Thursday, December 20, 2012

season preview: North Carolina

North Carolina Tar Heels
Media prediction: 3rd of 12

Last season:

Record: 32-6 (14-2); ACC 1 seed
Postseason: NCAA 1 seed; lost in Elite 8
KenPom: 7th of 345

Returning scoring: 30.8%
Returning rebounding: 32.3%
Returning assists: 20.8%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: C Tyler Zeller, F John Henson, F Harrison Barnes
2nd team: G Kendall Marshall
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: F John Henson
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Marcus Paige (Fr.)
SG: Dexter Strickland (Sr.)
SF: Reggie Bullock (Jr.)
F: James Michael McAdoo (So.)
F: Brice Johnson (Fr.)


G P.J. Hairston (So.)
G Leslie McDonald (Jr.)
F Joel James (Fr.)
F J.P. Tokoto (Fr.)
F Desmond Hubert (So.)
G Luke Davis (So.)
F Jackson Simmons (So.)

Coach: Roy Williams (10th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, NC State, Virginia
Once: Boston College, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Obviously, UNC is not what they were last year.  It's one of those in-between years for the Heels, I guess.  That's likely to happen when you have four of five starters on the all-ACC team and then they all disappear.  Let's not kid ourselves, though; they're not exactly ready to hit the ACC basement just yet.

There's still plenty of talent, that's why.  In James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock they still have two of the league's better scorers.  Bullock is a ruthlessly efficient scorer and should be getting the ball more, really.  He's a voluminous three-point shooter and quite good at it, and can score close to the rim as well.  McAdoo is a little bit of a volume scorer for now, but has the talent to be a go-to guy and can be awfully tough to stop when he gets going.

Freshman Marcus Paige is more or less the point guard, but UNC really splits the duties between him and Dexter Strickland, who is much more experienced (the only non-walk-on senior on the roster) and therefore a better distributor right now.  It's going to be very hard to replace Kendall Marshall as a facilitator - when he was on the court, nearly half of UNC's baskets were Marshall-assisted, which is astounding - but Strickland is doing pretty well.  Paige isn't taking care of the ball right now.  The one major limitation in Strickland's game is jump shooting.

That covers four of the starting spots.  The fifth is totally up in the air among Desmond Hubert and two freshmen: Brice Johnson and Joel James.  Each brings something different.  Hubert has the most experience and is solid defensively, but lousy on offense.  Seven free throws this year and he's yet to sink a one, just to illustrate the point.  Johnson is the best scorer, with an excellent shooting percentage of .636, but disappears from view when he turns sideways.  James brings battering-ram size to the forward position and is the closest thing UNC has to a true center.

Carolina brings P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald off the bench to round out an excellent four-guard-plus-Bullock rotation.  Both are better three-ball threats than either Paige or Strickland.  The rest of the bench is mainly whichever of the three forwards didn't start, although there are fully twelve players who've played in every game in which they were available.  Roy is still tinkering with that rotation and it'll probably be pared down as time goes by.

It's not easy right now to put a finger on UNC, other than they're not a candidate for a tourney #1 seed.  They have a hole or two in the lineup - no true center, and as a team they don't shoot free throws well.  Roy would say their defense sucks if you caught him in a candid moment, but it's actually pretty good right now, with occasional lapses.  They've had some bad defensive games, but overall they're still just fine - if you hear a media type talking about all the points given up, remember that the mainstream media still thinks "per game" is the end-all and be-all of evaluation, and UNC plays one of the fastest tempos in the country.  The Heels haven't beaten anyone of consequence and have lost every game they've played against a good team, so they're more vulnerable than usual.  But with so many ways to score, they're still dangerous.  It wouldn't surprise me if they failed to meet the media's expectation of being the #3 team in the conference, but don't bet against them either to get a perfectly good tournament seed again.

No comments: