UNC Basketball: Signs the Tar Heels are Peaking Part II


Welcome to Part II of the series where we’re examining the signs that North Carolina is peaking heading into the most important time of the season.  For Part I of the series, click HERE.

Tyler Zeller continuing to dominate: There are better, more articulate ways to say this, but I don’t care.  Zeller is the man!  No other words for it, “Big Z” has dominated all season and been the leader the Heels needed him to be.  Even in a game when he fouled out, he was one of UNCs most effective player.  Both offensively and defensively, Zeller continues to play smart, consistent basketball game in and game out.  Everyone expected Harrison Barnes to be the guy for UNC this season, instead it has been the senior Zeller that has shined the most.

Justin Watts showing he can be a Swiss army knife off the bench: Early in the season I was upset that Justin Watts getting his 5-7 minutes per game of playing time.  I wanted more Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston.  Then Dexter Strickland got hurt and John Henson got hurt and Tyler Zeller and James Michael McAdoo got in foul trouble.  And the Heels needed Watts, and the senior came through.  Against NC State he played a little point guard.  He played some power forward and he played on the wing.  And no matter what position he played, he played good defense, he played smart basketball (except for jacking up that three, come on Watts, my wife knew you weren’t supposed to shoot that) he crashed the boards and provided solid minutes.  When the team thought they were desperate, Watts reminded them he could hang in there and come through when needed.  In a game like the one against the Wolfpack, it was nice to have a senior that had enough intelligence, size and skill to play so many positions when the team needed to plug someone in. 

Resilient, tough play without John Henson: Now I know the Heels didn’t win the whole ACC Tourney with Henson sitting on the bench.  But the team figured out how to beat a tough NC State team not only without Henson, but with Tyler Zeller and James Michael McAdoo in foul trouble.  UNC has had several games this season come down to the wire and they played some very close teams well without one of college basketball’s best players.  In fact, if Henson ends up coming back in the big dance as expected and is fully recovered.  The injury ends up being a blessing for Carolina for a couple of reasons.  James McAdoo looked like he gained a lot of confidence in his extended role with Henson on the bench for two games.  McAdoo came up big with 14 points and eight rebounds against the Wolfpack before coming down to Earth against FSU.  UNC needs McAdoo to produce for them off the bench consistently, Hensons injury might have just provided them with the window the freshman needed, just in time. 

Bench output against Maryland and FSU in the ACC tourney: The bench stepped up in a big way in the ACC Tournament and gave Carolina a lot of confidence heading into the big dance.  Freshman James Michael McAdoo and PJ Hairston, along with senior Justin Watts sure gave Roy Williams a lot of reasons to have confidence in his bench in the NCAAs.  In each game that John Henson was injured, one of the freshman stepped up for UNC in a big way.  Hairston found his stroke in the second half against Florida State, while McAdoo played a dominate game against State with a decent performance against FSU.  Watts meanwhile served as the perfect role player and a terrific example for the young players.  With Kendall Marshall in foul trouble, he played the point in the first half.  Then with McAdoo and Zeller in foul trouble, he played power forward.  Oh and in between, he played some spot minutes on the wings.  A jack of all trades, hard working, smart player for UNC who had what I thought was a brilliant play to beat NC State in the final seconds as he threw the ball away instead of saving it and risking a steal.

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