The North Carolina Tar Heels are off to an interesting start to the college basketball season. You would think wins over the (then) ranked third team in the nation, Lousiville Cardinals, and then the number one team, Michigan State Spartans, would make it a great start to the season, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
As great as those wins were — and they were great — the Tar Heels have also faltered to the Belmont Bruins and something called the UAB Blazers. The Belmont loss was not an all-time horrid loss, but still a game they should have won. The UAB loss, though, isn’t perceived to be as good. But, to be fair, UAB’s only other two losses were to the Temple Owls and to the New Mexico Lobos in double-overtime — meaning the Blazers are probably a far better team than we realize, making the loss much more explainable and tolerable for North Carolina fans.
This isn’t about what is a good or bad loss, though. Not at this point. Not yet at least. Stuff like that is for March. When the NCAA Tournament is poking its ugly (personally, I think it is sexy but cliches, man) head and we’re discussing bubbles and stuff. Because, you know, nothing says manly sports like bubbles.
Asking what in the dilly is going on with North Carolina has more to do with the perception of this team. As in, what was their perception to begin with and what is it now? Which in itself can be a hard question to answer.
Because we are all obsessed with new and shiny things (freshmen), we tend to forget about things we already know. Like the fact that North Carolina was returning a good player, James Michael McAdoo, from last season. A player, mind you, who was once thought of as being an NBA Draft lottery level player. Granted, those days have passed and McAdoo is probably floating around being a backend of the first-round selection, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good. More importantly, it doesn’t change the fact he can be a really impactful college basketball player.
McAdoo’s game is still relatively limited. He’s a glorified athlete who plays basketball. Calling him that can probably be misconstrued as being a bad thing, but it’s not. Especially when he excels in that kind of role for the Tar Heels. Need a put-back dunk, a strange feat of athleticism that raises team moral or a guy who helps all-around? McAdoo is your man.
His issues are in his fundamentals. I’m not going to break it down as if he were turning pro tomorrow, but there are some glaring issues in his game. Things like not shooting a great percentage from the floor (.39 percent, which is near god awful for a big), his lack of rebounding (again, a bad for a big 5.7 rpg) and a free-throw percentage which should worry Roy Williams considering McAdoo goes to the line seven times a game (.56 percent).
At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t really matter. While McAdoo might be the biggest name on North Carolina he’s nowhere near their best player. Even better than that, he’s not even remotely needed to be their best player. McAdoo’s role is to be a guy in the starting rotation to help fill up some voids on both ends of the floor and flash some brilliance here and there. Which is basically what McAdoo is as a player. His faults are somehow helping North Carolina in a weird, but good way.
Then there’s a slew of other players that no one seems to care about in a national sense, but they continue to impress nonetheless. More accurately, sophomores Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson are becoming some form of basketball darlings.
Paige has more than doubled his scoring output from last season, going from 8.2 ppg to an astonishing 19.7, all while shooting over .46 percent from the floor. Not to mention he dishes out a few assists and grabs a few boards per game. He might be a sleeper ACC Player of the Year candidate. Two things about that statement that should probably be further discussed. A sleeper is probably too strong of a word because he plays for the Tar Heels. Secondly, well, the ACC schedule hasn’t actually begun — but, eh, semantics.
Johnson on the other hand is a guy I personally did not see coming. Not like this. Going from 10 minutes of action as a freshman to over 20 this season. Currently scoring 13 points per game. His numbers are only going to get better too. Johnson is only averaging 20 minutes of action. One can assume that Williams will slowly give Johnson more minutes as the season goes on. Johnson’s current 13 points and 7 boards per game box-score might look a lot more like 16-9 by the time the regular season is coming to a close.
All of that is me just basically highlighting a few of their top guys. North Carolina has five other guys who play over 10 minutes of action per game and another around the eight mpg mark. Meaning, Williams seems to have a solid 8-9 man rotation. A rotation that has already knocked off two of the best teams of the country.
I don’t know where they go from here. All I know is that guys like Paige and Johnson made huge leaps in development from last season. If they can continue to improve on that quick of a pace during the season there is really no telling how good this North Carolina team can be.
At the same time, well, this can all be a trick. Williams might be doing a great job coaching-up this team and we just don’t know it because of how good they look. I mean, no one ever really credits a coach for his team winning by saying he’s doing a great job teaching his players. Usually the program (and the coach) get credit for luring in top recruits. It’s only when they lose that a coach’s ability as an X’s and O’s guy comes up as debate.
Regardless, the ACC is as tough as ever this season. New, former Big East Conference teams have joined an already great basketball league and are looking to make an immediate. Still in North Carolina’s path are the usual conference contenders as well. This season is going to be an uphill battle for North Carolina no matter which way you cut it.
If the beginning of the season is any indication, the Tar Heels are cutting it in all different directions. Whether it ends up being just a bunch of paper on the ground or a beautiful origami thing (science?) is yet to be determined. Luckily for everyone there is a whole season to be played.