Tag Archives: Duke Blue Devils

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Duke

Quick Hitters from North Carolina‘s 90-83 win over Duke:

  1. I wrote this down with about four minutes left in the game: “Win or lose, these two regular season games between North Carolina and Duke have been incredible.” I stand by it. Even though the final margins were eight and seven, both games were played at such a high level. Tonight’s game had 18 (EIGHTEEN!) lead changes in the first half.
  2. Love the senior night tradition of starting the seniors, even the walk-ons. This year was particularly fun because there are exactly five seniors who make up a sensible line-up – Nate BrittStilman WhiteKanler CokerIsaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks.
  3. Heels finish the year undefeated at home – 16-0.
  4. I did not like hearing the crowd chanting “overrated” at Harry Giles. The poor kid has struggled with knee injuries and surgeries. Not classy. Sorry, Duke fans.
  5. You might recall that the Tar Heels scored just 43 points Monday night against Virginia, a Roy Williams-era low. When did they hit 43 in this game? With 2:55 left in the first half. In fact, it was a huge basket of a pretty cut by Brandon Robinson to put Carolina back in the lead.
  6. There are many things to point to as the “main factor” in this game. One of them was Isaiah Hicks, who missed the first Duke game with an injury, and has not played well of late. Can’t overstate how huge it was to have him back on the floor this time. On Hicks’ senior night, he scored 21 points, had nine rebounds, shot 7-8 from the free throw line, and, most importantly, only had two fouls. He picked up both fouls in the first half but then did a fantastic job in the second half of moving his feet and not fouling. He needs to learn, as Jay Bilas said tonight, that “you can get a basket back, but you can’t get a foul back.” Also, let’s just never talk about that missed dunk. Okay? Okay, great.
  7. Congrats also to Isaiah Hicks for becoming the fourth Tar Heel this year to reach 1,000 points for his career. Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry also hit that mark this year.
  8. As well as Hicks played, Joel Berry is the MVP of this game. 28 points on 5-5 from deep. Several huge shots down the stretch. His performance, particularly in the first half, was very reminiscent of the National Championship.
  9. As hot as Berry was, Justin Jackson really struggled with his shot in this game. He started off 0-6 from deep before getting his seventh to fall. However, following that made three-pointer he had several nice assists and finished with four assists and no turnovers.
  10. As good a year as Jackson has had, I’ve got to give the Conference Player of the Year to Luke Kennard. He matched Joel Berry’s 28 points and hit tough shot after tough shot, often with really good defense in his face. In a year of inconsistency for Duke, Kennard has brought consistency and is the most indispensible player on that team.
  11. The Tar Heels were much better at running Duke off the three-point line tonight than in the first game. The Blue Devils had 13 made threes in the first game and seven tonight. That’s a big deal.
  12. Another key in this game was the free throw line. The numbers heavily favored Duke for most of the game, and indeed they outscored Carolina 28-16 from the line. However, after starting off 25-28 from the free throw line, the Blue Devils shot 3-7 after the under 4:00 media timeout.

Does Duke Dominate the ACC?

As I sat in the discouraging aftermath of Villanova’s 2016 National Championship, not only was the loss hard, but the impending personnel loss weighed heavy as well. This was the end of an era. Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, the players responsible for 35 of Carolina’s 74 points that night, including the final 10, would never again don a University of North Carolina Tar Heel uniform.

As the offseason unfolded, things got worse as I realized how loaded Duke’s roster would be in the 2016-17 season. Just days after Marcus Paige’s miraculous three-pointer, Grayson Allen announced he was coming back to school for his junior year. A few weeks later, big man Amile Jefferson was granted another year of eligibility after a foot injury held him out most of the 2015-16 season. Duke had already signed three of the top 10 recruits in the class (depending on which recruiting site you go by), but then another top 20 recruit (Marques Bolden) picked the Blue Devils over Kentucky. Once again, Duke was picked to run away with not only the ACC Championship, but also the National Championship.

I realized I was beginning to have this fear that Duke was dominating the ACC year after year after year and that no one else could keep up with their talent, recruiting, and on-court victories. My perception was that the Blue Devils were in a class of their own of late, winning all sorts of regular season and conference championships.

So I decided to actually look at the results to help confirm my suspicions.

This is Roy Williams’ 14th season coaching the Tar Heels. Here are the ACC regular season conference champions during that span:

  • 2004 – Duke
  • 2005 – North Carolina
  • 2006 – Duke
  • *2007 – North Carolina, Virginia
  • 2008 – North Carolina
  • 2009 – North Carolina
  • *2010 – Duke, Maryland
  • 2011 – North Carolina
  • 2012 – North Carolina
  • 2013 – Miami
  • 2014 – Virginia
  • 2015 – Virginia
  • 2016 – North Carolina
  • *2017 – North Carolina (Notre Dame can share the championship if they win and North Carolina loses today)

*the ACC allows co-champions when teams tie, regardless of head-to-head results. Notre Dame can tie North Carolina this year if the Irish beat Louisville today AND the Heels lose to Duke.

Looking at the results, North Carolina actually has eight regular season championships, compared to Duke’s three. Virginia also has three, but no other school has more than one. Okay, I guess I can breathe a little easier.

If it isn’t regular season championships, perhaps my feelings of Duke’s domination of the ACC are based on ACC Tournament championships. Here are the results of the championship game for the past ten years:

  • 2007 – North Carolina 89 – NC State 80
  • 2008 – North Carolina 86 – Clemson 81
  • 2009 – Duke 79 – Florida State 69
  • 2010 – Duke 65 – Georgia Tech 61
  • 2011 – Duke 75 – North Carolina 58
  • 2012 – Florida State 85 – North Carolina 82
  • 2013 – Miami 87 – North Carolina 77
  • 2014 – Virginia 72 – Duke 63
  • 2015 – Notre Dame 90 – North Carolina 82
  • 2016 – North Carolina 61 – Virginia 57

So that’s not it either. North Carolina and Duke have each won three ACC Tournament championships in the past ten years. In fact, during that ten-year span, the Tar Heels have made the ACC Championship game seven times while the Blue Devils have only advanced to the final four times. Interestingly, a different team has won the ACC Tournament each of the past six years.

Taking a deeper look, Duke has actually not won an ACC regular season or tournament championship since the conference expanded to 15 teams in the 2013-14 season.

Maybe if we expand the scope further, we can uncover my fears of Duke supremacy. Perhaps my worries are due to the fact that Duke has had more success that Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Here are the NCAA Tournament results for both teams in the Roy Williams era:

  • 2004 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Final Four
  • 2005 – UNC: National Champions; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2006 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2007 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: First Round
  • 2008 – UNC: Final Four; Duke: Second Round
  • 2009 – UNC: National Champions; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2010 – UNC: NIT Finalist; Duke: National Champions
  • 2011 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: Sweet Sixteen
  • 2012 – UNC: Elite Eight; Duke: First Round
  • 2013 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: Elite Eight
  • 2014 – UNC: 2nd Round; Duke: First Round
  • 2015 – UNC: Sweet Sixteen; Duke: National Champions
  • 2016 – UNC: Finalist; Duke: Sweet Sixteen

North Carolina:

  • National Champion – 2
  • Finalist – 1
  • Final Four – 1
  • Elite Eights – 3
  • Sweet Sixteen – 1
  • Second Round – 4
  • First Round – 0
  • NIT Finalist – 1

Duke:

  • National Champion – 2
  • Finalist – 0
  • Final Four – 1
  • Elite Eight – 1
  • Sweet Sixteen – 5
  • Second Round – 1
  • First Round – 3
  • NIT – 0

These results don’t point to Duke dominance either. In the 13 NCAA Tournaments of the Roy Williams era at North Carolina, both teams have two National Championships to their name. The Tar Heels were relegated to the NIT the year after the 2009 championship, while the Blue Devils have made the NCAA Tournament each year. Carolina has never lost in the first round (the REAL first round) of the NCAA Tournament in the Williams era, while Duke has been knocked out three times at that level. Carolina’s biggest advantage in NCAA Tournament success is that they have made it to the Elite Eight or beyond in seven of the 13 years, while Duke has advanced that far four times. Needless to say, NCAA Tournament results also do not explain my fear of Duke dominance.

Perhaps my worries are unfounded? Maybe my fears are irrational and Duke hasn’t actually dominated the ACC?

Then it hit me. I needed to narrow my scope, not broaden it. Here is Carolina’s record against Duke each year of the Roy Williams era:

  • 2003-04 – 0-2
  • 2004-05 – 1-1
  • 2005-06 – 1-1
  • 2006-07 – 2-0
  • 2007-08 – 1-1
  • 2008-09 – 2-0
  • 2009-10 – 0-2
  • 2010-11 – 1-2
  • 2011-12 – 1-1
  • 2012-13 – 0-2
  • 2013-14 – 1-1
  • 2014-15 – 0-2
  • 2015-16 – 1-1
  • 2016-17 – 0-1

In the Roy Williams era at North Carolina, the Tar Heels have a total record of 11-17 against Duke. Duke holds a comfortable lead in the series during this time span, but since Carolina’s 2009 championship, the Blue Devils have absolutely dominated. From the 2010-11 season through the present, the Tar Heels have a 4-12 record against Duke.

Mystery solved. My fears of Duke ACC dominance are actually based on the fact that they have absolutely owned North Carolina head-to-head in the Roy Williams era. It is always nice to beat your rival, but, at the end of the day, give me the championships every time!

 

 

Will tonight’s regular season finale be a turning point in the series for the Tar Heels? Or will it be a step in the right direction for a Duke team that was supposed to run away with the 2016-17 season?

Worst-Case Scenarios & My Irrational Fears

I have a problem. As the events of a given day unfold, I often play them out to their worst possible ending point in my head. Here’s an example: One day in college, I was playing ultimate frisbee with some friends on campus. About 20 yards beyond one of the end zones that we had marked out with hats and tennis shoes, standing several feet out of the ground like a beacon of impending doom, was an old yellow fire hydrant. The terrible scene that played out vividly in my head? I saw myself streaking downfield to make a diving catch that Odell Beckham, Jr. would have been envious of. The problem was that as I came back down to earth, I impaled my face on the fire hydrant, shattering every bone on the front side of my skull. Gruesome, huh?

On another occasion, I was hiking up a mountain with some friends at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas. We came to a rocky overlook with beautiful surrounding scenery and asked some other hikers to take our picture near the edge. You can already guess where this is headed. The awful scenario that played out in my head this time? As we waited for the picture to be taken, a strong gust of wind pushed me over the edge where I hurtled to my death on the sharp rocks below.

This is my curse. The struggle is real.

Truth be told, I’m actually an optimistic, glass-half-full type of person. I look for the best in people and believe, perhaps naively, that the world is a good place.

My worst-case scenario, doomsday problem also plays itself out in the world of sports. Rather than being disappointed when my favorite college basketball team loses a national championship game on a buzzer-beating three-pointer (oh wait, that happened) or my favorite football team chokes a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl (oh wait, that happened too), I assume the worst – that the North Carolina Tar Heels will lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament or that the Atlanta Falcons won’t even make the playoffs.

With that said, we are coming down the stretch of the college basketball regular season. After every game, I like to play my “worst-case scenario” game with regard to where the Tar Heels could possibly end up in the ACC standings. Earlier this season, when they mathematically could not be passed by last place Boston College, I excitedly told myself, “Even if the Heels lose every game the rest of the season, the worst they can finish is 14th!”

After Carolina’s big win over Louisville on Wednesday night (and Syracuse’s upset of Duke a few hours earlier), I decided to investigate what the Tar Heels’ two game conference lead had earned them in terms of their worst possible seeding for the ACC Tournament.

I decided to investigate what the Tar Heels’ two game conference lead had earned them in terms of their worst possible seeding for the ACC Tournament.

First, some context: The main goal is obviously to win out, get the number one seed, and capture a convincing regular season conference championship. However, if the one seed can’t be had, teams want to achieve at least a top four seed. Doing so earns a double-bye to Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

Here is what my research uncovered: Every ACC team (except Syracuse, Wake Forest, and NC State) has three remaining games. The Tar Heels’ three games are at Pittsburgh, at Virginia, and home against Duke. For this worst-case scenario analysis, the assumption is that UNC loses all three games. Currently sitting at 12-3 in the conference, the worst North Carolina could finish is 12-6. This means that five other teams could potentially finish ahead of or tied with UNC. So we’ve solved it! That was simple. The worst UNC could finish in the ACC is 6th. Not too bad.

But wait, a closer look at the schedules reveals a different truth.

The five teams within striking distance of the Tar Heels are Louisville, Duke, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Miami. The current tiebreaker scenarios concerning Carolina and those teams (ACC tiebreakers are first based on head-to-head matchups, which solves each of these):

  • North Carolina holds tiebreaker over Louisville, Florida State, and Notre Dame.
  • Miami holds tiebreaker over the Heels.
  • In this scenario, Duke beats Carolina on March 4 and therefore holds the tiebreaker over the Heels.

Below is the remaining schedule and current conference record for those five teams (and North Carolina):

North Carolina (12-3)

  • @ Pittsburgh
  • @ Virginia
  • Duke

Louisville (10-5)

  • Syracuse
  • @ Wake Forest
  • Notre Dame

Duke (10-5)

  • @ Miami
  • Florida State
  • @ North Carolina

Florida State (10-5)

  • @ Clemson
  • @ Duke
  • Miami

Notre Dame (10-5)

  • Georgia Tech
  • Boston College
  • @ Louisville

Miami (9-6)

  • Duke
  • @ Virginia Tech
  • @ Florida State

You might notice that Louisville and Notre Dame still have to play each other, meaning at least one of these teams has to finish with six losses and Carolina holds the tiebreaker over both. Therefore, the worst UNC could finish in the ACC is 5th! Solved!

Nope. Not quite yet. Let’s keep digging.

All three of Duke’s remaining games are against teams from this group – Miami, FSU, and UNC. Here is what happens depending on how Duke’s games play out (again, these scenarios assume UNC loses all three of their remaining games):

  • Duke beats Miami and FSU – Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker), and Duke has 5 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU – Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 5 losses, Duke has 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC). The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind FSU, Duke, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU – Miami has at least 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC), FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker), and Duke has 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC). The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind, Miami, Duke, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.

To add one final wrinkle, Florida State and Miami also still play each other. Building on the Duke scenarios we just established:

  • Duke beats Miami and FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 5 losses, Miami has at least 8 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame
  • Duke beats Miami and FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 5 losses, Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 7 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 8 losses, FSU has at least 5 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind Duke, FSU, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), FSU has at least 7 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind Duke, Miami, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.

So what does all this mumbo-jumbo mean? What’s the bottom line? Here it is:

UNC has already locked up a top-4 seed and an all-important double-bye in the ACC Tournament.

What a relief. The worst-case scenario is that North Carolina finishes fourth. And there are only two scenarios in which that becomes a reality. This is great news, but the work isn’t done. The Tar Heels are not going to sit idly by and take three losses.

If Carolina can win at least one of the three remaining games, they lock up at least a share of the ACC Regular Season Championship and at least the two seed in the ACC Tournament. Should the Tar Heels win at least two of their three remaining games, they will clinch the outright ACC Regular Season Championship and the one seed in the ACC Tournament. Also, don’t forget that the other five teams involved in these scenarios have other games they could possibly lose, which would help Carolina’s cause.

I can rest in peace knowing that, for once, the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad.

Quick Hitters – Duke

I know I’m a couple days late in getting this posted. What can I say, it takes awhile to get over a loss to Duke. Anyway, here are Quick Hitters from Thursday night’s 86-78 road loss to Duke.

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The Tar Heels huddle during Carolina’s 86-78 loss to Duke on 2/9/17. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. Seriously? Isaiah Hicks out with a strained hamstring? What is it going to take to play a game with a fully healthy roster? The good news is that every game the Heels have played this year with the full roster available, they’ve won by 29.5 points.
  2. That said, Luke Maye did a really nice job sliding into Isaiah Hicks’ starting role. He played controlled and confidently, scored eight points on 4-8 shooting, had two assists, and zero turnovers. The one glaring weakness – only two rebounds in a game the Tar Heels lost the rebounding battle (31-30) for only the third time this year.
  3. Great to see Theo Pinson back. It sure doesn’t take long for him to fill the stat sheet. First defensive possession: grabbed the rebound and drew an over-the-back foul on Amile Jefferson. First offensive possession: assist to Nate Britt. Second offensive possession: made mid-range jumper. Third defensive possession: rebound. Third offensive possession: aggressive drive to the basket. Missed lay-up, but corralled two offensive rebounds leading to a Joel Berry floater. Pinson finished with six points, seven rebounds, three assists, zero turnovers, and a block in 19 minutes.
  4. A positive sign: Seventh Woods had his most complete game of the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It wasn’t the most points he’s scored (four vs. nine) or the most assists he’s had (four vs. six), but he played under control, with zero turnovers, and had a seemingly better grasp of playing within the offense. On one particular stretch of the first half, over the course of four straight offensive possessions, Woods had a lay-up followed by three assists.
  5. At the end of the first half, the Heels had one of the strangest line-ups on the court you’ll ever see from Roy Williams: Nate Britt, Joel Berry, Brandon Robinson, Theo Pinson, and Justin Jackson. The line-up came because Duke essentially had one possession left and the goal was to stop the three-point barrage.
  6. While Isaiah Hicks’ absence certainly hurt, the biggest problem in this game was three-point defense. The Tar Heels seem to have an aversion to guarding the three or running shooters off the line. Too often, a defender will help off a shooter to stop dribble penetration, resulting in a wide-open kick-out three. For the game, Duke hit more threes (13) than Carolina shot (12), and had a higher percentage (48.1% to 33.3%).
  7. The Heels did a nice job of getting both Amile Jefferson and Grayson Allen into foul trouble. It wasn’t enough to affect the outcome, as Allen delivered blow after blow and Jefferson was a defensive stalwart inside. Hopefully, this trend will continue on the return game to Chapel Hill, knowing that Coach K has a shallow bench.
  8. It gave me perverse joy to see Theo Pinson block Jayson Tatum’s shot a couple possessions after he dunked and postured back down the court.
  9. Despite the loss, Carolina showed great resolve to fight back on the road after going down by eight early in the second half.
  10. A troubling trend: poor free throw shooting again in this game, including Joel Berry missing two (including the front end of a 1-and-1). Both misses were within the final five minutes of game time. As a team, Carolina shot 10-18 (to Duke’s 13-16), which won’t cut it in ACC play.
  11. All-in-all, the Heels played a good game, and had the ability to beat Duke in Cameron without Isaiah Hicks, but the three-point and free throw disparities were ultimately too much to overcome.

 

 

2016-17 Conference Schedule Primer

There are 18 regular season games remaining in the 2016-17 University of North Carolina men’s basketball schedule. Every one of them is an ACC conference match-up. With every conference team having played at least 12 games, we can take a more informed look at the conference schedule.

With that conference schedule beginning today at Georgia Tech, let’s examine what will unfold between now and March 4 when the conference slate ends in Chapel Hill against Duke.

Current ACC Standings

  1. #20 Florida State (13-1, 1-0)
  2. #12 Virginia (12-1, 1-0)
  3. #5 Duke (12-1, 0-0)
  4. Virginia Tech (11-1, 0-0)
  5. #9 North Carolina (12-2, 0-0)
  6. Pittsburgh (12-2, 0-0)
  7. NC State (11-2, 0-0)
  8. #24 Notre Dame (11-1, 0-0)
  9. Clemson (10-2, 0-0)
  10. Miami (10-2, 0-0)
  11. Georgia Tech (8-4, 0-0)
  12. Syracuse (8-5, 0-0)
  13. Boston College (7-6, 0-0)
  14. #6 Louisville (12-2, 0-1)
  15. Wake Forest (9-4, 0-1)
  • Florida State, Virginia, Louisville, and Wake Forest have each played a conference game and are, therefore, currently the top two and bottom two teams in the standings.
  • Florida State beat Wake Forest 88-72 on Wednesday, December 28.
  • Virginia beat Louisville 61-53 on Wednesday, December 28.

UNC Conference Schedule

  1. @ GT (12/31)
  2. @ Clemson (1/3)
  3. NC St (1/7)
  4. @ Wake (1/11)
  5. FSU (1/14)
  6. Syracuse (1/16)
  7. @ BC (1/21)
  8. VT (1/26)
  9. @Miami (1/28)
  10. Pitt (1/31)
  11. ND (2/4)
  12. @Duke (2/9)
  13. @NC St (2/15)
  14. Virginia (2/18)
  15. Louisville (2/22)
  16. @ Pitt (2/25)
  17. @ Virginia (2/27)
  18. Duke (3/4)
  • Every ACC team except for Louisville (who travels to Indiana) will play a conference game this weekend.
  • There are currently six ACC teams ranked in the AP Top 25: Duke (5), Louisville (6), UNC (9), Virginia (12), FSU (20), and Notre Dame (24).
  • Three other ACC teams showed up in the “others receiving votes” category: Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Miami.
  • Joe Lunardi currently projects 10 ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament field – the nine teams mentioned in the AP poll plus Pittsburgh.
  • The five ACC teams not included in the AP poll or Lunardi’s field are: Boston College, Georgia Tech, NC State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest
  • The Tar Heels will play two games (a home and home) against Pittsburgh, Virginia, NC State, and Duke.
  • There will be one game against each of the other 10 conference teams: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest.
  • Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College, and Miami will all be on the road.
  • FSU, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Louisville will all be at home.

1 game against (in chronological order):

  1. @ GT (8-4)
  2. @ Clemson (10-2)
  3. @ Wake (9-4)
  4. #20 FSU (13-1)
  5. Syracuse (8-5)
  6. @ BC (7-6)
  7. VT (11-1)
  8. @Miami (10-2)
  9. #24 ND (11-2)
  10. #6 Louisville (11-2)

2 games (home and home) against:

  1. #5 Duke (12-1)
  2. NC State (11-2)
  3. Pittsburgh (11-2)
  4. #12 Virginia (11-1)
  • The Tar Heels will play seven conference games against teams currently ranked in the AP poll.
  • Match-ups with Virginia (#12) and Duke (#5) will be a game on each teams’ home court, accounting for four of the seven games.
  • Of the other three games against currently ranked teams, all three games will be at home – FSU (#20), Notre Dame (#24), Louisville (#6).
  • Road wins in conference are always hard to come by. There are four ACC teams (BC, GT, Syracuse, Wake Forest) who have yet to reach double digit wins for the season. Of the Tar Heels five road games against teams they only play once, three of them are against one of these four teams (all but Syracuse).

The ACC is deep and loaded. No team will make it through the 18-game onslaught unscathed. This is a veteran and battle-tested North Carolina team who should compete with Duke, Virginia, and Louisville for the ACC regular season championship. In order to do so, the Tar Heels must hold serve at home, win expected road games (Boston College, for example) and steal a few other road games against tougher competition. What are the keys to this happening? Joel Berry must stay healthy, Theo Pinson needs to return sooner than later and assimilate rather seamlessly, Justin Jackson needs to continue to be aggressive, and the three freshmen need to take another step forward. It all starts today against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

 

 

 

 

Soak It Up

This is it. The final weekend of the 2015-16 college basketball season. No matter what happens in NRG Stadium, this will be the final time we will see this edition of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, and Joel James will only pull on their Tar Heel #5, #11, and #42 jerseys once more, maybe (hopefully) twice more. As fans, we find it easy to get wrapped up in defining a season by the final game. Whether or not Carolina can win tomorrow against Syracuse and subsequently knock off Villanova or Oklahoma on Monday night, this will go down as one of my favorite (if not the favorite) teams of all time. So here’s what I want to say: before we get enraptured in the games this weekend, make sure to take time to stop, appreciate this team, and soak it up.

Make sure to think back on the careers and development of Paige, Johnson, and James.

 

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Marcus Paige, Joel James, Brice Johnson, & JP Tokoto with Coach Roy Williams for their freshman picture

 

The biggest thing I’ll remember from this year is the Marcus Paige emotional roller coaster. Here is my stream-of-consciousness thinking of Mr. Paige’s senior year thus far: “Marcus is finally healthy and primed for a huge All-American senior year; reminiscent of his sophomore campaign! He broke his hand. Oh no! Which hand??? His non-shooting hand? Okay. Whew. Dodged a bullet. When will he come back? How will the team play until then? 5-1 with an undesirable, but understandable loss in a true road game at Northern Iowa. How will he look when he finally suits up? 20 points, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover in 34 minutes at home against Maryland, an early contender for the national championship? We’ll take it. Marcus is ready to go. Then the slump. Poor Marcus. His shot looks so pretty, why won’t it go in? He’s not hitting his free throws either. Oh man he hit a couple 3s this game, he’s back!! Nope he’s not. Well the good news is Marcus is still doing everything else he should as a teammate. I just hate for his senior year to play out this way. Maybe, just maybe he’ll pick up in March. Yes – 4 of 7 from deep against Notre Dame in the ACC semifinals. Here we go. Marcus is on in March. Spoke to soon. 0-7 from deep against Virginia. But man did he do a number guarding Brogdon. 2 solid, but unspectacular, games to start the NCAA tournament. But then Indiana, ohhhhh the Indiana game. With each successive 3 to start the game, I jumped higher and yelled louder. 21 points, 6 assists, 0 turnovers. That’s Marcus Paige. He’s back.” Marcus might score 30 points against Syracuse or he might score 0. The Tar Heels might win and the same stats are possible against Oklahoma/Villanova. Either way, Marcus Paige will be one of my five favorite Tar Heels of all time.

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 01 North Carolina at Louisville
February 1, 2016: North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams speaks with North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) during the game against The Louisville Cardinals and North Carolina Tar Heels at The KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY. Louisville defeated North Carolina 71-65. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).

Raise your hand if you thought Marcus Paige would have the struggles he’s had this year and yet, the Tar Heels would find themselves in the Final Four as the favorites to cut down the nets. The reason is because of two words: Brice Johnson. Let me use some numbers, so that we can try to wrap our heads around what a historical year he’s had. With his next rebound (just one), Johnson will have 400 for the season and will become the single-season rebounding leader in North Carolina Men’s Basketball history (and is on the doorstep of moving into the top 10 in ACC single season history). Just stop and think about that. For every rebounder that’s ever put on a UNC jersey, he has the most rebounds in any one season. And it’s not just this season. Brice is 1 of only 8 Tar Heels to have 1000 career rebounds. The others on the list are some gentlemen named Hansbrough, Perkins, Lynch, Cunningham, Jamison, Kupchak, and Daugherty. Heard of any of them? He’s currently number 6 on that list and has a realistic shot to move past Antawn Jamison for 5th. And it’s not just the rebounds, it’s also the points. Brice has scored 648 points this year, good to tie him with NBA champion Harrison Barnes’ 2011-12 campaign for 18th in one season. He will definitely continue moving up this list; whether UNC plays 1 or 2 more games will determine exactly how much further. Along similar lines, Johnson has moved into 19th on the career scoring list, again with extremely realistic chances to continue moving up. This also means that this team boasts 2 of the top 20 scorers in Carolina history (Paige is currently at #12). The combination of scoring and rebounding a lot means that Johnson has accumulated 23 double-doubles this season, again the most in a single-season in UNC history. He currently is averaging 17.1 ppg and 10.5 rpg this year. Only 4 Tar Heels have averaged a double-double since 1975-76. Their names? Antawn Jamison, Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, John Henson. Mr. Brice Johnson, we thank you for giving us one of the greatest single years any player has ever had in Chapel Hill. I think all that yelling Roy has done just might have made a difference.

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I will remember this year as the year that the “not tough” Tar Heels suffered 6 losses (to this point), but only by a combined 22 points. And they never lost by more than 6. And they had a lead at some point in EVERY GAME THEY PLAYED. In fact, the Heels also had a least a tie in the 2nd half of every game they played. Probably the most impressive of these stats is that, of Carolina’s 38 games to date, they’ve held a 2nd half lead in every game but one (@ Virginia).

I will remember the collapse at home to Duke. As that game wore on, and the Heels struggled to create separation, I thought, “there’s no way we lose this game”. However, there were images of Austin Rivers floating in the back of my head. I will readily admit that after that loss, I really wondered what this team would amount to come tournament time. But now we have answer. The Tar Heels of the 2016 ACC Tournament were a thing of beauty. This team is tough.

I will remember this as a Carolina team that returned almost completely intact (we miss you JP!) and added a couple nice pieces in Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. I will remember this as the year that a Carolina team with no “superstars” and possible NCAA sanctions looming moved past several years of uncertainty (early departures after 2011-12, the PJ Hairston debacle, Paige’s injury-riddled junior year, etc), joined together, and rose above it all to make the Final Four with as good a shot as you’re going to get at winning a national championship.

It’s been a great year. We still have 1, maybe 2, games left. So soak it up Tar Heel fans and let’s enjoy this epilogue.

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22 Points

I hate losing. If you are anything like me, every loss is a slow, painful death that sticks with you the rest of the season (and sometimes even in the years to come). I can name the Tar Heels’ 6 losses, in order, off the top of my head: Northern Iowa, Texas, Louisville, Notre Dame, Duke, and Virginia. All 6 of these teams are in the NCAA Tournament – or rather, would be if eligible (here’s looking at you Louisville). Here are the teams in order from strongest to weakest:

  RPI BPI KenPom NCAA Tourney Seed
Virginia 3 2 2 1
Louisville 17 8 11 Not in Tournament
Duke 19 11 22 4
Texas 27 37 30 6
Notre Dame 32 33 39 6
Northern Iowa 73 97 76 11

In some ways, it’s worse when the losses are really close games that you know you should/could win. Or worse yet, if it’s a game where you have a comfortable lead at some point, but can’t hold on to it.

Unfortunately, that was every one of these 6 losses. The Tar Heels lost these games by a measly 22 combined points. That’s an average of losing by 3.67. Or taken another way, Carolina lost by only 1-2 possessions a game. This is such a small margin of error: 1 or 2 extra turnovers, 1 or 2 missed boxouts, 4 missed free throws, 1 or 2 times not properly defending the pick and roll, 1 or 2 times not staying in front of your man, a silly foul, etc. You can agonize over the tiny mistakes that can swing a game. Or you can learn from them, remove them, and move on (not exactly Coach Smith’s mantra, but very similar).

The silver lining is that Carolina has been in every game it’s played this season. They have never been blown out – the largest loss was by 6 points. The largest deficit the entire season is 13 points (@ NC State). They’ve held a lead at some point in every game this season. They’ve either been tied or held a lead in the 2nd half of every game this season. In fact the only game they didn’t at some point have a 2nd half lead was the regular season loss to Virginia in Charlottesville.

So, at the end of the day, maybe these losses are not so unfortunate. Maybe this veteran group of Tar Heels have learned something from these 6 losses. Maybe those missing 22 points have helped them get tougher. The domination of the ACC tournament certainly seems to point to that.

Can those 22 points continue to be meaningful to the make-up of this team as the stakes get higher? We’re about to find out during the best 3 week stretch of every year.

Quick Hitters – Pittsburgh (ACC Tournament Quarterfinal)

Here are quick hitters from today’s ACC Tournament Quarterfinal win over Pittsburgh:

  1. Pitt jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first 90 or so seconds (all 8 points from Jamel Artis). The Heels were 1-7 from the floor until Marcus Paige hit a 3 to make the score 10-7. After settling in, Carolina took its first lead at 15-14 with 12:07 to go in the 1st half on Nate Britt’s lay-up (after penetrating Pitt’s 2-3 zone, which was a nice sight to see).
  2. Joel Berry was 6-6 with 13 points in the first 20 minutes. Have a 1st half young man! He ended the game with 20 points and was the high scorer. I’m not saying he’s Ty Lawson, but Joel has put the team on his back in very similar ways at times this year.
  3. Neither team reached the bonus in the 1st That just doesn’t happen in today’s college basketball climate.
  4. The game went to the last media timeout of the 1st half at 3:21 with Pitt up 35-29. By the time the teams went to the locker room, the Heels had gone on a 10-0 run and were up 39-35.
  5. Speaking of runs, Carolina had 2 big ones on the day. The aforementioned 10-0 run grew to 12-0 after halftime. There was also an 11-0 run midway through the 2nd half; which effectively put the game out of reach.
  6. Kenny Williams came into the day 0-12 from behind the arc in his freshman campaign. The first 3 of his Tar Heel career (and there will be many more – that’s a pretty stroke) could not have come at a better time. The shot came as part of the 11-0 2nd half run and pushed the lead to double digits for the first time at 66-55 with 8:28 to go. That lead would never shrink back to single digits.
  7. Speaking of Kenny Williams, he played critical minutes in the heart of the 2nd Obviously, I’m not Roy Williams, but if I had to guess – he wasn’t thinking solely about today, but rather doing everything he can to use the Tar Heels’ depth to his advantage as this tournament goes on. At the same time, good to see that Kenny has his coach’s trust enough to insert him at a critical juncture in the game. Kenny received a nice round of applause from the crowd as he came back to the bench with 7:05 left in the game.
  8. Brice Johnson, with his 19 points and 10 rebounds, notched his 20th double-double of the season. Of the power 5 conferences, only Ben Simmons has more (22) on the season. With an eye toward the UNC record books: 20 double-doubles on the season ties Johnson with Mitch Kupchak (‘74-‘75), Billy Cunningham (‘62-‘63), and Doug Moe (‘60-‘61). John Henson (‘10-‘11) and Antawn Jamison (‘97-‘98) had 21. Billy Cunningham (’63-’64) has the most Carolina double-doubles in a single season with 22. Carolina will play at least 2 more games, so Johnson should have a chance to tie (and possibly even break) the record.
  9. This was a game in which the Tar Heels demonstrated a high level of closeability. In a tight game, Carolina used the 2nd half 11-0 run to extend to a double-digit lead. In the previous 2 games (Syracuse & Duke), Carolina had shown closeability in that they made tough plays down the stretch to win close games. In this win, they did the work of closing earlier so that outcome was not in doubt in the waning moments. This is a good sign moving forward.
  10. With free throw shooting being an Achilles (ahem) heel the past couple of years, this year has been a breath of fresh air (74% as a team). Today’s 89% (16-18) is always welcome. It helps to have Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, and Nate Britt who are each top 14 in career FT% at UNC.
  11. The Tar Heels have shot extremely well against Pitt this year. Today, they had their highest 1st half FG% of the year (56.7%), their 4th highest 2nd half FG% (61.5% – also the 4th highest in any half), and their 2nd highest FG% for the whole game (58.9%). Last time the Heels played Pitt, the numbers were similar. 55.6% in the 1st half (2nd highest in the 1st half), 63.0% in the 2nd half (3rd highest in the 2nd half or any half), and 59.3% for the game (the highest for a game).

ACC Tournament Seeding Scenarios

Saturday marks the end of the regular season conference schedule for the ACC. While Wake Forest has already completed their conference schedule, the other 14 teams will be in action.

Here are the current standings:

  1. Miami (13-4)
  2. North Carolina (13-4)
  3. Virginia (12-5)
  4. Louisville (12-5)
  5. Duke (11-6)
  6. Notre Dame (10-7)
  7. Pittsburgh (9-8)
  8. Syracuse (9-8)
  9. Virginia Tech (9-8)
  10. Clemson (9-8)
  11. Florida State (7-10)
  12. Georgia Tech (7-10)
  13. NC State (5-12)
  14. Wake Forest (2-16)
  15. Boston College (0-17)

Here are Saturday’s matchups:

  1. Clemson @ Boston College
  2. NC State @ Notre Dame
  3. Pittsburgh @ Georgia Tech
  4. Syracuse @ Florida State
  5. Miami @ Virginia Tech
  6. North Carolina @ Duke
  7. Louisville @ Virginia

Before we get to the scenarios for each team that could play out (and, hold onto your butts, cause there are plenty) in terms of seeding for the ACC Tournament, let’s look at what we already know:

  • Due to a self-imposed ban, Louisville will not participate in any postseason tournaments. This means there will only be 14 teams competing in the ACC Tournament.
  • NC State (12 seed), Wake Forest (13 seed), and Boston College (14 seed) are already locked in.
  • Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia are guaranteed a top-4 seed, which means a double bye into the quarterfinals. The other top-4 seed will be Duke or Notre Dame.

Below are the possible scenarios for each of the ACC Teams in terms of ACC Tournament seeding. We’ll work from the bottom up, cause, why not, it’s that kind of wacky year in college basketball. PS…buckle up for the scenarios for Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, & (in particular) Clemson – there’s a lot of ground to cover.

  1. Boston College (0-17). Locked in as #14 seed
  2. Wake Foreset (2-16). Locked in as #13 seed
  3. NC State (5-12). Locked in as #12 seed
  4. Georgia Tech (7-10)
    • Possible seed range: 10-11
    • 10 seed if…
      1. GT wins
      2. FSU loses
    • 11 seed if…
      1. GT loses and FSU wins
  5. Florida State (7-10)
    • Possible seed range: 10-11
    • 10 seed if…
      1. FSU wins & GT loses
    • 11 seed if
      1. FSU loses
      2. GT wins
  6. Clemson (9-8)
    • Possible seed range: 5-9
    • 5 seed if…
      1. Clemson, Pitt, & Duke win; ND, Syracuse, & VT lose
      2. Clemson, Syracuse, & Duke win; ND, Pitt, & VT lose
    • 6 seed if…
      1. Clemson, ND, Pitt, & Syracuse win
      2. Clemson, ND, & Pitt win; Syracuse & VT lose
      3. Clemson, ND, Syracuse, VT, & Louisville win; Pitt loses
      4. Clemson & ND win; Pitt & VT lose
      5. Clemson wins; ND, Pitt, Syracuse, & VT lose
      6. Clemson, Pitt, & Syracuse win; ND & VT lose
      7. Clemson, Pitt, & UNC win; ND, Syracuse, & VT lose
      8. Clemson, Syracuse, & UNC win; ND, Pitt, & VT lose
      9. Clemson, Pitt, Syracuse, & VT lose
    • 7 seed if…
      1. Clemson, ND, Pitt, & VT win; Syracuse loses
      2. Clemson, ND, Syracuse, VT, & UVa win; Pitt loses
      3. Clemson, ND, & VT win; Pitt & Syracuse lose
      4. Clemson, Pitt, Syracuse, & VT win; ND loses
      5. Clemson & VT win; ND, Pitt, & Syracuse lose
      6. Clemson, Syracuse, & VT lose; Pitt wins
      7. Clemson, Pitt, & Syracuse lose; VT wins
    • 8 seed if…
      1. Clemson, Pitt, & VT win; ND & Syracuse lose
      2. Clemson, Syracuse, & VT win; ND & Pitt lose
      3. Clemson & Syracuse lose; Pitt & VT win
      4. Clemson & Pitt lose; Syracuse win
    • 9 seed if…
      1. Clemson loses; Pitt & Syracuse win
  7. Virginia Tech (9-8)
    • Possible seed range: 6-9
    • 6 seed if…
      1. VT & ND win; Syracuse loses
      2. VT, ND, Clemson, Syracuse, & UVa win; Pitt loses
      3. VT & Clemson win; ND & Syracuse lose
      4. VT wins; ND, Pitt, Clemson, & Syracuse lose
    • 7 seed if…
      1. VT, ND, Clemson, Syracuse, & Louisville win; Pitt loses
      2. VT & Syracuse win; Pitt & Clemson loses
      3. VT & Pitt win; ND, Clemson, & Syracuse lose
      4. VT, Clemson, & Syracuse win; ND & Pitt lose
    • 8 seed if…
      1. VT, Pitt, & Syracuse win; Clemson loses
      2. VT, ND, Pitt, Clemson, & Syracuse win
      3. VT & Clemson lose; Pitt wins
      4. VT & Pitt lose; Clemson & Syracuse win
      5. VT, Pitt, Clemson, & Syracuse lose
    • 9 seed if…
      1. VT, Pitt, Clemson, & Syracuse win; ND loses
      2. VT loses; Pitt & Clemson win
      3. VT, Pitt, & Syracuse lose; Clemson wins
  8. Syracuse (9-8)
    • Possible seed range: 5-9
    • 5 seed if…
      1. Syracuse, Clemson, & VT win; ND & Pitt lose
      2. Syracuse wins; ND, Pitt, & Clemson lose
    • 6 seed if…
      1. Syracuse & ND win; Pitt & Clemson lose
      2. Syracuse & Pitt win; ND & Clemson lose
    • 7 seed if…
      1. Syracuse, ND, & Pitt win; Clemson loses
      2. Syracuse & Clemson win; Pitt & VT lose
    • 8 seed if…
      1. Pitt & Clemson win; VT loses
      2. Syracuse, ND, Clemson, & VT win; Pitt loses
      3. Syracuse, Pitt, Clemson, & VT win; ND loses
      4. Syracuse, Pitt, & VT lose; Clemson wins
    • 9 seed if…
      1. Syracuse, ND, Clemson, Pitt, & VT win
      2. Syracuse loses; Pitt & VT win
      3. Syracuse, Pitt, & Clemson lose
      4. Syracuse, Clemson, & VT lose; Pitt wins
      5. Syracuse & Pitt lose; Clemson & VT win
  9. Pittsburgh (9-8)
    • Possible seed range: 5-9
    • 5 seed if…
      1. Pitt, Clemson, & Syracuse win; ND loses
      2. Pitt wins; ND & Clemson lose
    • 6 seed if…
      1. Pitt, ND, & Syracuse win; Clemson loses
      2. Pitt & ND win; Clemson, Syracuse, & VT lose
    • 7 seed if…
      1. Pitt, ND, Clemson, & Syracuse win
      2. Pitt, ND, Clemson win; Syracuse & VT lose
      3. Pitt, ND, & VT win; Clemson & Syracuse lose
      4. Pitt & Clemson win; ND & Syracuse lose
      5. Pitt, Syracuse, & VT lose
    • 8 seed if…
      1. Pitt, ND, Clemson, & VT lose; Syracuse loses
      2. Pitt & Syracuse lose; VT wins
    • 9 seed if…
      1. Pitt loses & Syracuse wins
  10. Notre Dame (10-7)
    • Possible seed range: 4-7
    • 4 seed if…
      1. ND wins & Duke loses
    • 5 seed if…
      1. ND & Duke win
      2. ND & Syracuse lose; Pitt, Clemson, & VT win
      3. ND, Syracuse, & VT lose; Pitt, Clemson, & UNC win
      4. ND, Pitt, & VT lose; Clemson, Syracuse, & UNC win
      5. ND, Pitt, & Syracuse lose; Clemson wins
      6. ND, Pitt, Clemson, & Syracuse lose
    • 6 seed if…
      1. ND loses; Pitt, Clemson, Syracuse, & VT win
      2. ND, Syracuse, & VT lose; Pitt, Clemson, & Duke win
      3. ND, Clemson, & Syracuse lose; Pitt wins
      4. ND & Pitt lose; Clemson, Syracuse, & VT win
      5. ND, Pitt, & VT lose; Clemson, Syracuse, & Duke win
      6. ND, Pitt, & Clemson lose; Syracuse & VT win
    • 7 seed if…
      1. ND & VT lose; Pitt, Clemson, & Syracuse win
      2. ND & Clemson lose; Pitt & Syracuse win
  11. Duke (11-6)
    • Possible seed range: 3-5
    • 3 seed if…
      1. Duke wins & UVa loses
    • 4 seed if…
      1. Duke & UVa win
      2. Duke & ND lose
    • 5 seed if…
      1. Duke loses & ND wins
  12. Louisville (12-5). Will not play in ACC Tournament due to self-imposed postseason ban.
  13. Virginia (12-5)
    • Possible seed range: 1-4
    • 1 seed if…
      1. UVa wins; Miami & UNC lose
    • 2 seed if…
      1. UVa & UNC win, Miami loses
      2. UVa & Miami win; UNC loses
    • 3 seed if…
      1. UVa, UNC, & Miami win
      2. UVa & Duke lose
    • 4 seed if…
      1. UVa loses & Duke wins.
  14. North Carolina (13-4)
    • Possible seed range: 1-3
    • 1 seed if…
      1. UNC wins
    • 2 seed if…
      1. UNC, Miami, & UVa lose
      2. UNC & UVa lose; Miami wins
      3. UNC & Miami lose; UVa wins
    • 3 seed if…
      1. UNC loses; Miami & UVa win
  15. Miami (13-4)
    • Possible seed range: 1-3
    • 1 seed if…
      1. Miami wins & UNC loses
      2. Miami, UNC, & UVa lose
    • 2 seed if…
      1. Miami & UNC win
      2. Miami & UVa lose; UNC wins
    • 3 seed if…
      1. Miami loses & UVa wins

So there you have it. A primer for Saturday’s action and what it all means for next week’s ACC Tournament. The nice thing for our Tar Heels? It’s pretty easy to figure out: win at Duke and you’re the #1 seed; lose at Duke and you’re the #2 or #3 seed.

Here’s to Paige, Johnson, & James getting simultaneously their first win at Cameron and their first regular season ACC Championship.

 

 

 

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.