Seeing Red

This Saturday morning found me as most have in recent weeks: huddled with my friends in a line outside of the Dean E. Smith center. Congregated under my roommate’s oversized golf umbrella, the half-dozen of us waited beneath a gray Chapel Hill sky and watched as puddles encroached. It was cold and my bed was much too far away for my liking. But everyone present knew that foregone sleep in a dry bed was simply the going rate for a much sought after commodity: revenge.

The Heels had an ax to grind on Saturday and certainly played like it, finally bringing a level of intensity worthy of the name on the front of their jerseys. Though it was far from a perfect performance, the boys in blue made further strides along what has been a steady learning curve as of late.

Freshman Marcus Paige continued to show improvement at the point, notching 8 assists against 0 turnovers and putting up 14 points. Paige looked comfortable running the show in the game’s closing minutes and once again proved himself to be a valuable asset at the charity stripe, knocking down 4 late free-throws to keep the wolfpack out of striking distance.

Of course, Paige’s progression seems to have been expedited by Roy Williams’ decision to go with a smaller lineup. With fewer big men crowding the paint, both Paige and Dexter Strickland have excelled in finding open driving lanes to the basket. Also of note is the sudden reappearance of the fast break. In the 4 games since P.J. Hairston was inserted into the starting lineup, the Heels have fought their way to a 77 to 38 advantage in points off turnovers, indicating that Coach Roy’s four guard experiment has not only paid dividends in the half-court, but in the transition game as well.

The most noticeable transformation on Saturday, however, took place off the court rather than on. Carolina played in front of an absolutely electric crowd that was hungry for payback. For the first time this season the risers behind the basket were filled to the brim, each step stacked two people deep. Student turnout was so high that the cheerleaders (who were somewhat surreptitiously implemented in the front row of the risers during Winter break games and who have, much to the chagrin of the students who wait in line hours before each game’s tipoff, remained there throughout the conference schedule) resumed their original post along the sideline to make room for the horde of blue-painted and, in many cases, rain-soaked undergrads.

The capacity crowd was voracious, exploding with each Tar Heel bucket and making its presence known during each crucial defensive stand. When James Michael McAdoo picked off a lazy pass by Lorenzo Brown at the top of the key and took it the length of the floor for a reverse jam late in the first half, the Dean Dome shook at its foundations. It was the loudest I’d heard the Smith Center since witnessing Harrison Barnes throw down a filthy put back dunk against Kentucky two years ago.

And the noise wasn’t limited to the regular die-hards found along the home baseline. In fact, one of the game’s loudest moments occurred midway through the second half when a “Let’s go Tar Heels!” chant erupted from the student general seating behind the home end-zone and was echoed by just about every Carolina fan in the building.

Stay focused, but stay angry. I like us when we’re angry.

image by todd melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/view-from-the-risers/seeing-red/

Together We Are Carolina

After getting blown out by 26 against Miami on Sunday, expectations for Wednesday night were low…well, as low as possible for a game against Duke. Rivalry games are special, and no rivalry is more special than Carolina-Duke. The records don’t matter, the rankings don’t matter; nothing really matters except those forty minutes on the court. Each game is the manifestation of generations of mutual hatred, and in our extreme loathing of that school eight miles down the road, we consistently anticipate winning, no matter the odds.

But boy, did the odds seem against us on Wednesday. Gathered with roughly ten of my good friends in the back of the Varsity Theater on Franklin Street at about 8:15 PM, I was a bundle of nervous apprehension. It seemed a potential recipe for disaster: A young, inconsistent Carolina team that has struggled on the road going into Cameron Indoor to take on a Blue Devils squad that was ranked either number one or number two, depending on which poll you prefer. The theater grew marginally more crowded as game time drew closer, but the fear of getting destroyed and having a depressing walk home probably kept students from going out on a chilly weekday evening. As tip-off neared, the theater was maybe half-full and fairly quiet, providing a stark contrast to the Cameron Crazies on screen that were screaming and yelling (obscenities at the Carolina players, I’m sure).

And right at that moment, Twitter alerted me to a shocking surprise: “@KButter5 Varsity theater. we live.” After doing a quick scan, we quickly realized that Kendall Marshall, the former Tar Heel point guard/legend and a first-round pick in the most recent NBA Draft, was sitting alone at the front of the theater. Naturally, we did what any self-respecting UNC basketball fans would do and asked to sit with him during the game. He graciously obliged, perhaps because the majority of our contingent was female, but graciously nonetheless.

Taking in the biggest game of the year thus far with Kendall was an amazing experience. Though we tried not to bother him too much, it was hard not to basically interrogate him given his experience with the rivalry and his special place in Carolina basketball history. With Cameron rocking per usual, we asked him if it was really as hard a place to play as people make it out to be. Apparently so, as he replied that, “It’s just so loud. You don’t even understand. I could be sitting next to you talking just like this, and not only could you not hear me, but I couldn’t even hear myself.”

As the game began and we settled in, I did my best to restrain my curiosity with the campus celebrity and to just watch the game. The Tar Heels were making that easy for the first time all season. In arguably the biggest coaching move of the year, Roy decided to start a four-guard lineup against Duke, with PJ Hairston replacing Desmond Hubert. Part of the team’s early success may be attributable to the adrenaline rush of playing in such a big game, but the lineup switch appeared to greatly improve floor spacing and really open up the offense. Guys had lanes to attack the basket, which gave shooters the room to catch kick-outs and shoot, which in turn got defenders to bite on pump fakes, opening up more lanes…I think you get the picture. The end result was a number of early dunks and threes for the Tar Heels that fueled a hot start. Meanwhile, Duke struggled at the offensive end, hitting just one three-pointer in the first half. Even inside, where Duke should have conceivably had an advantage against a small UNC lineup, star forward Mason Plumlee struggled against the suddenly-spirited defense of James Michael McAdoo. Fifteen minutes of solid basketball combined with five mediocre ones as the half was drawing to a close left Carolina with a four point lead at the break.

Everyone knows what happened in the second half, as Duke eventually started knocking down outside shots and the Heels had difficulty scoring, especially from the free throw line down the stretch. There were some bad calls from the referees, to be sure, but you couldn’t expect anything less with the game being played in Durham. We had every opportunity to win, but just couldn’t take full advantage, which made it particularly frustrating to lose. Still, I was happy to be upset about the reasons that we actually lost, as opposed to the reasons about which I was expecting to be upset. I’m not a big believer in the idea of moral victories, but this was one if there ever was. UNC showed a great deal of heart and a lot of promise heading into March, with PJ’s emphatic dunk at the close of the game serving as a warning to future opponents that this is really a different team from the one that started the year.

As the final score flashed on the bottom of the screen, I couldn’t help but allow my thoughts to drift back to Kendall. I found myself surprised by the degree to which he was an ordinary fan. He raised his arms in anticipation of threes going in. He groaned in frustration at missed jumpers and layups. He cursed out the officials for not calling violations on Duke. He superstitiously told everyone to stay in the same seats after halftime to maintain the good karma we had for the first half. He jumped out of his seat on McAdoo’s ridiculous reverse dunk near the start of the second half, whooping and hollering in excitement. He was nervous and tense during the final minutes, urging his boys to play defense, to score, to push the ball, to find a way to win. He was on edge for every play, just like every other Carolina fan. Most importantly, when it was all over, he stood up with everyone else, put his arms around our shoulders, and sang the alma mater. Truly, in that moment, he was one of us.

I’ve written previously about the bond between the Carolina basketball team and the student body. It’s hard to define it or explain it to someone that hasn’t experienced it, but it exists. You could feel it in the theater that night as we shouted “Go to hell, Duke” at the top of our lungs, even if no one could hear us. It was palpable again on Saturday at the Dean Dome as we applauded Tyler Zeller in recognition of his jersey in the rafters, honored Lennie Rosenbluth for his impressive efforts in the NCAA Tournament, and cheered thunderously for Marshall, John Henson, and Tyler Hansbrough when they were shown on the Jumbotron.

There was even something in the air as PJ Hairston continued his ascent to leadership with a spectacular game against Virginia. As he was sparking the second-half charge to clinch a huge conference win, you could feel fans adopting him as a hero, preparing a place for him in Carolina lore. It’s an extremely unique relationship, one that only takes place when fans and players come together just so. That’s why together, we are Carolina.

image by todd melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/view-from-the-risers/together-we-are-carolina/

A Hot, Snowy Day On The Hill

           

Maybe it has to be freezing outside for the Tar Heels to get hot inside. That was certainly the case on a cold and snowy Saturday, when Carolina played perhaps its best game of the season and, at long last, shot the lights out in the second half of a 93-81 win over Virginia.

Great entertainment before an appreciative full house that braved the bad weather to make the high noon tip at the Smith Center. Not quite the journey made by Roy Williams, who flew to Minnesota Friday night to offer a scholarship to  6-5 recruit  Rashad Vaughn  and got back at 2:30 in the morning.

A second straight start for P.J. Hairston could not avoid another slow start for the Heels, who fell behind by 10 with some very casual defense before Williams read them the riot act during the first two TV timeouts.

But while the clamp-down “D” produced eight points off turnovers and a 5-0 dominance on the offensive board put Carolina ahead, Virginia finished its own torrid first-half with a 35-foot heave to tie the game at the horn. Get this: it was Jontel Evans’ second three-point attempt of the season and it may very well be his last. That’s how hot were the Wahoos.

The showcase event had already introduced UNC’s national championship indoor women’s tennis team, and at halftime Tyler Zeller received the 2012 Patterson Medal, the university’s highest student-athlete honor and then had his No. 44 jersey retired to the rafters as ACC Player of the Year, All-American and 2009 national championship team member. Clearly, a 7-foot thrill for the Cleveland Cavaliers rookie, who made his own late-night flight from Houston where he had played in the NBA Rising Stars game Friday.

Zeller’s parents also flew from Indiana to watch him be feted, missing their youngest son Cody’s game (IU against Purdue). On NBA all-star weekend, rookie cohorts Kendall Marshall and John Henson along with Tyler Hansbrough were     in the house, with the original Tyler and UNC legend of lore Lennie Rosenbluth receiving honors of their own for being, well, themselves.

Whatever, it was a great day – as they say – to be a Tar Heel.

In the second half, after the Tar Heels opened with an 8-0 run, it was basically Carolina by committee versus Virginia’s splendid Joe Harris, who came across the country from a town of 400 with his coach to play in the ACC. Harris scored 13 of his team’s first 17 points.

Hairston chaired the committee to finish with 29 points, a personal college high and the most any Tar Heel has scored this season. But he was only one of the group that countered Harris’ best college game (27 points on 10-for-13 shooting). While Harris scored 20  in the second half, he was answered by Hairston, Reggie Bullock, Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland each time. As the temperature  dropped  outside, the Heels got hotter, hitting 7-of-11 three-pointers that helped them climb to just under 50 percent for the game.

Defense- and tempo-minded Virginia gave up the second most points since coach Tony Bennett left his heart almost a     thousand miles north of San Francisco (Pullman, Washington, actually) and 24 more points than his Cavs have allowed in any other game this season.

In fact, the Tar Heels scored one more point in the second half (53) than they did in the entire 61-52 loss in Charlottesville last January. The 53   were  also more points than Virginia allowed in 10 other complete games this season.

The Cavaliers came to town No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense, but finished hanging their heads in discouragement as Carolina kept pouring it on, leading at one point by 18 on Hairston’s last of six three balls, another college career high. In two straight starts, the 6-6 sophomore from Greensboro has totaled 52 points and 15 rebounds.

Check out the box score and you will find more impressive numbers besides four Tar Heels in double figures and James Michael McAdoo scoring 9 to go along with his 10 rebounds. Paige is officially no longer playing like a freshman and senior Strickland had six assists, one turnover and several coast-to-coast sprints to nifty lay-ins. With J.P. Tokoto down to three minutes and Desmond Hubert on the court for only one, Williams may have found his eight-man rotation, which includes Leslie McDonald, Brice Johnson and  Jackson of-all-trades Simmons.

All the analytics have shown the Tar Heels are better the longer Bullock and Hairston play together, so for now it looks like four guards and JMM, even though the hunky Hairston is far more than a guard. He goes to the glass like a power forward as well as firing his quick-trigger three. And his defense apparently has reached the level ol’ Roy wants it.

Before the game, Carolina was the “last one out” in the latest NCAA bracketology. But the win and Kentucky’s loss not only makes the Tar Heels an NCAA team (for the moment) but gives them an inside track on a top-four finish in the ACC, which means they would get Thursday off at the tournament in Greensboro. Still conjecture, of course, there is  much work to be done this week.

First comes a trip to Georgia Tech Tuesday night, where top-four teams should beat bottom-feeders, and then the anticipated rematch with the Wolfpack on more friendly footing. Warmer weather is forecast Monday-Friday, but maybe it will start snowing again by 4 o’clock Saturday. The Heels will have to be just as hot as they were a week before – and not  so generous on defense — to send State home howling in agony.

“You can’t let a team shoot 58 percent against you and win very often,” Williams said in a serious understatement. It was the highest percentage allowed by the Tar Heels in  victory since he’s been back in Chapel Hill. 

Photo by Todd Melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/ford-corners/a-hot-snowy-day-on-the-hill/

The Eye Of The Hurricane

This is far more about what Miami did than Carolina did not Saturday afternoon in Coral Gables.

But, don’t kid yourself, what the Tar Heels couldn’t do contributed heavily to their 87-61 blowout to the ACC-unbeaten Hurricanes who, frankly, keep playing like their nickname bearing down on the Final Four in Atlanta. If there is a better college team in the country than Miami, I haven’t seen it. And probably won’t.

Still, it would have helped if Carolina had made more than one of its first eight shots while the ‘Canes were going 5-for-6 out of the blocks. And getting back on defense would have been nice, especially when 6-11, 242-pound Kenny Kadji beat all of the half-hearted Heels down the court for a snowbird.

Fighting through screens instead of giving into them, and getting out on the shooters, might have held Miami to under 58 percent shooting from the arc  (15 of 26). And, after proving he’s still not big enough and strong enough to play with true college post men, maybe James Michael McAdoo ought to try a two-handed dunk since his flying one-handers get blocked by real men.

Carolina has a freshman point guard who’s learning the college game. Miami has a sophomore point guard who went to spring training as a kid until Shane Larkin told Barry Larkin he liked basketball more than baseball. The kid has his dad’s athletic DNA and has become the motor that makes Miami a devastating transition team.

The Heels were completely outclassed, the same way the ‘Canes drubbed Duke back in January, and it now looks like the March 2 trip to Durham is the only thing separating Miami from going undefeated in the ACC’s first 18-game regular season. The team that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008 and only once in the last 10 years will       be one tough out in the Big Dance.

Bronx-born Jim Larranaga, who took George Mason on that magical run to the Final Four in 2006 (beating UNC on the way), has the coaching chops to get his new team back there. The 63-year-old sideline journeyman may have taken one look at the upper class-laden Miami roster and deduced that taking his talents to South Beach was good way to end his coaching career.

The veteran ‘Canes can ’em from outside, bank ’em from the elbow and dunk ’em from down low. And they made it hard for the Heels to get any good looks inside of 20 feet, where Carolina avoided complete obliteration by hitting 5-of-11 three-pointers (three from P.J. Hairston) in the first half. But Miami scored 12 points on Tar Heel turnovers, and once the lead was in double digits, there was no comeback coming. We knew it. Carolina knew it and Miami would not allow it.

The U moved to 10-0 in the ACC by shooting 55 percent and holding Carolina to 39, limiting the Tar Heels to a season-low six trips to the foul line by keeping them out of the bonus in both halves of a fast and physical game. As discussed ad nauseam, Carolina has no low post play and cannot create the usual number of free throw attempts.

With Lebron James and D-Wade watching from the stands, suiting up the Heat stars could not have made it any more one sided.

It was a close to a perfect game as you will see in basketball, great shooting and defense that kept Carolina from executing most anything. Reggie Bullock remained the most consistent Tar Heel with 14 points and seven rebounds, but Bullock wouldn’t start and might not get many minutes for Miami. That’s how suddenly disparate the talent is between the two teams.

Marcus Paige and McAdoo, who have played so well of late, went 4-for-21 and both of them were as much out of their element as Miami usually is against the Tar Heels. Paige missed all five of his treys and McAdoo could not contend with Kadji, Reggie Johnson or Julian Gamble, the ‘Canes massive front line.

The game marked the beginning of the second half of the ACC season for the Tar Heels, who have to go to Duke Wednesday on Mike Krzyzewski’s 66th birthday and still have to visit Clemson, Georgia Tech and Maryland. They also have Virginia, State, Florida State and Duke at home, none of which will be easy.

So if they awake Thursday with a 6-5 ACC record, how hard will it be to get the 10 conference wins and 20 overall needed to insure a bid to the NCAA Tournament? After all, this is a season of mediocrity in what is usually the best basketball league in America. Only two teams are ranked and have proven themselves true contenders for the ACC and national championships.

Carolina is neither of them, but plays both of them within a span of four days. From the eye of the Hurricane to the chaos of the Crazies.

image by todd melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/ford-corners/the-eye-of-the-hurricane/

Seeing Red in a Sea of Red

By not competing, Carolina committed the cardinal sin of UNC basketball Saturday night at N.C. State.

Whether underdog, undermanned or under intense pressure from a crazed crowd, the Tar Heels have rarely not been ready to fight from the opening tip.

They weren’t this time, perhaps thinking their sky blue uniforms would settle a red storm and be good enough against an opponent they had defeated 13 straight times and pretty much dominated for the last 20 years.

But that was then and this was now. And arrogant quotes in the preseason and silly dances in the runway before taking the court don’t automatically make them good enough against what is clearly a better team.

Carolina’s mantra under Roy Williams is transition basketball, but it was State that scored 20 fast break points in the first half compared to none for the visitors who were beaten badly at their own game.

It may have been the first time in the 100-year-old rivalry that the Wolfpack started better players at every position. Even the Tar Heels’ best hope foolishly fouled State’s C.J. Leslie  twice  in the first two minutes (although the second was probably a play-on that never should have been called).

Regardless, James Michael McAdoo did not return until 11 minutes remained in the first half and his team already down by 12 points. After his two free throws and a follow by Jackson Simmons finished an 8-0  spurt that whittled the deficit to four, State scored the next eight points and finished the first half on a 23-8 run that was wrought with dreadful defense and forced shots out of a chaotic Carolina offense with nothing coming easy against the determined Wolfpack.

Down 45-26 at the break, Williams actually thought his team could win the game – undoubtedly reasoning it could not play any worse. Before long the deficit was 28 points with such calamities as Dexter Strickland missing a wide open layup on a 5-on-4 break after State’s Rodney Purvis was lying on the floor with a sprained ankle.

“Carolina can’t get the shots to go down!” exclaimed Dick Vitale from the ESPN broadcast location. That’s because most of them were wild, horrible shots, babeeeee!

Freshman Marcus Paige was so undone from the pressure applied by State senior Lorenzo Brown that he missed his first eight tries badly and finally gave way to seldom-used transfer Luke Davis. Paige personified a basketball team that basically could not pass, catch, dribble or shoot – occupational hazards for the game it was attempting to play.

The eventual 91-83 defeat wasn’t the issue, since State figured to win anyway. When you lose four players to the first round of the NBA draft, you are automatically in a rebuilding mode since the only way to replace them would be with one-and-done high school stars who go to other schools.

But after almost 20 games, most teams have learned what they can and cannot do and try to stick with that. The late comeback upheld the Carolina tradition of never quitting no matter how badly they’re playing. But, truth is, State teams do let up when they have a big lead and, according to Coach Mark Gottfried, “got tired” in the second half.

So, with the outcome obviously decided, turnovers were easier to force and three-pointers began going down for the Tar Heels.
 

Suddenly, it was only a nine-point hole and State might have actually choked it away. But down 11,  Reggie Bullock’s wide-open trey from the top of the key hit back rim and Strickland fouled State sharpshooter Scott Wood after he drained his three-pointer falling into the Wolfpack bench. What could have been eight points with four minutes left was instead 15. Game over.

At the end, the only Nervous Nellies were those who bet on State to cover the 5 1/2-point spread. And P.J. Hairston, who got hot in the second half and finished with five three-pointers and 19 overall, could have ruined the night for those who thought they had a sure thing for 35 minutes. However, his last shot that would have made the final margin five points missed and even those wagerers went home happy if not fully satisfied by a blowout it looked to be earlier.

Williams snapped at the notion that his team might have learned something from the second half rally, acknowledging how things aren’t for real on both ends when the game is basically over. Back to .500 (3-3) in the ACC, the Tar Heels will face similarly insane venues at Miami on February 9, Duke on February 13 and Maryland on March 6, if not three other road trips beginning at Boston College Tuesday night. And there are also dates with State and Duke at home, which hasn’t exactly produced easy wins this season.

Ol’ Roy saw few redeeming qualities in the un-Carolina-like effort in Raleigh, saying it was a miserable night for everyone in a blue uniform and every coach in purple sneakers (the color he chose for the Coaches vs. Cancer footwear game for his buddy Ted Seagroves, who has pancreatic cancer).

The shoes are normally some variation of pink, but Williams was still seeing enough red when he boarded the bus back to Chapel Hill.

Image by Katie Bailey / DTH via DailyTarHeel.com

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/ford-corners/seeing-red-in-a-sea-of-red/

Breakdown: James Michael McAdoo

I remember being completely shocked when I heard talk of James McAdoo possibly being drafted in the top 10 of the 2012 NBA draft. Sure he filled in admirably in the absence of John Henson late last season, but a few solid performances hardly screamed NBA superstar. It would have been a disaster that most likely would have doomed his professional career, but thankfully he returned for his second season at UNC. Now that we’re halfway through his sophomore campaign, it’s pretty clear McAdoo is still far from ready to make the leap to the professional ranks.

It’s easy to see how pro scouts could be mesmerized by the chiseled, 6’9” 230 pound athlete. McAdoo has great speed and quickness for his size. Add that to his jumping ability and you get the increasingly-dreaded “potential” tag. This label has led to countless botched draft picks, GM firings, and careers that ended before they could get started. This is precisely what would have happened had McAdoo turned pro after last season, and I’m glad he didn’t fall into the trap.

For the first half of the season, McAdoo played mostly rushed and out of control. He was weak and tentative, often shying away from contact. He took way too many off balance or hurried shots, usually without ever surveying the defense before making a decision. McAdoo would simply catch the ball (when he was able to do that), then turn and fire up a quick shot without ever considering his options. He just hadn’t shown the ability to read a situation and make the right play, which often lead to bad shots or careless turnovers. The last two games have given us a glimpse of the player everyone was expecting to see this season.

McAdoo has always played hard, but he seemed to finally be playing with a purpose in Saturday’s game against Maryland. He was aggressive from the outset, hustling all over the floor and seemingly coming up with every loose ball. He showed signs of maturing offensively, taking his time before attacking the rim, taking a jump shot, or passing to a teammate. It helped that he had his best outside shooting day of the season, but that was a direct result of simply looking at the basket and getting on balance before chucking it up. McAdoo has settled for a tough jump shot too often this season, and as a result his field goal percentage has suffered and he’s only averaging five free throw attempts per game. He’s attempted 24 free throws over his past three games however, and while he’s only made 11 of them, his increased confidence and aggression are very encouraging signs.

James McAdoo has plenty of tools to be a very good basketball player, but I’m not sure he has the mentality to be a dominant player. He may just be a little too nice to ever play the way people want him to, and that’s okay. Not everyone is wired to bring the intensity and competitive will that is needed to be a basketball superstar, and it’s starting to look like we might have a couple more years before we know just how good a player McAdoo can be in Chapel Hill.

You can follow Josh on Twitter @HoopVisions

image via todd melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/scouts-take/breakdown-james-michael-mcadoo/

Finally, Some Answers

Well… I think I got my answer to my last question. If we are down by one with ten seconds left, Reggie Bullock is coming off three screens to get a look!

It’s great to see that Coach Williams and the staff have weathered the slow start and gotten the heels on track even with a few rocky patches against Maryland. Though Maryland won’t be our toughest opponent in the ACC, it was a great stepping stone to the next challenge. With NC State and Duke looming on the horizon, we still have our work cut out for us, but we are coming together and playing well as a team.

In my first article I mentioned that Bullock was one of the guys helping lead this team in the right direction. In the second article I gave a lot of praise to PJ Hairston… Though we have been improving, it’s still unclear who will individually deliver EVERY game. The good thing here is that someone has stepped up against FSU and Maryland. Many people are giving Bullock the majority of the credit for our last “W,” when in reality, it was quite the team effort. In the first half we were moving the ball like a cohesive team, and as a direct result we got good looks at the basket. One stat that doesn’t show up the box score is “good shots.” In the first half we took several good shots (at times, the second half was a different story). My friends always give me grief when I say in disgust “COME ON, THAT IS A TERRIBLE SHOT.” (Of course when watching a game in a crowd those shots always seem to go in…).

With a young team full of incredible talent it can be hard to help them understand what Coach Williams considers a “good shot.” When these guys were in high school, every shot they took was a good shot because they were almost always the best player on their respective teams. Now that they have played a few games in the ACC, they quickly realize that the competition (and their teammates) is as tall, fast, athletic and talented as they are. As a result, a contested three with 27 seconds on the shot clock isn’t the shot you want a guard taking at this level. When a big man gets doubled teamed in the post, he probably shouldn’t force up a shot. If you’re double teamed, someone’s open. It’s your job to find them. When a team is willing to make the extra pass and get a better look at the basket, it’s no surprise that more shots will fall!

(For reference, a “bad shot” could be as simple as: Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland are both open at the top of the key for three. If Dexter has the ball and takes the shot, it would be a bad shot. Not because he can’t make a three, but because Reggie is a better shooter and will make the shot more often)

Some of the younger guys on this team are still flying under the radar, along with Dexter Strickland and James Michael McAdoo. In my eyes, these two guys along with our slew of freshman still have a lot of potential to help lead/drive this team to bigger and better things. I’m happy that the boys have some confidence in themselves, now we have to buckle down and continue to build on our recent success.

 

image by Todd Melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/a-players-perspective/finally-some-answers/

'We're Getting On The Same Page!'

I was so impressed and inspired by the first half of our game against Maryland. It showed what kind of a team we can be. We finally got Reggie and James Michael on the same page. Imagine what we can do if P.J. and Marcus get on that same page, all at the same time.

In the second half you have to give Maryland most of the credit; they’re an ACC team and capable, they just beat N.C. State. The way we took them out of their offense in the first half and the number of balls we deflected shows what we can do on defense.

If we keep improving we have a chance. There is no dominant team in the country, like last year with Kentucky. We’re going have to keep riding who’s hot in that game. It was Reggie vs. Maryland, at Florida State it was PJ, the next game it might be James Michael. But if we keep improving, I think our potential is off the charts.

You know I watch the point guards very closely, and I really like Marcus (Paige). He’s getting the job done with young players around him. And I’ll say it till the cows come home, he’s a good shooter. I’ve seen him at practice and I watched him before the season. He can shoot.

Six assists and no turnovers against Maryland, that’s pretty good. The players they have around them have a lot to do with the point guard’s success.

I hope we can handle Georgia Tech, and then comes State Saturday in Raleigh. That’s gonna be a toughie, but Carolina teams have done well over the years when nobody said we had a chance.

I remember my freshman year, we HAD State with David (Thompson) and Tommy (Burleson) and Monte (Towe) late in the game in Reynolds Coliseum before it slipped away. Then we finally beat them at Carmichael and again in the ACC Tournament.

And our team that year wasn’t a whole lot different from this one. I was a freshman, Walter (Davis) and Johnny Kue(ster) and T. LaGarde were all sophomores. We even had a guy named Mickey Bell who came off the bench to give us a lift like Jackson Simmons has done.

We DID have Mitch Kupchak, who was a junior and becoming one of the best big men in the country. But Mitch struggled as a freshman and sophomore. If we had legitimate juniors and seniors like it used to be, a kid could afford to come along more slowly . . . but now they have to play earlier in their careers.

We have pretty good big people – young, but they have size and length and are being taught well. Remember, we went to the Final Four in 1977 with three freshmen rotating at center – Rich Yonaker, Jeff Wolff and Steve Krafcisin.

So if the other four guys around them do what they’re supposed to do, you can get it done with young people inside.

Phil Ford was a three-time All-American at UNC, 1978 ACC Player of the Year and went on to be the NBA Rookie of the Year and an NBA all-star.
 

image by Todd Melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/ford-corners/were-getting-on-the-same-page/

Bye Bye, Big 10 Terps

Amidst the chaos that has become college athletics, Carolina defeated Maryland Saturday in truly a tale of two halves. The Tar Heels played perhaps their best 20 minutes of basketball to begin the game and ended with perhaps their worst.

Depending on when they officially bolt for the Big 10 and the 2014 basketball schedule, this could well have been the Terrapins’ last trip to the Dean Smith Center as a member of the ACC. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, a Kansas protégé of both Larry Brown and Roy Williams, took what he considered to be one of the best jobs in the country two years ago. When the Terps, along with Rutgers, join the Big 10, who knows what kind of a job it will be.

For sure, trips to Columbus, Ann Arbor and Iowa City will never match those January games in a warm climate on Tobacco Road. And the load of talent in the Metro Washington-Baltimore area will surely have second thoughts about playing in an unfamiliar conference as opposed to the rivalries they’ve been watching all their lives.

But it’s all about money these days, and Maryland’s athletic department had to stave off bankruptcy by dropping seven varsity sports before opting out for the Big 10, which has guaranteed the university at least $20 million more per year than the ACC in television revenues beginning in 2017. The Terps promptly reinstated four of those sports.

So when the near-capacity crowd at the Smith Center began cheering “ACC! ACC!” at the end of Carolina’s 62-52 victory, it was clear that Maryland is a lame duck. And Turgeon’s Terps were pretty lame in the first half, committing 15 turnovers that the Tar Heels converted into 14 points while Reggie Bullock was single-handedly outscoring them.

Bullock came out firing, hitting two “3s” and a regular field goal before Maryland could even hold onto the ball long enough to attempt a shot. Bullock had UNC’s first four field goals as his 21 points in the first half were more than Maryland’s team total (42-20) and had the fans amped for a blowout and perhaps a chance to get out into the spring weather a little early.

The Tar Heels also duplicated the aggressive defense they played three weeks before against UNLV, stealing the ball from the shell-shocked Terps nine times. Maryland made nine field goals, went 0-7 from the arc and, frankly, was lucky to be down just 22 at the half. The crowd got further aroused by an appearance from the 2012 UNC football team, which is calling itself the ACC Coastal Division champions after finishing in a three-way tie with Miami and Georgia Tech.

Having already printed up t-shirts boasting as much, it seemed a little defiant since NCAA sanctions kept the gridders out of the post-season. But there is so much unrest and speculation about the future of the ACC these days, reminding UNC that it wasn’t eligible to win anything last season seems like a waste of time and energy. Will there even be an ACC title to compete for in the next few years? If not, maybe Maryland made the right decision to get out while the getting was good. Aside from the money, the Terps can resume their once-heated football rivalry with Penn State, which has won 35 of the 37 games they used to play. Ouch.

The second half was a reversal of fortunes as Carolina made just one more three (from Bullock, his only points of the period) and missed 26 of its 34 shots. Maryland kept clawing around and turned it over only six times, allowing the Terps to make a moderate late run. In fact, if P.J. Hairston had not rebounded James Michael McAdoo’s missed free throw and fired it out to Marcus Paige for his sixth assist to JMM underneath, Maryland might have really made it interesting.

The Tar Heels are improving individually but as a team still look pretty lost on offense. When Bullock is getting his college high (24) and McAdoo is recording a double-double (19 and 11), they can be “pretty doggone good,” as Roy Williams said afterward, choosing to focus on the first half and not the second. But when the shots stop falling and the offense bogs down, the 35-second clock is their enemy and the lane starts to look like the subway at rush hour.

Freshman J.P. Tokoto hit his only shot and was the lone Tar Heel to make more than he missed. They continued their dogged defense, especially against Ukrainian seven-footer Alex Len, who was held to 10 points and five rebounds. The pivot committee of Desmond Hubert, Joel James and Brice Johnson managed to contain Len, who will be playing in the NBA some day.

The pro draft could bypass Carolina completely, which only bodes well for those regulars returning, those substitutes improving and those recruits coming. The Tar Heels are scrapping for their lives as they try to make scoring easier than hitting from outside. As the hot-cold Bullock proved, it’s still a game where the sum must be better than the parts.

Image by Todd Melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/ford-corners/bye-bye-big-10-terps/

Art's Angle: A So-So Season Going Nowhere

 

Looks like it’s another Year of Living Dangerously. In other words, expending our energy rooting against Duke.

We’ve had these seasons before (i.e., 2010), although rarely. When our own basketball team is so young or weak (literally) or mediocre that it is not a safe use of our emotions to pull FOR the Tar Heels as it is to root AGAINST Duke. After losing their second straight ACC game to open 0-2, the Tar Heels obviously are not going very far in the unlucky ides of March ’13. So why not channel our frustration and anger where it can be better utilized: trying to keep the Blue Devils from winning another national championship.

Look at Thursday night’s home loss to Miami on paper, and I don’t mean the stats. The Hurricanes’ roster of 13 players has 10 seniors and juniors. And one of the seniors has been trolling South Beach for five years, another is on the six-year plan! So, as a shell-shocked Roy Williams said after the 68-59 defeat, a lively near-capacity crowd in Carolina blue at the Smith Center wasn’t going to make any waves with the well-seasoned ‘Canes. And their biggest and maybe best player, center Reggie Johnson, didn’t even suit up!

Meanwhile, if there was no such thing as the NBA, John Henson would be a senior, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall juniors. James Michael McAdoo wouldn’t be lost somewhere between post player and small forward and the rest of the Tar Heels wouldn’t be so upset  after only the second time in 16 years (including the completely forgettable 8-20 season) that the Tar Heels opened 0-for-2 in the ACC. History buffs have to go back to 1997, Dean Smith’s last season on the bench, to find an 0-3 ACC start. But that team had future pro names Carter and Cota and Antawn and Shammond and seven-footer Serge who wasn’t afraid to go under the basket and throw someone around. (By the way, that team righted itself by winning 16 straight games, cutting down the ACC Tournament nets and reaching the Final Four. Footnote, don’t make your travel plans for Atlanta this season).

That Tar Heel team also had a couple of guys who went out early (Vince and AJ) but not until the next year. When was the last time Miami lost someone prematurely to the NBA? Hell, the Hurricanes’ greatest player ever — Rick Barry — not only stayed four years, he married the coach’s daughter!

After the game, ol’ Roy continued his flimsy reasoning about his players not transferring what they do on the practice court to the game floor. Listen, if your first seven or eight aren’t up to Tar Heel standards, they are in jeopardy of building false confidence trying to get better against worse players. So, it’s like a cat chasing its tail. Whatever success McAdoo has against Joel James and Jackson Simmons in practice isn’t going to help much when Miami’s 6-11, 242-pound senior and future pro Kenny Kadji is shooting his herky-jerky jumper over them or steamrolling down the lane for a slam. Or keeping guards Deron Scott, Rion Brown and Shane Larkin (The U’s only sophomore) from making 6 of their team’s other 9 treys.

And when the pressure of a tight game over the first 30 minutes grabs them by the throat, their three best players — McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J Hairston — fire up enough bricks to start a small house and wind up missing 23 of their 37 shots that contributed to the fatal five-minute stretch in which the Tar Heels managed only three points and went from a tie game to watching the crowd head for the Chapel Hills early. This was such a bad ending that the team gets penalized with one practice before a quick trip to Tallahassee where the Seminoles smacked a much-better Carolina club by 33 just about a year ago.

As ugly as the numbers were, they do show HOPE for the future, but probably not this season that will be fortunate to end with a low seed to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I now have to agree with some Duke dufus who called a local talk show Thursday and said the Heels aren’t going dancing in March. Maybe he’s not such a dumb Duke dufus after all. While senior Dexter Strickland was struck with a zero line in 26 minutes (check the box score if you dare), skinny but skilled freshmen Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and J.P Tokoto put together their best collective game and helped the Heels stay alive until the dreaded drought down the stretch. Brice’s basket, Tokoto’s tap-in and Paige pretty three from the top of the key kept Carolina in it before it began to counter pressure-packed clangers with Miami’s wide-open 3′s born from defense that hopefully did not translate from practice. Surely they don’t work on staying with the double team so long that the pass recipient gets the ball, looks down at the three-point line to make sure his toes are clearly behind the stripe before draining one of five treys that buried the Heels in the second half.

No, they did not have the injured Lesley McDonald, which gave more minutes to Strickland, Bullock and Hairston, who were all either near tears in the locker room or non-communicado with the media. They all know they have a lot work to do before the flight to FSU and so little time to do it. Meanwhile, two hours prior to the Saturday 2 p.m. tip-off, No. 1 and undefeated Duke plays at No. 20 and offensively gifted N.C. State in Raleigh, a game pitting clearly the two best teams in an otherwise-average ACC this season.

The Blue Devils will be without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly (injured foot), so the Year of Living Dangerously could actually be fun since the Wolfpack should be favored in the game. And State might win, which wouldn’t be a bad way too start would could be another terrible afternoon in Tallahassee.

You can follow Art on Twitter @ArtChansky
 

Image by Todd Melet

http://chapelboro.com/hoop-it-up/game-recap/arts-angle-a-so-so-season-going-nowhere/