when he was healthy he wasn’t proving much punch. Desmond Hubert hasn’t got much PT, so he’s had no real impact.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige has been the Heels MVP and it’s not close. He leads the team in scoring, assists and is the undisputed leader. #5 has been super, becoming the go to guy this group desperately needed, but recently he’s had some issues of his own. In the last few contest, Marcus has started slowly and this team just can’t afford that. I know he wants to get his teammates involved but UNC needs him to come out aggressive to set the tone offensively. Paige is the least of my worries, however his recent trend of slows starts need to change.
Bottom line…it is go time for Carolina, they have to get it together and start winning some games. The season is not loss yet but another bad week or two and it just may be over.