Tar Heels Begin Battle 4 Atlantis, Face Bulldogs

The No. 5 North Carolina men’s basketball team, 3-0 on the season, embarks on its quest for a Battle 4 Atlantis tournament title Wednesday at high noon when the Tar Heels take on the 3-0 Butler Bulldogs.

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The Tar Heels join a stacked field in what UNC head coach Roy Williams says is the premier early-season tournament this year.

Two Final Four teams from last season, Florida and Wisconsin, could stand in the way of UNC in the Bahamas.

But Coach Williams says for now, he’s focused on the feisty Bulldogs, who defeated the Tar Heels 82-71 in the Maui Invitational semifinals back in 2012.

Coach Williams reacts (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams reacts (Todd Melet)

“We’re 3-0, we’ve done some good things, and we know we’ve got to get a heck of a lot better. We’re a different team. They’re [Butler] a different team. But there are some guys that were around when they beat us by 88 points or something like that the last time we played them. I remember that. It’s a wonderful tournament. Looking at all the tournament fields, I think it’s the best field of any of the preseason tournaments. It’s a big-time challenge for us,” Coach Williams says.

Junior guard Marcus Paige says the team’s balance gives the Tar Heels an edge on the competition.

“With that type of balance and our defense as hungry, alert and aggressive as it was today [vs. Davidson], I would expect to have a bunch of guys in double figures on any given night,” Paige says.

One of those UNC players in search of a breakout season is sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks. He’s off to a promising start. Meeks tallied 19 points and 12 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Davidson.

Meeks says he’s been getting some advice from former Tar Heel and fellow big man, Sean May.

“I talk to him all the time. He tells me about having soft hands, looking at the ball all the way through, being aggressive on offense and also getting down in a defensive stance for the entire game. He’s really been a good asset to my life,” Meeks says.

Paige has noticed a major difference in the impact of Meeks and junior forward Brice Johnson, who’ve both reshaped their bodies to withstand the physicality of ACC basketball.


Brice Johnson has bulked up for this year's basketball campaign (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson has bulked up for this year’s basketball campaign (Todd Melet)

“You can see they’re really skilled. Brice has upped his weight and is more of a physical presence. Kennedy shed his weight. They both had that skill set even last year, so now they’re able to utilize it more with more minutes and a bigger role in our offense. It’s great to have,” Paige says.

So far, Paige has been happy to take a backseat in the scoring. He says he understands the best Roy Williams teams always look to dominate inside first.

“When we have big guys as skilled and talented as them that are ready to handle the rigors of playing top-quality opponents with their bodies now we can play inside out. That’s always how Coach Williams’ best teams have played,” Paige says.

The Tar Heels will need to watch out for Bulldog Kelan Martin, who scored 23 points off the bench on 9 for 13 shooting in Butler’s most recent 80-39 thrashing of Loyola (Md.).

UNC is tied 2-2 with Butler in the all-time head-to-head series and will be hoping to tip the scales in its favor when the two schools collide at Imperial Arena Wednesday.


Roy Williams’ Stolen Vacation

Scanning his closet for the perfect Caribbean-themed floral shirt, North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams could not help but mutter under his breath. “Aw shucks,” and “gosh darn” were just a few of the obscenities mumbled by the coach as he prepared for his team’s Thanksgiving getaway to the Bahamas.

Call it a tropical vacation if you like, but the schedule makers clearly were not too concerned about Coach Williams’ personal relaxation time. The Tar Heels will play against a loaded field in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Paradise Island in Nassau. Half of last year’s Final Four (Florida, Wisconsin) plus four other teams that were in the NCAA tournament (including the Heels) will slug it out for the right to be called champions of Atlantis.

In order to rule a kingdom that sits entirely underwater, you would need a lot of power. Luckily for UNC, they have had plenty of power down on the low blocks three games in. Statistics have them as the 4th most prolific rebounding team in the country, with close to fifty a game. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson have materialized as an awesome tag team in the post, as the team’s two leading scorers and rebounders thus far (Meeks- 16.7 points, 11 boards, Johnson- 14.7 points, 7.7 boards). Each is also shooting above sixty percent for the young season.

Battle 4 Atlantis bracket

The big men will be critical in an opening round matchup against perennial over-achievers Butler. The Bulldogs, known for their scrappy team defense and shooting, will come out firing, but it will be essential for Carolina to exploit their massive size advantage early. To give this matchup a visual perspective, Meeks at 6’9”, 270 pounds, will likely be defended by their senior forward, Kameron Woods, who stands the same 6’9” but carries a meager 200 pounds. Meeks should be able to feast on Woods and lead the Tar Heels into their Thanksgiving game on a high note.

With an opening win, Turkey Day could have UNC facing off against the winner of 22nd ranked UCLA and Oklahoma, each a tournament team a year ago. The Sooners have started off slowly, already taking a loss in their second game of the season to Creighton. The Bruins, on the other hand, are breaking scoreboards with an offense that boasts two twenty-point scorers (Norman Powell, Bryce Alford) and arrives in Nassau 5th in the country with 95.3 points per game.

Should the Heels face off with UCLA, point guard Marcus Paige’s shots are going to have to start falling at a rate higher than 38 percent, especially if the game turns into the fast-paced track meet many expect. Key contributions from freshman wing Justin Jackson may also be an X-factor in this potential matchup. Not only has Jackson shown he can score efficiently (13.3 PPG, 63% shooting), but his rangy 6’8” wingspan could give the 6’4” Powell and 6’3” Alford some trouble defensively as well.

Justin Jackson (Charlotte Observer)

Justin Jackson (Charlotte Observer)

On the other half of the bracket, 18th ranked Florida takes on Georgetown in what could be a tough game for the Gators, who will potentially be missing two key starters due to injury. The other quarterfinal features the Badgers and their senior All-American forward, Frank Kaminsky, rolling through UAB and a short-handed Florida team, straight to the title game for what could be a battle of epic proportions with the Tar Heels.

Of all the teams in the bracket, the Wisconsin Badgers were surely the squad that caught ol’ Roy’s attention the most. Coach Williams works long and hard; you can’t blame the man if he wants to enjoy a nice vacation at a place called “Paradise Island.” The problem is that Wisconsin makes that impossible. There is no paradise to be found when trying to game plan for a Badger team that is blowing teams out with ruthless efficiency, shooting over fifty-two percent AS A TEAM, validating last year’s final four march.

Led by Kaminsky, the seven-foot Player of the Year candidate, Wisconsin is off to a 4-0 start with the closest of those games being a twenty-four point nail-biter against Boise State. The Heels will have to find a way to guard the big man, who can star inside or outside depending on how he feels. If he sees Brice Johnson, he may try to use his height inside. If it’s Kennedy Meeks on Kaminsky, look for Frank to take the slower Meeks out on the perimeter, where he shoots the three ball at forty-three percent.

Wisconsin All-American Frank Kaminsky (Milwaukee Sentinal-Journal)

Wisconsin All-American Frank Kaminsky (Milwaukee Sentinal-Journal)

If Carolina can continue to rebound and share the ball like they have to start the season, there is a real chance for them to be crowned Kings of Atlantis, but it cannot be overstated how tough the road is ahead of them. Call this tournament a measuring stick, because it will be the first chance against elite quality competition for this team to show its growth.

Winning in the Bahamas would prove to doubters that this squad does indeed have enough talent to compete for a national championship. Losing would not be the end of the world. Just don’t be surprised if Roy ends up in his famous squatted position, screaming like crazy, and pulling a few hairs out along the way.

Fun Fact: The games are being played at the Imperial Arena, a grand ballroom normally used for weddings and events. A temporary court and seats are put into place just for this tournament.


UNC Sports Weekend Offered Up Plenty

With fall sports conducting NCAA playoffs and basketball season now in full swing, it was an eventful weekend for Tar Heel athletics. UNC athletes experienced both the thrill of victory and the bitter taste of defeat.

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The UNC men’s and women’s basketball teams have hit the road with desirable final destinations. The men are Bahamas bound, while the women are headed to Hawaii.

But the two squads made quick pit stops over the weekend. The men stopped in Charlotte to take on the sharp-shooting Davidson Wildcats Saturday inside Time Warner Cable Arena.

Meeks slamming it down (Todd Melet)

Meeks slamming it down (Todd Melet)

The sixth-ranked Tar Heels used an in-form defense to cool the Wildcats off and emerge with a comfortable 90-72 win to improve to 3-0 on the young season.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says he was pleased with his team’s play, especially on the defensive side of the floor.

“I think we beat a very good basketball team that is a difficult matchup for us. I thought defensively, it was by far our best game of the year,” Coach Williams says.

Sophomore Kennedy Meeks was impressive, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. But Coach Williams says Meeks is still figuring out how to play in his new slimmed-down frame.

“I think it’s a day-to-day thing. We’ve got to get his mind correct – that he does have a different body and can do certain things. He’s giving me the tired signal, then goes out there, denies the pass 45-feet from the basket and goes down and dunks,” Coach Williams says. “I’ve told him all the time to give me the tired signal when he goes back on offense, not defense. He just doesn’t realize what his body can do right now.”

As for the women, they met up with the Oregon Ducks in Eugene Sunday and after a sluggish start that may have been credited to jetlag; the Tar Heels poured it on in the second half to run away with an emphatic 76-59 triumph and up their record to 4-0.

UNC head coach Sylvia Hatchell’s halftime adjustments paid off. With the three-point shots misfiring, the Hall of Fame coach made it simple for her players – just dominate inside. The Tar Heels did just that.

“Offensively, we got the ball inside. I told them at halftime that our advantage is to get the ball inside. They can’t stop us. We’re out there jacking up all these threes. They weren’t going in. Everything we did [in second half] was to get the ball inside,” Coach Hatchell says.

After the game, Coach Hatchell says she received a special compliment from one of the officials.

“We want to just keep getting and better as a team. I really love this team. They’re great kids. In fact, right at the end of the game, one of the referees said to me, ‘It’s such a privilege and honor to call for your team because not only are you skilled, but your ladies are so classy.’ That’s pretty special. The image of how they represent themselves and especially the University of North Carolina, is tremendous,” Coach Hatchell says.

Danielle Butts dives to save the ball (UNC Athletics)

Danielle Butts dives to save the ball (UNC Athletics)

But not all UNC’s teams came out on the right end of the scoreboard over the weekend. There will be no 22nd national championship this year for the Carolina women’s soccer team.

The Tar Heel women were upset 1-0 by South Carolina in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday afternoon at Fetzer Field.

UNC head coach Anson Dorrance says despite the setback, he was proud of his team’s accomplishments this season that included a share of the ACC regular season title.

“I’m proud of my senior class. We had really good leadership. If you look at our season overall, we certainly overachieved. We were conference co-champs with Florida State and a No.2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s pretty good for a team that was without ten starters from the previous year. But the day obviously goes to South Carolina,” Coach Dorrance says.

For the seniors, the loss was especially tough to take. Senior Satara Murray, though, says she couldn’t have asked for a better four years as a Tar Heel.

It was a disappointing day for the UNC women's soccer team (UNC Athletics)

It was a disappointing day for the UNC women’s soccer team (UNC Athletics)

“All in all, I had a fantastic year. I had fun. It was an amazing four years. I’m excited to see what the future has in store, but I love playing with this team every minute, every game. These girls fought for one another, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Credit goes to my team for making this an unforgettable and memorable four years,” Murray says.

In other action, the UNC men had better luck on the soccer pitch, defeating tenth-seeded Charlotte 2-1 in rainy conditions Sunday to survive and advance to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Tar Heels will face the winner of the Clemson-Coastal Carolina match to be played Monday.

And last but certainly not least, the Carolina volleyball team continues to serve up a storm. This time, the No. 7 Tar Heels bagged a 3-1 win over the Louisville Cardinals Sunday afternoon in Cardinal Arena.

UNC head coach Joe Sagula’s 24-2 team will wrap up the regular season this week with a pair of home matches – a rivalry encounter against No. 21 Duke and an ACC matchup with Wake Forest.


Meeks, Defense Dominate As Tar Heels Handle Davidson

It may be early in the season, but the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s defense already has the makings of being something quite special.

It sure looked that way on Saturday afternoon as the No. 6 ranked Tar Heels handled Davidson 90-72. at Time Warner Cable Arena.

UNC improved to 3-0 by holding the Wildcats to a shade below 34 percent shooting overall and taking a double-digit lead in the first half that was never really threatened by Bob McKillop’s team, which fell to 2-1.

“I thought it was our best defensive game of the season,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams says. “I was very pleased with their effort.”

Coach Williams reacts (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams reacts (Todd Melet)

Peyton Aldridge sizzled in the early going, however, netting eight of his game-high 25 points in the first 4:15 of the contest as the ‘Cats took a 12-7 lead.

The Tar Heels then started to exert command, going on an 8-0 run punctuated by a Marcus Paige layup and Theo Hinson dunk for a 15-12 advantage.

Jordan Barham’s layup brought the Wildcats within 18-16 near the midway point of the opening half, but the Tar Heels went on a 28-16 run to take a 46-34 lead into the break.

Kennedy Meeks was the key component to the Tar Heels success, dominating down low with three layups in the stretch while the Wildcats settled for mostly outside jumpers.

Meeks had a monster game in finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals and two blocks. He was joined in double-figure scoring by Justin Jackson (18), Marcus Paige (13) and J.P. Tokoto (10).

Jackson says defense came first, despite his individual scoring outburst.

“Our biggest thing was to cover the three-point line since that was their game plan,” Jackson says. “We kept after it and didn’t pay attention to the scoreboard either.”

Aldridge had little help from his Wildcats teammates as Tyler Kalinoski dropped in 12 points but shot just 4 of 18 from the field. Fellow guard Brian Sullivan really struggled, missing all eight of his three-point attempts.

The Tar Heels maintained a double-digit lead throughout much of the second half, despite Aldridge’s terrific shooting. He drilled  a pair of consecutive treys to bring Davidson within 52-44 about five minutes into the second half.

It was all UNC from there, with a Paige three-pointer and Jackson jumper making it 61-46 with 12:16 remaining. Williams was able to draw from his reserves in the closing minutes, as 12 Tar Heels saw action.

Nate Britt, who scored five points in 14 minutes said it’s important everyone contribute for the Tar Heels to continue being successful.

“I think the most impressive thing about our team so far is how much depth we have,” Britt says. “We have a lot of people who can play a lot of different positions.”

And play those positions well too, judging by the early results. Next up for the Tar Heels comes a game against Butler in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas starting Wednesday.



UNC Preps For Five-Game Road Stretch

The North Carolina men’s basketball team will continue rolling with its light schedule when it faces Davidson Saturday at 2:00 p.m. in Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena.

The Tar Heels remain ranked at No. 6. According to Head Coach Roy Williams, Carolina is using this game as preparation for younger players before meeting tougher competition in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas next week.

“I’ve always said pre-conference games are supposed to get you ready for conference play,” Coach Williams says. “The quality of the opponents we have in pre-conference play this year are some of the best teams in the country.”

UNC forward Brice Johnson says this young team is still looking for their identity as the season progresses. Johnson led scorers with 23 points in Sunday’s victory over Robert Morris.

“I mean, everybody’s been playing zone lately so I can’t post up the way I really want to,” Johnson said. “Hopefully this week, (Davidson) won’t play as much zone and we’ll be able to post up and run our plays the way we want to. We’ll just be able to do the things we need to do on the offensive end instead of trying to adjust to what their defensive scheme is.”

In Carolina’s last meeting with the Wildcats in 2013, Davidson forced the Heels into overtime before UNC overcame with a 97-85 victory in Chapel Hill. Coach Williams says he does not want another close call.

“We needed to let them rest because we played Friday, practiced Saturday, played Sunday so we gave them Monday off; but Tuesday and Thursday we went pretty doggone hard. And I think we need the practice time,” Coach Williams says. “We’ve got to continue working to build a strong foundation but this week of practice was good for us.”


No. 6 Tar Heels Open With Upset-Minded Eagles

The No. 6 North Carolina men’s basketball team opens up its regular season Friday night with an 8 p.m. tipoff against the upset-minded N.C. Central Eagles.

UNC head coach Roy Williams brings a deep squad into the game, but he says he won’t be playing around with the lineup now that the results count toward the win-loss columns.

“We’ll experiment quite a bit, but at the same time, we’re going to try to win games too. It’s important to realize we’ve had two exhibition games where we were far more gifted than the teams we were playing. I tried to experiment a lot in those times. I don’t see us experimenting nearly as much Friday and Sunday,” Coach Williams says.

Junior forward J.P. Tokoto says a more aggressive and bulked up teammate in Brice Johnson could make a huge impact on the hardwood.

Tokoto slam (Todd Melet)

Tokoto slams with authority (Todd Melet)

“In the NBA, when I think about an enforcer, I think about Kendrick Perkins. Around a lot of young guys, you have an old guy who’s out there to wreak havoc almost and be that dominating force and keep everybody going. If Brice [Johnson] truly wants to be that guy, I feel like we could really use somebody like that,” Tokoto says.

Although Coach Williams sees the opportunity for the Tar Heels to develop into a great defensive team, but for now, he says his lanky players have a ways to go.

“We are nowhere near where we want to be, even with changing defenses. We’re not as quick as we have been, but yet we’re longer than maybe we’ve ever been. I think that length helps you a lot too,” Coach Williams says.

N.C. Central battled its way to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season and pushed Iowa State, the team that ultimately knocked out Carolina.

Tokoto says playing head coach LeVelle Moton’s Eagles will give the Tar Heels a good indication of where they’re at as a team.

“Looking at their team last year, they were a hard-nosed team. I got to see them before we played Iowa State. I think this will be a great test for us, playing against a higher caliber team like N.C. Central,” Tokoto says.

WCHL’s coverage of opening night will begin at 6:30 p.m. with Countdown to Tipoff.


Tar Heel Sports Weekend A Mixed Bag

With the UNC football team enjoying a bye week this past weekend, other fall sports teams took center stage and experienced different results.

UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams says his team’s hard work in practice paid off last Friday night against Belmont Abbey.

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“Well we’re much more gifted naturally than that team was and we’ve been working pretty doggone hard in practice.  We’ve been getting after them a little bit and I thought in the first couple minutes we weren’t really in to it defensively and then we were really good defensively,” Coach Williams says.

Although Coach Williams was pleased with his team’s 112-34 win, he did see some room for improvement.

“We look like a Model-T Ford out there compared to how I want them to run.  That’s the reason I took those guys out, we had Nate (Britt) and Joel (James) out there and they looked like pedestrians that’s one of the reasons I jumped on them out there.  We need to run harder, we need to get out big guys running more.  It’s no where near where I want it to be but I think we’re going to get there,” Coach Williams says.

Sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks says the Tar Heels keep the atmosphere light in the locker room.

“(The team) is always together in the locker room playing games like ping-pong.  And then you have Joel (James) and Kennedy (Meeks) who are big goof-balls who keep the team laughing and together,” Hicks says.

Ping-pong is one of the team’s favorite ways to stay loose in the locker room but even in ping-pong the Tar Heels keep it competitive

“Marcus…J.P….we have tiers so tier one would be Marcus (Paige), J.P. (Tokoto) and Hoots (Coach Eric Hoots), that’s it,” Hicks says.

UNC volleyball head coach Joe Sagula was once again impressed by his team’s effort following a 3-0 victory over Virginia Tech Sunday.

“We got a lot of weapons and were able to use them all tonight,” Coach Sagula says.

UNC sophomore tennis player Brayden Schnur captured the USTA/ITA National Indoor Collegiate Championships Sunday with a 7-5, 7-6 win over Vanderbilt’s Gonzales Austin.

But not all Tar Heel athletes tasted success over the weekend.

The UNC women’s soccer team lost 2-0 to Virginia in the ACC Tournament semi-finals Friday night

The men’s soccer team lasted only two days longer as they fell 1-0 to Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals on Sunday.  Following the loss, senior forward Andy Craven says he realizes the regular season is over and that there are things to address before NCAA tournament play begins,

“If anything it was a good indication of where we need to be and what we need to work towards and to know that we haven’t arrived and we haven’t peaked yet.  As many goals we’ve scored it doesn’t matter, it’s playoffs now.  It’s important to maintain the good stuff we’ve done in the season and minimize the bad stuff,” Craven says.

Although not every Tar Heel was victorious over the weekend, the ultimate prize of a national championship is still within reach.


AP Preseason Polls UNC MBB No. 6, WBB No. 13

Carolina men’s basketball has once again landed a Top-10 ranking in the preseason as the Associated Press list the Tar Heels at No. 6 in the polls. This is Carolina’s highest preseason AP ranking since before the 2011-2012 season, in which they were ranked at No. 1.

North Carolina comes in behind basketball powerhouses Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, Duke and Kansas, respectively.

The Tar Heels have achieved a Top-10 ranking in the AP poll in 52 of the poll’s 66 seasons. USA Today’s Coaches Poll also named the Tar Heels sixth-best in the nation.

The AP has also released its women’s basketball preseason list, in which Carolina places at No. 13.

Even after the transfer of last year’s scoring leader, Diamond DeShields, and just one incoming freshman this season, UNC has only dropped one spot from the 2013-14 season rankings.

Carolina has been listed in the Associated Press’ Top-25 rankings 12 times in the last 13 seasons.


UNC Men’s Basketball Schedule Released

The UNC men’s basketball team eases into its 2014-15 campaign, but the newly released schedule is highlighted by some high-level opponents.

View the Schedule

The new 15-member Atlantic Coast Conference is stacked with talent bringing Louisville to the mix this year after Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame joined last year. The Tar Heels face the Cardinals in a home-and-home conference series this season; Carolina faces Syracuse and Notre Dame in the Smith Center and will travel to Pittsburgh.

Only one of the UNC-Duke matchups is scheduled to be carried on both ESPN and the ACC Network this year. The rivalry is the only contest carried by two networks. The ACC Network could very well still pick up the season finale in Chapel Hill on March 7.

Out of conference, the Tar Heels travel to Lexington, Kentucky to face the Wildcats in mid-December. Last year, Kentucky traveled to Chapel Hill where Carolina handed out the 82-77 defeat of Wildcats.

McAdoo Emerges as ‘Giant Killer’ Carolina Edges Kentucky 82-77

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, UNC travels to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. Carolina opens the tournament on Paradise Island against Butler and will face two other opponents out of the group of Oklahoma, UCLA, UAB, Florida, Georgetown, or Wisconsin.

Those dying to get to basketball season, you’ll be happy. Late Night with Roy comes three weeks earlier this year. The unofficial season tipoff is October 3.

Tar Heel Take: Late Night with Roy

The ACC officially announced the 2014-15 schedules Wednesday.


Roy Williams Takes #IceBucketChallenge

The UNC men’s basketball team is competing in a summer basketball tournament in the Bahamas, but the head coach took time out to cool off for a great cause.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, former Kansas player Rex Walters and former Tar Heel and UNCG head coach Wes Miller challenged Coach Williams and his staff. Coach Williams in turn challenged UNC football coach Larry Fedora and the men’s basketball team.

To donate to the ALS Association, click here.

Check out other Chapel Hillians who have taken the challenge.

Additional reporting by UNC Athletics