Thursday, January 2, 2014

season preview: North Carolina

Media prediction: 3rd of 15

Last season:

Record: 25-11 (12-6); ACC 3rd seed
Postseason: NCAA 8 seed; lost in 2nd round
KenPom: 32nd of 347

Returning scoring: 54.1%
Returning rebounding: 63.2%
Returning assists: 51.6%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: G Reggie Bullock, F James Michael McAdoo
3rd team: none
HM: G P.J. Hairston
Defensive: none
Rookie: G Marcus Paige

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Marcus Paige (So.)
SG: Nate Britt (Fr.)
SF: J.P. Tokoto (So.)
PF: James Michael McAdoo (Jr.)
C: Joel James (So.)

G Leslie McDonald (Sr.)
F Brice Johnson (So.)
F Kennedy Meeks (Fr.)
G Luke Davis (Jr.)
F Isaiah Hicks (Fr.)
F Jackson Simmons (Jr.)
F Desmond Hubert (Jr.)

Coach: Roy Williams (11th season)

ACC schedule:

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

Maybe it's because the team is mainly underclassmen, or maybe it's the start-of-season turmoil over P.J. Hairston, or maybe it's just 'cause Carolina is weird, but it's hard to find a stranger resume in the country and the Heels are only 12 games into the season.  Already they've beaten Kentucky, Michigan State, and Louisville - that's your preseason 1, 2, and 3, and two of those teams have occupied the #1 spot at some point so far.  In between they've managed to lose to Belmont, UAB, and been taken to overtime by Davidson.

There's no doubt this team is talented, and there's also no doubt they took a hit when they gave up on their mercurial star, Hairston.  Without Hairston, last season's leading scorer for UNC, point guard Marcus Paige has taken on the lead role.  He's shooting, scoring, distributing, getting to the line (where he's shooting 93%) and he's taking good care of the ball, too.  Paige, in his sophomore year, has become UNC's undisputed star.

Paige's sidekick is forward James Michael McAdoo, a junior whom Carolina fans have been hoping would live up to his considerable potential.  McAdoo still could stand to be more efficient, and UNC needs him to shed his streaky nature and play more consistently; his lousy night against UAB was a big reason for that loss.  Teams have been hacking McAdoo incessantly, unafraid of his .570 FT%; he's already attempted a whopping 114 this year.

Outside of McAdoo and bench forward Brice Johnson, who's got great shot-blocking and rebounding chops and chips in healthily on offense too, UNC has a forward rotation that smacks of Roy Williams trying to find a working combo.  Part of it has to do with their tempo, which is among the fastest in the country, but UNC has been subbing forwards out relentlessly.  Kennedy Meeks is their third most-used forward and he gets 15 minutes a game; everyone else, including starting center Joel James and three others, comes in at 12 or fewer.  It tends to make them somewhat indistinguishable from each other on the stat sheet.  Only Meeks is a significant contributor to the scoreboard.

At guard, UNC has been starting freshman Nate Britt somewhat out of necessity, being without Hairston and senior Leslie McDonald.  McDonald has finally returned after sitting nine games due to taking about $1,700 worth of "impermissible benefits" as the NCAA puts it.  He may eventually replace Britt in the starting lineup; for now, he's come off the bench to give UNC 12 points a game.  He's also the only rotation senior the Heels have.  Rounding out the backcourt is wing J.P. Tokoto - UNC lists him as a forward, but whatever, he's basically a complementary scoring guard.

UNC has got a bunch of talent as usual, but they're probably a little less deep than that huge rotation would imply.  The back end is more or less interchangeable, so they're not likely to really ever get in foul trouble, but the truth is they go about seven deep in terms of guys that can hurt you, two or three who will do it consistently.  (Think Paige, McDonald, McAdoo when he puts his mind to it.)  Even so, don't take a lot of solace in their questionable early-season losses.  A team that can demolish Michigan State and explode on Louisville the way they did, that's an obviously legitimate ACC contender.  There's no guarantees, but I think this team has the feel of one that's settling into a groove after some early-season turmoil (surrounding McDonald and Hairston); they'll win a ton of ACC games and get a much higher NCAA seed than the 8 that they fell to last year.


Our own basketball team has some issues of its own.  When I get a chance to collect my thoughts on the ugliness in Knoxville and a few other things I'll see what I can do about putting them to electronic paper.  At the very least, it's clear we're looking at another bubble run in February - at least, so I hope.

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