UNC Basketball: Signs the Tar Heels are Peaking Part I


The end of the regular season and the ACC Tournament has shown us a lot about the North Carolina Tar Heels.  UNC finished the season strong with a big, blowout win over Duke on their home floor after a stretch of nine consecutive regular season wins.  Finishing with the #4 national ranking the Heels ended the season in prime position to grab a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  In the end that’s the only ranking that really matters and the nations preseason #1 team had successfully climbed back to the spot they were expected to be in all along.

During that key stretch after the devastating last second loss to Duke at Chapel Hill several signs have emerged that the Heels are peaking at exactly the right time. After pulling out a tough victory against NC State and coming very close to beating a very good Florida St team without John Henson, the Heels captured a #1 seed in the big dance.

Let’s take a look at a few and how they could affect Carolinas March Madness run towards a national title.

James Michael McAdoo’s Play: McAdoo played like a confused freshman, unsure of where he needed to be or what to do for much of the season.  He routinely committed unnecessary fouls on the defensive end.  Offensively he rushed, low percentage shots as soon as he got the ball and did little else.  He failed to utilize his athleticism or strength as he struggled to adapt his game to the college level and his new role.

Over the last month of the season McAdoo has showed steady improvement that culminated itself in a career night against Maryland.  McAdoo can do it all, dominate on the glass, play tough, physical defense, run the floor, finish at the basket, hit the mid range jump shot, dribble penetrate to the basket, the whole package.  And finally, he’s starting to put that package together into production on the court.  He’s moving without the ball and looking like he understands the offense and his role within it.  He’s playing with more patience and finding ways to let that freakish athleticism bust out.  And against MD with John Henson injured and Tyler Zeller in foul trouble, McAdoo came through with a big performance.  Even before his career game, he was becoming a player that at the least, could be counted on for solid minutes off the bench.  If McAdoo can establish himself as a force off the bench he could find himself as a key contributor in the playoffs much like Marvin Williams and Ed Davis in the past.

PJ Hairston hinting at better play: While everyone has been paying attention to the other freshman McAdoo.  Is PJ Hairston sneaking up on us?  It’s very possible that Hairstons 13 points on against FSU in the ACC Tournament Championship is a start of big things to come.  Hairston certainty thinks so:

"“I feel like my shot is back,” the freshman said in the locker room about a half-hour later, as the Seminoles were still celebrating on the court. “And I’m going to be very dangerous over the next couple of weeks.” “I was getting a rhythm, I was getting good passes for my shot,’’ Hairston said. “I was spotting up, Kendall was coming down the court, finding me in transition. And the 3s I hit were big for the team. And that’s all I wanted to do was help my team win this game.”"

Hairston had a strong ACC Tournament and is starting to move well without the ball in the half court instead of standing around like a statue.  He’s also on occasion used more of his game and taken the ball strong to the rim.  If Hairston can get his shot going, and especially if he can figure out a way to break out the rest of his game.  The Tar Heels will get a whole lot better real quick, no other team in the country has a player with Hairstons skills struggling the way he has.  While that’s been frustrating, it also presents a big opportunity for the Heels that is very unique.

Kendall Marshall continuing to score: For most of the season, teams ignored Kendall Marshall as a shooter.  Ever since his 22 point explosion against Maryland in the regular season he’s been on a tear.  Taking his game to another level, Marshall, the nations best passer is now a dual threat.  He scored 20+ points in two of his last five and in double figures in four of those contests.

If Marshall can continue his dominate play and work in his jump shot and dribble penetration he has employed successfully lately, the Tar Heels offensive potential expands exponentially.  In the half court, with Marshall as a scoring threat both to take it to the rim and hit the jump shot, teams must guard him.  And when teams defend him, instead of sitting five feet off of him clogging up the passing lanes, Marshall has more room to do what he does best, pass the ball.  You could spend hours thinking up the possibilities that presents for this entire offense.  He doesn’t need to score 20 every night, or even again this season for that matter.  But scoring in double digits and knocking down a couple jump shots makes your guy try to get a hand in your face.  Combine that with a couple of strong drives to the rim that result in a score at the rim or drawing a foul.  Then your guy has to really defend you because he respects your shot and your drive.  Marshall as a dual threat would be a scary prospect for anybody facing him.

Check back later today for the rest of the signs that the Tar Heels are peaking. 

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