No matter what time of year it is, there’s always going to be chatter about “next year” in relation to Carolina basketball. Good or bad, there are always expectations. But considering there are so many unknowns going into the next season, Roy Williams spent his summer press conference last week talking more about rule changes and the Olympics than next year’s squad.
When asked what he knew about the incoming freshmen, rising sophomore James Michael McAdoo said, “I know their names. I know where they’re from.” The freshmen will arrive this week, and while they’re usually given time to develop at Carolina, with this unproven roster they will have to play early and play well for Carolina to be successful.
McAdoo wasn’t sure what to expect. “Once we get the freshmen here, we’ll get a whole lot better feel for the team and once we start hitting workouts and practicing, I feel like that’s when we’ll really be able to gauge how good we can be,” McAdoo said. “I feel like if we just work hard and just come together as a team, the sky’s the limit.”
Health is still a question mark. Leslie McDonald redshirted last season after tearing his ACL last summer. He’s back at full speed, but rising senior Dexter Strickland tore his ACL in January and has been released only for jump-shooting. Incoming freshman point guard Marcus Paige broke his foot in March, but Williams said Paige should be ready or pickup games and workouts once he gets to campus this week.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Williams, though. Not counting his first season at Carolina, Williams has started five seasons with at least seven significant sophomores, juniors and seniors. He has a 166-24 record over those seasons (2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012), which include two national titles and a Final Four. In his three seasons with fewer than seven returning sophomores, juniors and seniors (2006, 2010 and 2011), Williams is 70-35 with just one Elite 8.
The unexpected success of the 2006 team (23-8) made Carolina fans think 2010 was going to be more of the same; instead, that group finished 20-17. The 2011 team (27-10) had a great late-season run but it began the season with some bad losses, including a waxing at the hands of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
But the 2006, 2010 and 2011 Tar Heels were dependent on their big men. Other than McAdoo, there’s no credible threat down low. While Reggie Bullock joked with reporters about the guards having to carry the team, the 2012-13 Tar Heels got an early taste of what that kind of an offense could be like, taking an 80-59 thumping in a pickup game against Carolina basketball alumni last week.
Carolina’s teams have taken beatings at the hands of the alumni before, and this team was led by NBA regulars Marvin Williams and Raymond Felton. But it also included good-not-great players like Reyshawn Terry, Deon Thompson, Marcus Ginyard, David Noel and former walk-on Marc Campbell. Carolina’s current roster included McAdoo, Desmond Hubert, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and transfer point guard Luke Davis (who sat out last season).
“We played the pickup game (June 13) against the old guys and they just ran out and guarded (McDonald) and (Bullock) and didn’t let them get an open look. They got their tails kicked,” Williams said. “You’ve got to have some kind of threat inside to make people play you honest.”
“We made it to 40 first. That counts,” McAdoo said with a grin. “And then in the second half, they just kind of enforced their will, imposed their will on us. … We’re still just trying to find ourselves right now. With (Strickland) not being there and then (McDonald) didn’t play with us last year, we’re just trying to learn and come together as a team.”
McAdoo ended last season playing so well that he nearly left for the NBA, but he will need help in the post. Rising sophomore Desmond Hubert is still very raw and incoming freshman Joel James is a big body that lacks offensive polish. “Somebody’s got to give us an inside threat. James Michael is really a good scorer and he himself is a face-up 10-15 foot jump-shooter, put it on the floor. But we’ve got to have James Michael and some other guys to be able to score in the low-post area and make people worry about that part of it, too,” Williams said.
ODDS AND ENDS
-Roy Williams typically has little patience for modern concepts like Twitter or the Internet. But he indulged a question about former Tar Heel Harrison Barnes, who will likely go in the top five of the upcoming NBA Draft, trying to build his brand. “I don’t know how many players think about those kinds of things, but I’ve said since Day 1 that he’s very analytical and a deep thinker, and so I would expect it to be in Harrison’s vocabulary and his thought process more than anybody else. I think he was concerned about winning, and that’s what I’m concerned about it because I think if you win, your brand and everything takes care of itself.”
But when asked what Barnes’ brand is…well, the ensuing exchange between Williams and Andrew Carter of the News and Observer is best (more or less) verbatim:
Carter: What is (Barnes’) brand?
Williams: I have no freaking idea what the hell it means. Let’s be honest. What is the brand of North Carolina basketball?
Carter: It speaks for itself.
Williams: So you don’t know either. (Laughter.) Seriously. I don’t understand that terminology. You hear people talk about it, and I’m not being negative towards anybody or anything, but I don’t know what the North Carolina brand is. It’s one of these logos, that block logo I guess, is what a brand is. I have no idea what the crap that is. I know if you work your butt off and you win, your brand is a hell of a lot better than it is if you don’t or you get your butt beat. Besides that, I don’t know that I can … I’m not trying to put you down, but you couldn’t answer my question. What is the North Carolina basketball brand? You have no idea. It’s something out there like that stock that was out there that everybody thought was going to make people millionaires. You don’t own anything. Which one was that?
A few reporters: Facebook.
Williams: Okay. Tell me what Facebook is? That’s a big brand, though. But I seriously don’t know. I really don’t. To be honest with you: ‘Frankly, my dear….’
And that’s why you can’t miss a Roy Williams summer press conference.
-Williams was asked about recruiting “one-and-done” players. He’s had a few over the years, but they’re more of a rarity for Williams and it’s been five years since a Carolina player went pro after just one season. “I want to recruit Marvin Williams. I want to recruit Brandan Wright. But I don’t want to recruit five (one-and-done) guys. (Kentucky head coach John Calipari) is comfortable with that. I’m not comfortable with that,” Williams said. “I like a mix. I loved Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas in the same class; Brandan Wright, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon (Thompson) and Alex (Stepheson). We had Deon play four years, Brandan left after his first year, Ty and Wayne left after their junior year after winning a national championship and Alex left because of his situation at home with the health of his father. I’d take that every year. But I’m not really comfortable recruiting five guys that are going to leave after every year.”
-This summer, a rule change allows head coaches to work with their team for a total of two hours a week in the off-season. Carolina has been holding two-hour workouts once a week. “We’re doing about an hour and 15 minutes of work with everyone together, more individual stuff during that hour and 15 minutes and then getting them to play four-on-four the last 15-20 minutes, and then using the other 45 minutes strictly as a shooting workout individually or no more than two guys,” Williams said.
-James Michael McAdoo had such a great end of the season that he shot up mock draft boards, but he decided to stay in school. Williams said he spoke with 21 of the 30 NBA teams and while all of them said that McAdoo should not leave early, they also said that he would be a definite first-round draft pick. But McAdoo says that since no one could really promise him anything, he was fine with staying in school. And considering the up-and-down nature of his freshman season, he’s the perfect mentor for the incoming freshmen. “Being a freshman, they might say it’s fun but for me, it was a challenge every day. It’s just something you’ve got to go through. I’m excited to see who’s going to take on that burden and be able to put in even that extra time that’s harder to come by,” McAdoo said.
CHAPEL HILL, NC — On Sunday around 8:00 PM, the Carolina locker room made a funeral seem like a joyous place to be. They mumbled responses to questions they couldn’t possibly know how to answer in the moments after finding out Kendall Marshall – their leader, their point guard – could miss the rest of the NCAA tournament. In that instant, all of their national title hopes and dreams could be dead, and they knew that.
Two days later, the sad faces and short answers were replaced by the traits that have characterized this team all season: thoughtfulness, a little bit of humor and some steely resolve.
Tyler Zeller came into Smith Center media room first. The seven-footer laughed heartily at the notion that the NC State fans in St. Louis would be rooting for them, then spoke glowingly of freshman James Michael McAdoo, who has emerged in the last few weeks.
When asked if he still believed Carolina could still win it all, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. And when questioned about team morale, he became the first of three Tar Heels to reference ESPN. “We just watched a little ESPN segment (in the locker room) and we were joking about it. They basically said that we’re coming back to Chapel Hill instead of going to New Orleans (for the Final Four),” Zeller said.
John Henson followed Zeller, and Henson’s impish grin was back in full force as he cracked jokes about being the third-string point guard. He did take reps in practice a few months ago, running Carolina’s ‘box’ play. (When told head coach Roy Williams described it as cute, Henson wrinkled his nose and said: “I don’t know if it was ‘cute’. I haven’t been described as ‘cute’ for a long time by someone other than a female.”)
While Zeller had compliments for both freshman backup point guard Stilman White and senior utility man Justin Watts (both will split time at the point in Marshall’s potential absence), Henson wanted to pump up White. “People underestimate Stilman but he’s athletic. He can handle the ball. He can make great plays. He’s got a nice shot as well,” he said.
Henson joked about his wardrobe choice (a black t-shirt and red shorts) being in honor of NC State and then he too referenced ESPN. “I’ve seen ESPN SportsCenter this morning. They’re writing us off, which is fine with me,” Henson said in a way that suggested it was about as fine with him as Grant Gibbs’ slap at his injured wrist on Sunday. “We’re going to come out there, play hard and we’re still going to be the Carolina team that we were this year.”
Then in came Harrison Barnes. The notoriously stoic sophomore came out contrary to form, firing on all cylinders. And he was the most direct in his ESPN critique:
“Our confidence hasn’t changed at all. We feel like we have people that can step up,” Barnes said. “(ESPN personality) Doug Gottlieb, the person who knows everything, has his own statements. But we’re going to go out there and continue to play good basketball.”
“He couldn’t shoot free throws, so,” a reporter said.
“Among other things,” Barnes quipped.
It was somewhat ironic that the most pressure-laden sophomore arguably in UNC history was asked if the pressure was off now that Marshall could be out for the tournament. He raised an eyebrow incredulously.
“Overnight, we’ve just gotten kind of out of the race for a national championship, or people telling us – your friend Doug Gottlieb – we’re going to go back to Chapel Hill and not going to New Orleans,” Barnes said. “We just keep going. Whether the spotlight’s on us or not, we’re just going to continue to play basketball and continue to do what we do.”
An ESPN producer then told Barnes he had Gottlieb’s cell phone number and asked what he wanted him to text to Gottlieb. “Just text him, see if he can get that flight over to St. Louis. I’d love to meet him,” Barnes said dryly.
Even Barnes had jokes, talking about White’s first few experiences at point guard (“When he first got out there, we were a little scared that he might have an anxiety attack and just pass out”). And he had praise for Watts, who is adored by all of his teammates.
“(Watts) does a lot of stuff that doesn’t necessarily show up on the court, just in terms of his leadership and his ability to help guys through their slumps and bring the freshmen in and really teach them the ropes of Carolina basketball,” Barnes said. “I think there would be a learning curve if he’s trying to go out there and get 10 assists a game. That’s hard to do for anybody. But in terms of just going out there and just running the offense, just being calm and collected, I feel like he can do that right now.”
All three of them were asked if they still believed, or if they wondered if all the injuries were some sort of a sign. The question made Zeller bring up his faith, something he rarely does in front of the assembled media.
“They never said it was easy. God’s got a plan for each and every one of us. You never know what it is. You’ve just got to keep going with what (God has) given you,” Zeller said. “There’s a scripture verse that says, ‘He’ll never give you anything that you can’t handle,’ and that’s the way we’ve got to look at it. We’ve got to make sure that we put our resources in and we try to prepare as much as possible with what we have and (God will) take care of us. If it’s meant to be, it is and if it’s not, it’s not.”
Some were less philosophical. “Nothing really surprises me anymore,” Barnes responded with a shrug. “That’s just the nature of the beast, really. You just have to roll with the punches and keep going.”
Their head coach accidentally cut Barnes’s press conference short by walking into it mid-answer. While Williams didn’t reference ESPN or Doug Gottlieb, he alluded to the extraordinarily large chip that he has always had on his shoulder.
“We had a scouting report about somebody that said, ‘He’s not very athletic, but he is aggressive.’ I said to my team, ‘That’s me, because I’m not very athletic but by golly, I am aggressive.’ Everybody said, ‘Whoa, what kind of practice are we going to have today?’” Williams said.
“I do love challenges, but I would love my challenge a lot more if I had that point guard out there, there’s no question about that.” As he reiterated repeatedly, though: “It doesn’t make any difference. We’ve got to play.”
Williams even had an epic rant when asked for one time too many about Marshall’s possible status on Friday. It can only be done justice in totality:
“I have no idea. I know you don’t like that but guys, I’m being truthful with you. If (Marshall) comes running in here right now and says, ‘God, I can play!’ I’ll say, ‘Well let’s talk about that.’ But he’s in a frickin’ cast from his thumb to his back. It’s not quite that big. It looked that big when he came out of surgery.
“I know I’m not helping you, but you’re asking me to do – I’ll tell you what. We’ll do it this way. He’s going to start the game, and he’s going to play. All right? Now what’s going to happen Friday night? ‘Damn liar, he told us all that stuff!’ Now, if I say, ‘There is no way in Hades that he is going to play’ and he plays, what are y’all going to say? ‘Well, why didn’t he tell us that?’ You’ve got me between a rock and a hard place.
“I cannot give you any answers. I’ve given everybody all the answers that I can give because I’ve said honestly: I. Do. Not. Know.” He then followed it up with an actual giggle.
It was clear how overwhelmed he still was, scrambling to find a way to replace Marshall in just three days, when asked if the pressure to win a national title was off.
“I’m putting probably more pressure on myself right now because I’ve got to try to come up with a way to replace somebody that is darned hard to replace,” Williams said. “It’s mind-boggling the kind of thought processes I’m going through right now. So I don’t feel that there’s any pressure taken off, but the pressure that I put on myself is what has driven me all the time anyway.”
Some of Williams’ residual stress was also from coping with the heaviness of it all. He was near tears twice, once when talking about what it was like to enter the x-ray room and find a red-eyed, devastated Marshall.
The second came when talking about how strong his team has been. “I’ve got a bunch of kids that have handled a lot of adversity,” Williams said, proceeding to list all the injuries, departures and suspensions that have plagued the team over the last two seasons.
“My team has been pretty dadgum special with their toughness. So I hope they don’t just rely on Ole Roy, because I’m not good enough. They’ve got to help me.”
And they seem ready to do that. Like their head coach, they have a chip on their shoulder (thanks, in part evidently, to Doug Gottlieb). Like their coach, they can find humor in almost any situation. And like their coach, they still believe: both in themselves and in each other.
Clemson (13-12, 5-6) at North Carolina (22-4, 9-2), 4:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
The Streak is now a nationally-known entity: Clemson has never won in Chapel Hill in 55 tries. Both teams claim its not in their heads (as they should), but it’s a pretty insane record. At some point, it will end. Clemson is playing well right now and after a dominating road win at Wake Forest last weekend, it’s not as if the Tigers lack confidence. And they are actually averaging more points per possession in ACC play than North Carolina is right now. The Tar Heels need to win to keep pace atop the league, but they also need to find some kind of a rhythm offensively.
Stat to watch: North Carolina’s two-point percentage. The Tar Heels can’t seem to hit a three-pointer to save their lives right now, but they’ve been fairly dominant in the paint and have scored 61.8% of their points from inside the arc (ninth nationally) compared to 17.8% from three (339th nationally). But Clemson doesn’t allow many points from two: their opponents shoot 45.9% from inside the arc. ACC that have beaten Clemson have shot 42.1% from three and scored 33.4% of their points from beyond the arc compared to 22.9% of their points from three and 28.9% shooting in Clemson’s ACC wins. North Carolina has shot better than 42.1% from three just twice in ACC play but in those games, they scored 23% of their points in those two games combined from three. The Tar Heels are going to have to get some offensive balance at some point, and it might have to start today.
Most important players: Tanner Smith, Clemson and Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Harrison Barnes has been dealing with a sprained ankle, but he said Friday that he was at about 90% and it showed against Miami. As he did many times last year, Barnes simply took over the second half and was dominant, finishing with 23 points on 19 shots. It was the most shots he has attempted this year, but he was efficient for the most part, shooting 47.4 percent. He also made 3-of-7 three’s, his most three’s in a game since January 29th. The Tar Heels have been ice cold from the perimeter, but if Barnes can knock down some three-pointers – while also driving to the basket for a lay-up or a pull-up jumper, it will at least keep defenses honest. In three games against Clemson, Barnes has averaged 24.3 points on 59% shooting, including his personal career high of 40 in the ACC Tournament semifinal win last year.
Tanner Smith is quietly having one of the hottest stretches of any ACC player this year, and that’s not an exaggeration. He’s averaging 16.5 points on 13-of-18 shooting (4-of-8 from three). He’s also averaging 4.5 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.5 rebounds in that span. Smith is a do-everything type of player for Clemson, and always has been able to give the Tigers a boost in an area of need, whether it be rebounding, steals or even blocks. But now, the Tigers need offense and he has come through. He has also had some success against the Tar Heels: he averaged 12.5 points in two games against Carolina last year (he went out of the first matchup early with an injury after just nine minutes). More importantly, though, he hit 6-of-11 three’s over those two games and absolutely killed North Carolina at times with his ability to knock those down.
Random stat: Clemson has had plenty of chances in the last few years in Chapel Hill, even in the last few years. The Tigers lost by double digits to the 2002 team but fell in Chapel Hill by just two in 2003. Then in 2008, Clemson led for much of the game but fell in double overtime. In 2011, Clemson lost by ten but the final score was deceptive as it was close throughout.
Prediction: North Carolina 81, Clemson 69
Last week: 7-4
Season: 111-39 (47-20 ACC)
Duke (19-4, 6-2) at North Carolina (20-3, 7-1), 9:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network/ESPN3
There are a lot of reasons that this is the best rivalry in sports, most of which are intangible. But here are some anyway: in 22 of the last 31 years, either Carolina or Duke has been in the Final Four. In seven of the last 31 years, either Duke or North Carolina has won a national championship (including four of the last 11 years). In that same span, Carolina and Duke have faced off 50 times and 22 have been top-ten battles (tonight makes 23 of the last 51). North Carolina holds a slim 12-10 edge in that span. This is the 133rd straight meeting with at least one team ranked in the top 25 and in 50 of the last 66 meetings, both teams have been ranked. At least one of the two teams has been ranked in 150 of 153 meetings since the ACC was born in 1953-54.
Duke needs to win this one to keep pace with Florida State and have a chance to pass the Seminoles when they go to Tallahassee February 23. A North Carolina win would allow the Tar Heels to be in great position to win the league if Florida State should falter even once. North Carolina is entering a very tough stretch though, hosting Virginia on Saturday and traveling to Miami next Wednesday. Miami desperately needs that win, and Virginia could catch Carolina on an emotional rebound. Duke has Maryland and N.C. State at home, both of which will be eager to knock off Duke in Cameron now that the Blue Devils have shown that’s possible. Every other team in the ACC will be aching to knock off one of these two teams down the stretch for a “resume” win but tonight, it’s all about what it usually is for these two: fighting for the ACC regular-season crown and NCAA tournament top-level seeding.
Stat to watch: The offensive glass. North Carolina is 17-0 when out-rebounding their opponent and 3-3 when it is out-rebounded, but more importantly Carolina is 14-0 when it has more offensive rebounds than opponents and 4-3 when their opponent has more. North Carolina has found itself in battles this year when it can’t keep opponents off of the offensive glass. UNLV, Kentucky and Florida State combined for a 39.1% offensive rebounding percentage against Carolina (all other opponents combined for 26.2%). Carolina has held some pretty good rebounding teams off the glass (Miami, which had 20 offensive boards at Duke, had just five against Carolina; N.C. State had just six offensive rebounds) but Maryland’s 13 were Carolina’s second-most allowed in ACC play. Carolina has held four ACC opponents to just 30 offensive rebounds in the Smith Center while pulling down 53 themselves.
Duke is 11-1 when it out-rebounds an opponent and 8-3 when being out-rebounded. The Blue Devils have been pretty good on the offensive glass, rebounding 34.6% of their misses on the road and 35.7% at home. The Blue Devils have averaged 12.5 second-chance points on the road and 12.3 at home. Duke has actually rebounded better on the road, allowing 35.7% offensive rebounding percentage in league road games compared to 37.5% at home. But defensive rebounding has been a problem for Duke all year and it showed against Miami as the Blue Devils allowed 20 offensive rebounds to the beefy Hurricanes. They are going to have to be disciplined and box out the Tar Heels, because North Carolina will miss its first shot quite a bit but they average 15.4 points off of offensive rebounds in ACC play.
Most important players: Seth Curry, Duke and Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Harrison Barnes showed how good he can be at times defensively last year with his work on Kyle Singler, holding the former Duke star to 11-of-45 shooting (24.4%) and 2-of-17 from three, letting him average just 9.7 points. He also helped force him into seven turnovers. Unfortunately, it tired him out so much that he shot just 16-of-40 (40%) and 4-of-13 from three himself. Singler did a nice job on Barnes as well, particularly in the first meeting in Durham where Barnes had just nine points on 3-of-8 shooting and was a virtual non-factor on the offensive end. But Singler isn’t there anymore, and there’s talk of the 6-foot-4 Austin Rivers or the 6-foot-5 Andre Dawkins guarding Barnes. Duke slowing Barnes is key to this game for them. Barnes is hobbled with an ankle injury right now (which showed in his season-low 25% shooting from two-point range against Maryland), but as usual, he came through late and made big baskets from Carolina. Before his ankle injury, he was averaging 18.5 points on 49.4% shooting in ACC play. He has averaged 15.5 on 33.3% shooting in the last two games with the ankle tweak.
Seth Curry was the star for Duke against North Carolina last season, averaging 17.7 points in three games on 58.1% shooting (11-of-21 – 52.4% – from three). He added 12 rebounds, six assists, three steals and four turnovers in 33.0 minutes. The only reason Duke was in the game in Chapel Hill last year was Curry’s efficient 20 points on 13 shots (6-of-11 three’s). So it’s probably terrible news for North Carolina fans that the junior is starting to find his rhythm offensively. He had a team-high 22 points against Miami, his most since December 30th, on 7-of-13 shooting (4-of-7 from three). He also had four assists, three steals and no turnovers in 39 minutes. But in Duke’s other three losses, he had 25 points combined on 9-of-29 shooting (31%) and 4-of-17 from three. Curry struggled guarding Kendall Marshall at times last year, but Tyler Thornton will likely help some with that. And if Curry finds himself guarded by Marshall, as he was often last year, he should be able to take advantage of that matchup as well. But if he no-shows, Duke may have a tough time.
Random stat(s): When the first Duke-Carolina game of the year is at North Carolina, the Tar Heels are 0-4 under Roy Williams so far. The last time Carolina won the first matchup of the year at home was February 5, 1998. …. Duke is generally pretty good coming off of losses, but under Roy Williams, Carolina has faced Duke in those circumstances five times and is 3-2 in those games.
(The following stats come from the excellent Duke Basketball Statistical Database): For Duke, the usual suspects hold individual game highs for Duke vs. UNC, except for one: Kevin Billerman, who has the record for most assists against the Tar Heels (14). …. North Carolina has a random one, too: most blocks in a Carolina-Duke game? The 6-foot-6 Danny Green (2006-09), with seven in Durham in 2008. … Most offensive rebounds against North Carolina in a game? It’s a tie between Elton Brand, Shane Battier and…Erik Meek (each had 7).
For my prediction, check out Part 2.
North Carolina (19-3, 6-1) at Maryland (13-8, 3-4), 4:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
It’s hard to know what to make of Maryland’s double-overtime loss to Miami. The Terrapins never gave up, and their late comeback in regulation was impressive. But where was the Maryland team that fought so hard late in the game during the first 30-35 minutes? Still, Maryland fans will be up for North Carolina’s visit, if the Duke game was any indication. The Tar Heels arguably haven’t faced a crowd this raucous since Kentucky, which might be a good sign since that was Carolina’s best road performance this season. The Tar Heels struggled to make shots against an awful Wake Forest team on Wednesday night on the road and if they’re not able to make some in College Park – which has been a troublesome destination in recent years – they could be in trouble.
Stat to watch: Rebounding. Maryland is 12-1 this year and 3-0 in ACC play when they out-rebound or have the same number of rebounds as their opponents. The Terrapins are 1-7 on the year and 0-4 when being out-rebounded. Carolina is 16-0 when it out-rebounds opponents and 3-3 when it doesn’t. The Tar Heels are also 13-0 when pulling down more offensive rebounds than their opponents and 4-3 when they don’t. It’s not like it’s just that simple of a formula, but both teams are certainly more comfortable when they can retrieve their own missed shots. But Maryland is coming off of a struggle on the backboards at Miami on Wednesday: Maryland led the rebounding 21-18 at half and 37-35 after regulation, but Miami – with a four-guard line-up – out-rebounded them 8-5 in the two overtimes (3-2 on the offensive glass).
The Terrapins have retrieved nearly 73% of available defensive rebounds in ACC wins this season compared to 65.5% in ACC losses. In Carolina’s three losses, it has struggled mostly on the offensive boards. UNLV held Carolina to 24% on the offensive glass; the lowest offensive rebounding percentage Carolina has posted in ACC play is 33%, to put it in perspective. The Tar Heels also had a season-low six second-chance points against UNLV. They’ve hit double digits in second-chance points in 12 straight games. Maryland’s opponents have scored 10 or more second-chance points in eight straight games.
Most important players: Terrell Stoglin, Maryland and Harrison Barnes, North Carolina. Barnes might be questionable against Maryland, but he’ll likely play with a sprained ankle. And it’s a good thing, too: Maryland likely doesn’t have anyone capable of guarding Barnes effectively. For most of the year, when Barnes’ shot isn’t falling, he’s been able to contribute in other areas or attack the basket more. At Florida State, he had just five rebounds and contributed in no other area except fouls (three) and turnovers (five). But at Wake, his shot wasn’t falling (he was 4-of-12) and he hurt himself during the game, but he finished with seven rebounds (his most since the Texas game), two assists, a steal and a block. In the road game before that at Virginia Tech, Barnes pretty much decided he would take the game over and he did, scoring 27 points. He’s capable of doing that on Saturday, even if he’s not 100%. But it’s worth noting that in last year’s meeting with Maryland, Barnes had 21 points but took 23 shots to do it (making nine). He was just 3-of-10 from three, didn’t attempt a foul shot and had four fouls.
Last year against the Tar Heels, Terrell Stoglin had 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting (0-of-3 from three) in 32 minutes. This year, the sophomore is averaging 18 attempts per game in ACC play and ten three-point attempts, scoring 23.3 points per contest. Maryland doesn’t really have any other significant scoring options – certainly none as good as Stoglin – but there are times when the team can become overly reliant on him. And against Miami in the double-overtime loss, Stoglin took a season-high 26 shots and TWENTY three-pointers (he made nine field goals and six three’s). But even his 30% shooting from beyond the arc was better than the rest of his teammates combined (2-of-8). Still, Carolina will need to contain Stoglin: he’s accounted for over 38% of Maryland’s points in the last two games. Stoglin is more than capable of going off on the Tar Heels but what Carolina really has to guard against is getting into foul trouble trying to contain him. And Stoglin will have to be smart about when he involves his teammates and avoid forcing the issue.
Random stat(s): According to the Carolina game notes, the Tar Heels have won at Wake Forest and Maryland in the same season two times in the last 20 seasons. Obviously, some of that is due to conference expansion (lack of a round robin) but it includes 14 years of pre-expansion round robin scheduling, meaning they got to play at each venue every year. Plus, one of the times they did it – 2005-06 – was post-expansion. The other time was in the 2000-01 season. …. Maryland’s ACC opponents have made 81.6% of their foul shots against them. No other team has had a higher percentage of free throws made against them.
Prediction: North Carolina 77, Maryland 72
Last week: 12-0
Season: 96-31 (32-12 ACC)
North Carolina (15-3, 2-1) at Virginia Tech (11-6, 0-3), 9:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3
Stat to watch: None. This game will be what each team does with its possessions: shot selection, fighting loose balls/offensive rebounds, making foul shots and avoiding careless turnovers. But this will be two teams fighting for a win that each feels like they desperately need. Carolina’s 33-point loss to Florida State on Saturday has been dissected in terms of how many national champs have been blown out, the last time Carolina has lost by that much, etc.: throw that out. The fact remains that Carolina had been squandering possessions before the FSU game and it finally came back to bite them.
In the first half, Carolina had 48 possessions – seven more than Florida State – and turned them into 28 points. They missed 17 shots, turned it over 12 times and had five possessions end with missing either two foul shots or the front end of a 1-and-1. They should have felt relieved to only trail by eight at the half. But in the second half, FSU actually either missed or turned it over on 24 of 50 possessions and still had 54 points. Carolina missed shots on 20 of 45 possessions and turned it over 10 times, ending with 29 points.
To end a game with 0.6129 points per possession, the second-lowest mark under Roy Williams, and 23.7% loss of ball (only 20 higher loss of ball percentages have been posted under Williams) is insanely bad. It was Carolina’s second-biggest difference in points per possession (Carolina had 0.376 fewer than FSU) in the Williams era. Against Duke in 2010, Carolina scored 0.407 fewer points per possession. Carolina has only had one other game under Williams where they trailed by more than 0.3 points per possession, against Gonzaga in a 2007 loss (-0.32).
Virginia Tech’s losses don’t always make sense on the stat sheet. The Hokies have played great defense in ACC play: their 0.784 points per possession allowed is the best defensive mark of any ACC team. And Virginia Tech has forced a 23% loss of ball by its ACC opponents, also first in the league. But it hasn’t mattered: the Hokies have taken their 230 possessions and turned them into 173 points, 0.75 per possession. They haven’t broken 60 in three league games and haven’t shot above 39.7 percent (at Wake). They’ve also made just 12-of-48 three’s. Virginia Tech will certainly play better against Carolina, but they have to do a better job of making their possessions count than they have so far.
Most important players: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina and Jarrell Eddie, Virginia Tech. Eddie has averaged 9.7 points in ACC play but has shot just 8-of-22 (6-of-14 from three) and two of those three’s came late against Boston College when the game was no longer in doubt. In the last two games, he has shot 4-of-15 (2-of-8 from three). He’s also added 10 fouls, nine turnovers and just one assist in three ACC games. Eddie had been very steady since the Kansas State loss, shooting 44.4% or better in six straight games entering ACC play. If he can get going from three (he’s made 50% this year), it would be huge for Virginia Tech. Just ask FSU and Deividas Dulkys.
Harrison Barnes has had two of his worst games of the year in back-to-back games, shooting just 7-of-25 and 1-of-9 from three (averaging 10.5 points). He has added one assist, no steals and six turnovers. Carolina needs a lot more from Barnes offensively, but they also need more on defense. Dulkys was Barnes’s defensive assignment and we all know how that turned out (he had 32 points). Too often this year, Barnes’s defensive assignment has had a big night. For Carolina to be a great team, it needs to be as good as it was last year on defense, and Barnes was a big part of that. This year, he’s arguably been the weak link defensively. That needs to change and fast.
Random stat: After a loss of ten or more points under Roy Williams, his teams are 14-6 coming off of a loss of 10 or more points and have outscored opponents by 10.2. (Excluding 2010, Williams’ teams are 9-1 coming off double-digit losses.) But even the 2010 teams lost five games after a double-digit loss by a combined 24 points, and one was by ten to Duke, which went on to win the national championship. Last year’s team was 3-0 coming off of double-digit losses including a two-point home win over top-five Kentucky after a loss at Illinois and a ten-point home win over Clemson after the debacle at Georgia Tech. This year’s team will have to fight tonight against a Virginia Tech team that will be just as desperate. Seth Greenberg’s teams have lost more than three games in a row just once in his tenure (2006, when they lost their first five ACC games).
Prediction: North Carolina 79, Virginia Tech 68
Last week: 6-5
Season: 72-27 (11-8 ACC)
Record to date: 13-2
Strength so far: A much-improved offense. Carolina’s defense was excellent last year, and it is again this year. But the biggest surprise has been how much better the Tar Heels are offensively. Last year per Ken Pomeroy, Carolina’s offense was 38th and the defense was 6th. That’s what likely held them back from reaching the Final Four in the loss to Kentucky: prolonged scoring droughts. This year, Carolina is 12th defensively and 6th offensively.
Needs improvement: Forcing turnovers. Carolina is seventh in the ACC in loss of ball percentage forced (16.1%). Only three Carolina opponents have had a loss of ball percentage of 20% or higher this year and only six have been over 15%. Carolina is going to be facing ACC teams that want to slow the game down, and one way to avoid that is by forcing turnovers. Wisconsin dictated tempo because it committed just four turnovers in 72 possessions (5.6%). Carolina has still managed to score points off turnovers (18.0 per game on 14.0 turnovers forced), but in two losses, they’ve averaged just 4.0 steals.
Most important player: Harrison Barnes. A lot of people have focused on his early-season “struggles”, and with what he was able to do to close out last season, that’s understandable. He is still averaging 17.1 points on 49% shooting (49% from three), adding 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and a steal. Just observationally, he’s had some games where he’s seemed off, and Carolina has suffered because of it: in two losses, he has shot 7-of-22 (31.8%) from two, 4-of-6 from three and averaged 14.5 points. In all other games, he has shot 67-of-129 from two (52%). He’s averaging 21.3 points on 59% shooting in the last three games to go with 6.3 boards, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in just 22.3 minutes.
Reason for optimism: Three-point shooting. Carolina was missing Reggie Bullock for most of last season and he was hobbled when he came back. Leslie McDonald was their best three-point shooting threat at 38.1%; he and Bullock combined to shoot 80-of-232 (34.5%). No one else on Carolina could get much going, though Barnes got better from three later. Carolina’s bench three-point shooters this year, a healthy Bullock and freshman P.J. Hairston, are 44-of-134 (39.5%).
Reason for pessimism: Free-throw shooting. The Tar Heels have shot 64% from the foul line, 283rd in the nation and worst in the league. For a team that goes to the line as much as it does, they need to start making a higher percentage. It could cost them in a close ACC game this year.
Surprising stat: Carolina’s non-conference schedule has been bashed lately, likely because of a spate of cupcakes at the end of it. But to date, Carolina has beaten the No. 9, 2, 27 and 39 teams (per Ken Pom), losing only at No. 24 UNLV and No. 3 Kentucky. Even if Carolina wins all its ACC games, it will have beaten the same number of top-40 teams (Duke, FSU, Virginia Tech and Virginia) total.
Most likely wins (11): BC (1/7), Miami (1/10), @Va. Tech (1/19), NCST (1/26), Ga. Tech (1/29), @Wake (1/31), @Maryland (2/4), Duke (2/8), UVA (2/11), Clemson (2/18), Maryland (2/29)
Most likely losses (1): @Duke (3/3)*
Toss-ups (4): @FSU (1/14), @Miami (2/15), @NCST (2/21), @UVA (2/25)
*This is listed as a “toss-up” for Duke, but Carolina’s not going undefeated in the league. Even Ken Pomeroy gives Carolina just a 42% chance to win.
Best-case scenario: 15-1.
Worst-case scenario: 13-3.
Monmouth (2-11) at UNC (12-2), 3:00 PM, ESPNU
Maybe Harrison Barnes just hates November and most of December. Either way, the Tar Heel star seems to have rebounded from an up-and-down start to his season. Whether he can keep it up all year remains to be seen, but in the last two games, he’s averaging 22 points on 59% shooting – more importantly, he’s shooting 61% from inside the arc. In the first 12 games, he shot 46% overall and 45.6% inside the arc. It started against Texas when he started getting to the basket more consistently and though he’s a good shooter, he has to do that.
And the most encouraging new dimension to Barnes’s game is his career-high five assists against Elon, giving him six assists and no turnovers in the last two games. Barnes has just seven turnovers in the last seven games (including Kentucky and Texas); he had 19 turnovers in Carolina’s first seven games. He’s making better decisions overall and appears to be more comfortable on the court. That’s a good sign for the Tar Heels as other offensive pieces like Dexter Strickland and John Henson are much improved from last season.
Former Tar Heel point guard King Rice is Monmouth’s first-year head coach, while another former point guard Derrick Phelps is an assistant (as is former Tar Heel Brian Reese). It’s got to eat away at Rice and Phelps, two of the best defensive point guards in Carolina history, that their Monmouth team is dead last nationally in effective field goal percentage defense. Ken Pomeroy also has Monmouth as the No. 329 team in the country overall and gives it a 0.3% chance of winning.
Prediction: North Carolina 103, Monmouth 62
Random: The Monmouth costumed mascot is kind of strange, but the logo is very cool:
East Tennessee State (5-6) at Clemson (7-6), 4:00 PM
This Milton Jennings situation is turning into a problem. He was suspended for the loss to Hawaii after head coach Brad Brownell and Jennings got into a shouting match on the sideline during the Southern Illinois game. Travis Sawchik reported that it happened after Jennings was benched following a turnover and failing to box out.
It’s too bad, because Jennings was starting to adapt to life off the bench, averaging 12 points against Alabama State and UTEP on 10-of-12 shooting. He played just 15 minutes against SIU before he was pulled and was just 1-of-5 shooting with three turnovers. He has 18.5% of Clemson’s turnovers this season in just 23.3 minutes per game.
Clemson’s offense is abysmal right now, and Jennings has to buy in so that he can help his team. So far, the McDonald’s All-American has been a colossal disappointment during what many thought could be his breakout year.
Clemson has to have this one, and the Tigers have had a week’s rest. If they don’t win this one, the wheels might fall off for good this season.
Prediction: Clemson 65, ETSU 64
Random: Per the school’s website, an underground river near the campus (Pirate Creek) was discovered and it was thought that the underground tunnels went all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. According to legend Jean Paul LeBucque, a buccaneer, found Pirate Creek and made it home so that he could hide his treasure. Geologists who found the waterway think that “the upheaval of the earth’s crust, which now blocks the channel, possibly killed LeBucque.” The legend of LeBucque led to the Buccaneer nickname.
No word on whether the Goonies went looking for the treasure before the cave collapsed.
Penn (6-7) at Duke (11-1), 5:00 PM, ESPNU
Anytime Duke loses in the NCAA Tournament, everyone from talking heads to fans want to blame it on a lack of depth. It hasn’t been a question of bodies, but Mike Krzyzewski likes a tighter rotation and he’s only going to play the people he trusts in big games. Right now, seven players are averaging 15 or more minutes and five average 25 or more (none average 30, which will change once conference play starts).
In Duke’s 110-70 win over Western Michigan, Duke got great minutes from freshmen Michael Gbinije (6 points, 16 minuetes) and Quinn Cook (16 points, eight assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes). Neither are in the 15-minute rotation right now and both have improved as of late, particularly Cook who has 20 assists and six turnovers on the year.
“I don’t know if it’s a rotation as much as don’t play tired. There is somebody who can play fresh. With certain minutes, I wouldn’t do that,” Krzyzewski said. “I think you have to be ready to play all of them and then there may be a game where you play eight of them. It just depends. … We have 10 guys who are pretty good basketball players and you want a few of those guys to be outstanding basketball players, so there is separation. Depth is good, but it’s better if you have some separation with depth.”
This is the last chance for Cook and Gbinije to prove they belong in that rotation come ACC play. Tyler Thornton has started a few games primarily for his defense; Cook could take some of Thornton’s minutes if he continues to be consistent on the offensive end and improves on defense.
Prediction: Duke 93, Penn 75
Random: Penn is known as the Fighting Quakers despite the fact that the school is not a Quaker school and has no ties to Quakerism. Pennsylvania was founded as a safe haven for practicing Quakers and Philadelphia was known as the Quaker City, so Philadelphia sportswriters just took to calling Penn the Quakers in the late 1800’s.
The Quaker now has a huge Jay Leno chin and looks like this:
Last week: 14-2
While this slow weekend schedule in terms of non-conference games won’t do much to enhance the ACC’s image, it can improve its awful non-conference record (75-39). And N.C. State has the opportunity to pull off a huge upset at home against No. 1 Syracuse.
Florida Atlantic (4-6) vs. Miami (5-4), Sunrise, Fla., 12:00 PM, FSN
Miami had a rough weekend as it lost its second straight non-conference game, this time at West Virginia. It’s easy to harp on Reggie Johnson’s absence as the reason for Miami’s struggles. But his impact has been felt: two of Miami’s last four opponents have shot better 63% from two-point range. But big man Kenny Kadji has progressed well, averaging 12 points in the last three games on 65% shooting. And Johnson may return on Saturday,per The Palm Beach Post.
Florida Atlantic is 4-6, but the Owls have lost just twice by double digits and just once by more than 20 (at Kansas). They nearly upset Washington in Seattle only to fall by six points. Last week, FAU lost 75-68 at No. 16 Mississippi State but led in the second half. Miami has been on a bad skid lately and and if the Hurricanes aren’t careful, they’ll lose this one, too.
Prediction: Miami 71, Florida Atlantic 61
Random: Florida Atlantic coach Mike Jarvis should eventually join Lefty Driesell as one of two coaches to win 100 or more games at four different schools. He’s already one of eight head coaches to have 100 or more wins at three schools (Boston, George Washington, St. John’s). Jarvis is 364-201 and 45-59 at FAU.
Campbell (8-2) at Virginia Tech (7-3), 4:00 PM, ESPN3
The Tech Hoops blog posted notes from Seth Greenberg’s radio show, including the head coach defending the playing time of seniors Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila. Davila was never supposed to be an offensive threat and has seen his playing time reduced, but Hudson is averaging 30.8 minutes and 10.8 points on 38% shooting (23% from three). He hasn’t shot over 33.3% in a game since November 23rd (13-of-52 in six games since). Greenberg said that he wants Hudson to be more aggressive on offense. With a week off, maybe he will be.
Campbell has some firepower, but lost on Wednesday on the road by 11 to…Houston Baptist. Ew. For a more detailed preview of the Camels, check out Tech Hoops’ write-up. With a week to prepare, the Hokies should win.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 83, Campbell 75
Random: Despite its record, Campbell is 206th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. The Camels have won at Iowa but that is their best win. Three wins have come over non Division-I teams and the average ranking of a team they have beaten is 252.7. Houston Baptist, one of Campbell’s losses, is 327th.
Winthrop (4-6) at Clemson (4-4), 4:30 PM, RSN
In the loss at Arizona last Saturday, Clemson set offense back decades by scoring 47 points and shooting 37% from two-point range (31.7% overall). The Tigers are averaging a paltry 13 free throw attempts per game and had just five at Arizona. Andre Young had 17 points, but big men Devin Booker and Milton Jennings combined to shoot 5-of-16 from the floor, scoring just 13 points in 52 minutes with nether recording a steal or a block.
Clemson’s defense is struggling; they allowed 51% shooting to Arizona to and 42% to South Carolina. College of Charleston and Coastal Carolina combined to shoot 50% in wins over Clemson. Winthrop beat Presbyterian earlier this week, and the Blue Hose beat South Carolina, which beat Clemson. By transitive property, Clemson could lose. But it won’t.
Prediction: Clemson 62, Winthrop 51
Random: Patrick Finley at the Arizona Daily Star wrote a nice article on Clemson’s Tanner Price, who reaches out to children with cancer with “Tanner’s Totes”.
Appalachian State (4-5) at North Carolina (8-2), 6:00 PM, ESPNU
The Tar Heels had their best shooting performance in six games against Long Beach State last week (51.5%). Carolina had its worst defensive performances of the year, allowing 47% shooting and its second-highest point total allowed (78). Former Tar Heel Jason Capel will come back to Chapel Hill on Saturday night as the head coach of Appalachian State. His team has been competitive, losing by just 14 at Minnesota, but also has losses to East Tennessee State (twice) and East Carolina (by 20). But Capel’s team has struggled to score, averaging 52 points in the last two games. Carolina really won’t be tested until Texas comes to the Smith Center next Wednesday.
Prediction: North Carolina 102, Appalachian State 69
Random: Former Ohio State benchwarmer Mark Titus is writing at Grantland and in his top 12 rankings, he eviscerates Carolina’s collective defensive effort. While complimenting the effort of guys like Dexter Strickland, Reggie Bullock and Justin Watts, he says it’s Harrison Barnes’s lack of consistent effort that holds the Tar Heels back:
Harrison Barnes … is one of the five best players in America. He should set the tone for the Heels, but he’s so blatantly disinterested in defense that I literally started laughing at one point while watching the Kentucky game. For most of the game he stood straight up on defense, got lost on screens, didn’t close out hard to shooters, played no help-side defense, showed no understanding of helping the helper, allowed his man to dribble penetrate way too easily, and didn’t seem to care about blocking out. Outside of UConn’s Jeremy Lamb and … Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas, there isn’t a guy in college basketball I’d rather watch on offense than Barnes, but his lack of defensive effort was a huge disappointment. It’s keeping him from being a truly special player, and keeping Carolina from being a dominant team.
Syracuse (10-0) at N.C. State (6-3), 6:30 PM, ESPN2
Akula Wolf over at Backing the Pack wrote a nice preview (complete with funny pictures). The key to this game will be Scott Wood – against the Orange’s long and active zone, he will have to knock down three’s. He has 25 of N.C. State’s 45 made three-pointers this year, and while he shoots 57% from three, his teammates shoot 20-of-90 (22.2%). Wood has to stay out of foul trouble, something he hasn’t been able to do in the Wolfpack’s most important games to date.
The Wolfpack will also have to take care of the ball – Syracuse likes to get out in transition. As Luke Winn points out in his latest power rankings, sixth-man guard Dion Waiters is great at getting steals. N.C. State has turned it over an average of just 15 times a game in three losses but opponents have averaged 20 points off of those miscues.
This is Syracuse’s first true non-conference road game in 1,092 days (per Joe Lunardi of ESPN bracketology). Besides beating Florida at home, the Orange really haven’t been tested. But N.C. State isn’t good enough yet on defense to win a game like this, even at home.
Prediction: Syracuse 85, N.C. State 79
Random: N.C. State is 5-25 all-time against the nation’s No. 1 team; the last win came over Duke in 2004 in the RBC Center. The Wolfpack have beaten No. 1 North Carolina three times (they were not ranked any of those times). The other win over No. 1 came in the 1983 national championship against Houston.
Last Week: 9-1
Season Record: 19-10
ACC teams are 67-36 so far (and that’s only after an 8-1 week…A-C-C!), and teams not named North Carolina or Duke are 52-33. Without Virginia’s 7-1 start, the other nine teams are 45-32. Ew. Conference pride is on the line!
Duke (8-1) vs. Washington (4-3), CBS, 12:00 PM, Madison Square Garden
Washington would be considered elite if not for losses at St. Louis (by 13) and at Nevada (in overtime). Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln… But the Huskies gave No. 11 Marquette all it could handle in a 79-77 loss on Tuesday in the Garden. With just a few weak non-conference games left, not to mention an awful Pac-12 schedule, Duke is Washington’s last chance at a quality win.
Duke’s defense is eighth in the league in points per possession defense but fourth in loss of ball forced (18.4%), and that’s where the it can do damage against the Huskies. Duke averages 17.7 points off of 15.5 opponent turnovers; the Blue Devils started the year averaging 21 points off turnovers in its first four games. Beginning in Maui, that number dropped to 14.3. But the rejuvenated Blue Devils turned 17 Colorado State turnovers into 18 points, and that’s what they need to do again on Saturday.
The Blue Devils (as of December 4th) are 244th nationally in field goal percentage defense. Duke’s three-point defense has been pretty good, as they held the nation’s top three-point shooting team, Colorado State, to 4-of-11 (36.4%) on Wednesday. But opponents are attempting just 14 three’s a game compared to 43.4 two-pointers (of which Duke opponents make 48%). BCS conference foes have shot 51.6% inside the arc.
Washington can shoot from two (49.5%) or three (40.8%). Sophomores C.J. Wilcox (47.7% 3FG%) and Terrence Ross (37.8% 3FG%) can both go nuts from beyond the arc. Against North Carolina in last year’s second round of the NCAA Tournament, Ross led his team with 19 points off the bench in just 24 minutes. C.J. Wilcox added 11 points (3-of-5 from three) in just 19 minutes. Duke will have a long day if it stops penetration as poorly as the Tar Heels did at times in that game.
Duke will have an advantage on the interior, especially if 7-foot Washington center Aziz N’Diaye gets in foul trouble. He hasn’t fouled out yet this year (albeit in just 24.3 mpg). Against North Carolina last year, N’Diaye picked up four fouls in 20 minutes but still managed to pull down 11 rebounds.
Seth Curry had been the steady one for Duke, but he shot just 7-of-24 in the last three games. Andre Dawkins showed up and had 15 first-half points off the bench against Colorado State before going out with back spasms, and his status is uncertain. Austin Rivers is really starting to get it, scoring a very efficient 17 points on nine shots.
Andrew Jones of Fox Sports wrote this about the freshman: “…The 6-5 slasher can get to the rim with the dribble … maybe more effectively than most players in the ACC. But an issue with him entering this night was that once he decided he was taking the ball to the hole he would cut off all other options. Twice in the first half, however, Rivers got near the rim only to kick it out to Tyler Thornton for a jumper and Andre Dawkins for a 3-pointer. … As Rivers matures and adds this to his repertoire, Duke will grow.”
Washington is missing is what Isaiah Thomas brought last year – a point guard that can make plays for himself and others. They have other elite perimeter players, but at point, Abdul Gaddy is not an offensive threat and Tony Wroten, Jr. is very talented but erratic.Washington is capable of winning, but it’s hard to imagine Duke losing to an unranked team that is talented but flawed, especially in Madison Square Garden.
Prediction: Duke 82, Washington 77
Random: From Lorenzo Romar’s info page on GoHuskies.com:
“The loss to North Carolina in the third round of the NCAAs 2½ months ago was as frustrating and regrettable a defeat as Romar has had at Washington. If not for multiple meltdowns that cost the Huskies the lead and the game to the shaky Tar Heels that Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., they would have been favored to advance to the Elite Eight and past a Marquette team UNC blew out days later in the Round of 16.”
Why don’t you just start up an “overrated” chant? The Tar Heels didn’t play their best game and Washington was fantastic late in the year, but they were a 7-seed and had a 24-11 record for a reason. The Tar Heels were a No. 2 seed. And “as frustrating and regrettable a defeat” as Romar has had at Washington? Does this ring a bell?
Clemson (4-3) at Arizona (6-3), 12/10, 4:00 PM, FSN
Arizona impressed the college basketball world in a 78-72 overtime loss at No. 12 Florida on Wednesday. The Wildcats had been disappointing with losses to Seattle Pacific (in an exhibition), Mississippi State and San Diego State. This seemed like a game the Tigers could win earlier in the year, but Clemson just dropped their third game to an inferior in-state opponent – at home – in a loss to South Carolina. Greg Wallace (@aimclemson on Twitter) from Orange and White wrote about Clemson’s scoring struggles. The Tigers have cracked 70 just twice and have a season-high of 73, averaging 64.4 for the year.
While Andre Young has been fantastic, the 5-9 senior can’t do it alone. In Clemson’s three losses, he has shot 12-of-35 and 7-of-26 from three, averaging 12.7 points. In wins, Young shot 20-of-33 (12-of-19 from three), averaging 15.3 points. He’s taken fewer shots in Clemson’s wins, because he can be more efficient without having to carry the load. But he has 19 of Clemson’s 42 made three’s this year and someone needs to step up there too.
Milton Jennings and Devin Booker have been disappointing. Jennings is a McDonald’s All-American averaging 10.4 points, but he has nine in the last two games on 4-of-13 shooting. He accounted for nearly half of Clemson’s turnovers against South Carolina (he had five; the Tigers had 11). Booker is averaging 9.8 points but hasn’t hit double digits in the last four games, averaging 6.3 field goal attempts. He had averaged 10 shots a game in Clemson’s first four games and he needs to be more assertive.
The Tigers don’t have many options. Without Demontez Stitt’s ability to drive to the hoop and make plays for himself or teammates, Clemson simply lacks playmakers. Arizona is missing some key pieces, but I still don’t see how Clemson can score enough to keep pace with on the road.
Prediction: Arizona 70, Clemson 59
Random: Arizona is 264th in tempo, 19 spots BELOW Herb Sendek’s famously slow Arizona State offense. Clemson, by the way, is 284th in tempo.
Georgia Tech (5-4) at Savannah State (3-6), 12/10, 6:00 PM
Georgia Tech is 11th in the league (per Ken Pomeroy) in offensive efficiency. The puzzling part has been the inconsistency – Georgia Tech has shot 51.8% in five wins (50% or better in all five) and 38.5% in four losses. The Yellow Jackets probably should slow down on the three-pointers (29% on the year) and they might be a more efficient offensive club, because they have some pieces.
The sophomores are key for Georgia Tech: Kammeon Hosley had 12 points against Georgia in a season-high 32 minutes. Brandon Reed snapped a four-game shooting slump (7-of-34, 3-of-19 from three) with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Jason Morris has been coming on, averaging 16 points in the last three games (shooting 6-of-11 from three).
If there’s a concern, it’s Glen Rice, Jr. He’s averaging 14.1 points on 50% shooting but is just 2-of-12 from three in the last three games after starting 6-of-14. He needs to drive more as he is shooting nearly 61% from inside the arc, but he tends to keep jacking up three-pointers. This team is not good enough offensively for him to be inefficient. He can be such a lethal scorer at times, but his 31% shooting from three is not the reason.
But this kind of stuff from new head coach Brian Gregory (via From the Rumble Seat) is awesome. The Yellow Jackets don’t have a two-game winning streak since the first two games and could really use a convincing win to keep momentum going. Savannah State has three losses by a combined nine points (the other three by a combined 74 points) and three wins by a combined 25 points.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 78, Savannah State 57
Random: Savannah State head coach Horace Broadnax inherited a mess of a program in 2005 that had gone 0-28 in 2004. The 13-18 season in 2008 was the most D-I wins by Savannah State ever. Broadnax was a point guard for Georgetown from 1983-86, a run that included a national title in 1984.
Miami (5-3) at West Virginia (5-2), 12/10, 7:00 PM, ESPN2
Miami fans will need to have patience with the team under new head coach Jim Larranaga. There’s a lot of personnel missing still, and he had to start small by changing the culture of shoelaces (h/t The Sporting News). The Hurricanes are holding opponents to 64.1 points (on 41% shooting), but Miami is shooting 39% from the floor and averaging 67.4 points.
The Hurricanes are shooting 35% from three, but since making 10-of-23 against Rutgers (43.5%), they have shot over 40% just once. And they have yet to shoot over 50% overall this season. Miami has cracked 70 points three times this year and in those games, it has made 25-of-58 three’s (43.1%) and have needed 27.7 trips to the foul line. Those kinds of calls likely won’t continue in physical conference play.
Their two best guards, Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant, have made 31-of-84 (36.9%). But the two combine to shoot just 31-of-98 (31.6%) from TWO-point range. Last year, Grant shot nearly 42% from both two and three while Scott shot 46% from two (40% from three). Their combined assist average is also done from 6.4 last year between them to 5.1 this year (but their turnovers are down from 5.3 to 3.0).
Junior transfer Trey McKinney Jones has become more consistent, but Florida transfer Kenny Kadji has been all over the map – in back-to-back losses at Ole Miss and Purdue, he played a total of 13 minutes and had one rebound and two points. Since, he has played 25 minutes in each of the last two games and has averaged 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. He has picked up more than two fouls just once this season. When Reggie Johnson comes back (supposedly sometime in December, per Category Six), Miami will have a talented frontcourt that
Unfortunately, Miami and West Virginia are meeting at the wrong time for the Hurricanes. West Virginia didn’t have a good win until beating Kansas State in Wichita in double overtime Thursday night. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, it’s a short turnaround for the Mountaineers. But it probably won’t be enough in a tough road environment.
Prediction: West Virginia 66, Miami 62
Deniz Kiliicli deserves props for his magnificent beard. He looks remarkably like:
North Carolina (7-2) vs. LBST (4-4), 12/10, 7:00 PM, ESPN3
North Carolina did not mess around with Evansville on Tuesday night, beating the Purple Aces 97-48. While the offense was good, the defense was better – Evansville’s 0.545 points per possession were a season low. It’s a good sign despite the inferior opponent, because Carolina has slept-walked on defense at times, allowing even Tennessee State (0.82 PPP) and UNC-Asheville (0.88) to score efficiently. And Carolina had been just +2.5 in rebounding this year despite its height advantage over most teams, so throttling Evansville 62-30 on the backboards was good as well. Reggie Bullock has made 7-of-15 three’s in the last three games. He loves the Smith Center nets best of all, making 14-of-25 three’s in four home games. Having potentially two three-point threats with Bullock and P.J. Hairston makes the offense more dynamic, particularly when the two play together.
Last year, the Tar Heels squeaked by Long Beach State, 96-91, in Carolina’s 2010-11 defensive nadir. The Beach shot nearly 51% and – fortunately for the Tar Heels – only 32% from three (10-of-31). They made 27-of-42 two-pointers (over 64%) and against Carolina’s front line, that’s inexcusable. Larry Drew II had 13 points, eight assists and two turnovers. John Henson and Tyler Zeller combined to shoot 6-of-15 from the floor. Carolina was out-rebounded 37-35. Long Beach forward T.J. Robinson had 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting while dynamic point guard Casper Ware added 22.
Long Beach State has four wins this year; three against Idaho, Boise State and BYU Hawaii. But their other win came at Pittsburgh, in a thrilling game that temporarily made The Beach America’s darlings. Unfortunately, they lost at San Diego State (in overtime) and at Montana (by two), in addition to at Louisville (by 13) and at Kansas (by eight). I don’t think The Beach has enough to hang with the Tar Heels for too long, but if Carolina has one of its patented zombie-esque performances, it could be in trouble.
Prediction: UNC 101, The Beach 79
Random: Luke Winn from SI.com had a great chart of all Tyler Zeller’s second-half offensive touches in the second half at Kentucky. It’s color-coded based on the result of the play (made field goal, missed field goal, pass out, turnover) and an interesting look at how much more quickly he was double-teamed in the second half.
Wake Forest (6-3) at Seton Hall (7-1), 12/10, 8:00 PM
I’m not sure why Wake Forest (6-3) played at the Millis Center (announced crowd: 1,801; capacity: 1,700) in High Point, but the Deacons escaped, 87-83. High Point had nearly knocked off Purdue on the road earlier this year, and had a chance to get a huge win over Wake Forest but fell just short.
C.J. Harris is an offensive machine; he is averaging 18.6 points (he has 20 or more in five games) on 51% shooting from both the field and three-point range. Travis McKie has averaged 18.8 points on 50% shooting (41% from three). If those two can get more consistent help from their teammates, Wake Forest is going to end up beating a team or two it shouldn’t. Wake gets 7-foot senior center Ty Walker back from suspension against Seton Hall, and the Deacs are 2-0 on the road this year.
But Seton Hall has won four straight and their only loss came by seven to Northwestern. They don’t have any amazing wins, but they have beaten the teams they should. With the firepower of Herb Pope (the leading scorer in the Big East at 21.4 ppg), I don’t see Wake keeping up on the scoreboard, especially since Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard is a Rick Pitino guy who preaches aggressive defense.
Prediction: Seton Hall 83, Wake Forest 77
Random: Wake Forest includes plus/minus stats in their game notes and in the blowout loss to Arizona State, Harris was -27 and McKie was -21. Without that game, Harris would be +44 and McKie +47 on the season. What voodoo did you do, Herb Sendek? …. And did you know Travis McKie is the first Virginian to play for Wake since Josh Shoemaker (1998-2001)? It feels like Carolina and Duke have had at least five each from Virginia since 2001.
Season record: 10-9