Monthly Archives: February 2016

Quick Hitters (Syracuse – Round 2)

A feature I will do on the blog after every game is what I’m currently calling “Quick Hitters”; which will typically be 10 quick takeaways from the game posted within a couple hours of the end of the game. I would love to hear your thoughts from the games as well, so please share them in the comments section!

  1. This game felt very similar to the Duke game just shy of two weeks ago. A game in the Dean Dome. A game in which Carolina built a seemingly-comfortable second half lead. Then squandered it while simultaneously forgetting that Brice Johnson is a candidate for National Player of the Year. The difference? The Tar Heels were able to do just enough to pull away in this one.
  2. With the win, the Heels clinch a top-3 seed in the ACC tournament. Why does that matter? Because the top 4 seeds each get a double bye. With the win, the Heels also continue to control their own destiny. A win Saturday at Duke secures at least a share of the regular season conference championship and top seed in the ACC Tournament. If Miami also wins out, the teams would have the same conference record with Carolina winning the tiebreaker and top seed because of the head to head win. victory. demoralization.
  3. Senior Day. Every year, I get so nervous at the beginning of the Senior Day game when several atypical starters are in the line-up – often including walk-ons. I always wonder what in the world Roy is thinking. But they always play hard and often exit the game with a lead, as was the case tonight. Of course, it helped that 2 of the seniors on the court were Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. I thankful for the tradition and the memories it provides for some young men to talk about the time they started for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.
  4. Isaiah Hicks needs to be in the starting line-up. If you caught the halftime studio broadcast, you saw Jay Williams trying to start a campaign to get Isaiah Hicks in the starting line-up. I’ve been hesitant to admit, but there is a different level of comfortability between Johnson and Hicks. Their games and skill sets are more complementary. As much as it pains me to agree with a Blue Devil, I’m on board with JWill. Why should this line-up change happen? Simple: because….
  5. Kennedy Meeks is (currently and unfortunately) just not explosive or athletic enough. Perhaps his knee is still bothering him? I don’t know that I can remember another Carolina frontcourt player getting blocked or beaten to out-of-range rebounds to the extent that Meeks has this year. I hate to see it, because I love Kennedy and his easy smile. Hopefully, 1 more off-season of conditioning will get him to the level he needs to be at to really dominate.
  6. Marcus is not shooting well. Joel is shooting better. Marcus appears to be more comfortable with the ball in his hand. Marcus sees plays develop more readily than Joel (at this point in their careers). I’m not comparing Marcus to his jersey number’s predecessor; no one has Kendall Marshall’s Nostradamus-like ability to see things before they unfold in real life. We saw more of it tonight, but Marcus’ best asset right now is as a playmaker (8 assists, 1 turnover tonight). So let’s call him the ‘1’ and Joel the ‘2’. Don’t forget, we all thought Marcus was primarily a play-maker until he (out-of-necessity) became a scoring machine in his sophomore season.
  7. This game was another example of Carolina’s lack of closeability. Wondering what that is? Read this: Closeability.
  8. There’s just no other way to say it: The ball must funnel through Brice Johnson all game long. Thankfully, this didn’t hurt the Heels in the loss column tonight as it did against Duke and Virginia. The problem, as I see it, is 3-fold: 1. Johnson is one of the best players in the nation, so opposing teams are going to do everything they can to stop him from getting the ball (especially down on the block). 2. At the same time, Johnson can’t disappear. Knowing that he is the focus of the defense, he must work that much harder to get open and make himself available for entry passes (and stay out of foul trouble). 3. The Heels cannot get jump-shot-happy. This was at its worst against Duke (and both Virginia and Syracuse are doing everything they can to goad Carolina into taking 3s). The first half against Syracuse was fools’ gold and we all felt it. A jump shot (especially against the zone) is open and available at any point in the shot clock. This offense is predicated on owning the paint, so the guards must keep attacking and probe the interior throughout the first 20 seconds of shot clock.
  9. Of all the roller coaster rides this team takes us on, nothing is more maddening to me than their inability to commit to defense for a whole game (which includes finishing off the possession with a rebound). Sure, there are pockets of stellar defense here and there, but never or rarely a full game’s worth. Imagine what this team could be down the stretch if they defended for a full game. The ‘09 team played a little bit of defense in the last few weeks of the season and things turned out all right for them. The #1-in-the-nation Kansas Jayhawks are in that position right now because they committed to defense at some point in January. In a year where just about anyone could win the whole thing, defensive buy-in is going to be the difference between the 2015-16 Tar Heels having 5 or 6 games left and having 10 games left.
  10. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Marcus Paige look more defeated than he did after his only turnover of the game came with less than a minute to go and allowed Syracuse to cut the lead to 3.
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ACC Home Stretch

Here we go. The penultimate Saturday of the ACC college basketball regular season. The top 6 teams are all ranked. The top 6 teams all have 3 conference games remaining. The top 6 teams are separated by only 2 games. This is fun.

Here’s the pecking order heading into the weekend action:

  1. UNC (12-3)
  2. Miami (11-4)
  3. Louisville (11-4)
  4. Virginia (10-5)
  5. Duke (10-5)
  6. Notre Dame (10-5)

Each team has a game this weekend (Duke plays Sunday while the other 5 teams play Saturday), and 4 of the 6 play each other. UNC travels to Virginia while Louisville heads to Miami.

Each of the top 6 then has a game at some point during the week.

Finally, on the last Saturday of the regular season, all 6 top ACC teams are back in action with (once again) 4 of the top 6 playing each other. UNC makes the short trip to Cameron Indoor while Louisville and their self-imposed ban will play their final game of the season at Virginia.

Did I mention that this is fun?

Here’s the kicker: there are 5 remaining games between these top 6 teams, which means there are 5 guaranteed remaining losses amongst them. The head-to-head games are:

  1. Louisville @ Miami (2.27)
  2. UNC @ Virginia (2.27)
  3. Miami @ Notre Dame (3.2)
  4. Louisville @ Virginia (3.5)
  5. UNC @ Duke (3.5)

Suffice it to say, there is much to be decided in the final week of ACC regular season action. The regular season championship is on the line (which, along with pride, is the only thing on the line for Louisville). Conference tournament seeding is on the line (remember, the top 4 teams all get a double bye). NCAA tournament seeding is on the line. It should be a great last week of conference games.

Oh, by the way, this is fun.

For reference sake, here are the remaining schedules of the current top 6 ACC schools:

UNC (12-3)

  1. @ Virginia (2.27)
  2. Syracuse (2.29)
  3. @ Duke (3.5)

Miami (11-4)

  1. Louisville (2.27)
  2. @ Notre Dame (3.2)
  3. @ VT (3.5)

Louisville (11-4)

  1. @ Miami (2.27)
  2. GT (3.1)
  3. @ Virginia (3.5)

Virginia (10-5)

  1. UNC (2.27)
  2. @ Clemson (3.1)
  3. Louisville (3.5)

Duke (10-5)

  1. @ Pitt (2.28)
  2. Wake (3.1)
  3. UNC (3.5)

Notre Dame (10-5)

  1. @ FSU (2.27)
  2. Miami (3.2)
  3. NC St. (3.5)

Closeability

After a 2014-15 campaign that saw the North Carolina Tar Heels consistently struggle to close out wins, the main focus of Roy Williams and his team during the off-season was overcoming this tendency. We’ll call this principle “closeability” – the ability to close out games. Teams with closeability are tough, focused, and have a Tyler Hansbrough-type player who refuses to lose. Teams without closeability lack determination and grit and have a propensity for losing games they should win.

Given this offseason focus and a returning veteran squad led by preseason All-American candidate Marcus Paige, closeability sounded like a readily attainable goal for the 2015-16 Tar Heels.

How have they done so far? Some numbers to consider:

UNC has 5 losses (4 on the road, 1 at home). In each of those 5 losses:

  • They have held a 2nd half lead
  • They have held at least a 6-point lead at some point in the game
  • The greatest margin of defeat in any one game is 6 points
  • The total combined margin of defeat is 17 points
Game Date Score Margin Largest UNC Lead Held 2nd Half Lead? Last Tie/Lead
@ N. Iowa 11/21 71-67 -4 16 (16:53 – 2nd half) Yes Tie – 2:57,

Lead – 7:37

@ Texas 12/12 84-82 -2 8 (1:06 – 1st half) Yes Tie – :02,

Lead – 2:56

@ Louisville 2/1 71-65 -6 6 (5:50 – 1st half) Yes Tie – 12:10,

Lead – 15:58

@ Notre Dame 2/6 80-76 -4 15 (2:15 – 1st half) Yes Lead – 6:36
vs. Duke 2/17 74-73 -1 8 (6:31 – 2nd half) Yes Lead – 1:10

These numbers show a certain lack of closeability. There have been several culprits along the way. Lack of defensive intensity. Lack of defensive cohesion. Inability to box out and grab a defensive rebound. Getting away from attacking the interior. Unforced turnovers. Empty, careless possessions down the stretch. Unnecessary jump shots.

Each of these issues boil down to one thing: focus.

Despite these losses, there is good news: This 2015-16 edition of the Tar Heels have not been embarrassed or humiliated in ANY game this season. Remember, even the uber-talented 2011-12 team, with 6 future first-round picks, suffered a humbling and uninspired 90-57 loss at Florida State.

After the recent skid in which they lost 3 of 5 (and even 1 of those 2 victories was a narrow escape at winless-in-ACC-play Boston College), the Tar Heels have been dialed in during their last 2 games. UNC completely dismantled Miami (another potential #1 seed) and patiently overcame their biggest deficit of the year (13 points) to win on the road against NC State and the ever-dangerous Cat Barber.

In a year where there is no single dominant team in college basketball, these Tar Heels have the talent and experience to win every game in which they’ll play.

Unfortunately talent and experience aren’t enough to win games. It depends on their ability to focus. It depends on their ability to demonstrate closeability.

Can these Tar Heels focus and be a team with closeability? Absolutely.

Will they be a team with closeability in the final weeks of the season and cut down the nets in Houston? I can’t wait to find out.