Team Preview: 2014 UNC Tar Heels
By: Tobin Howes
2012-2013 Record: 25-11, 12-6 in the ACC
Coach: Roy Williams, 272-79 at North Carolina, 700-180 overall
The ACC is traditionally one of college basketball’s “power conferences” and this year is no different. North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse will all be ranked at some point this year and all three have a solid chance at finishing within the top 25, maybe even the top 10. Although these teams will beat each other up and may finish with a few more losses on their record, they will be more prepared for the tournament by facing tough competition during the regular season.
This year will almost certainly be a step forward for the Tar Heels after a second-round exit in the tournament last season. The suspension of two key players is a speed bump, but the core of this team is strong and constantly maturing.
Strongside: Williams’ team has experience on its side. After a substandard season for the Tar Heels last year breaking in then-freshmen Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, these two have already stepped forward as leaders on this year’s squad. Throw in Junior James McAdoo and you have what some may call a holy triumvirate of offensive talent. Sad to say that two second-year players and one third-year man represent experience, but this is the era of the “one and done” thanks to the lack of talent in the NBA.
With P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald currently under investigation by the NCAA, the entire team has been forced to pick up the slack. When focused, this team is unstoppable, as evidenced by wins against number three Louisville, number one Michigan State and number 11 Kentucky.
The top seven on this team are all very well rounded ballers, solid defensively and balanced offensively. In their first nine games, five different players have been the leading scorer. Three players (almost five) are averaging double-digit scoring per game and four players are grabbing over five rebounds per game while the team is averaging 40 rebounds and 15 assists per game.
Weakside: The marquee wins over Louisville and Michigan State are offset by losses to Belmont and UAB. Simply put, championship teams do not lose to Belmont and UAB. In their losses, the Tar Heels have looked lazy at both ends of the court. Poor communication and rotation on the defensive end has left opponents with wide-open shots and free paths to the rim, leading to foul trouble.
The Tar Heels have relied on the jump shot far too much on the offensive end. In their loss to UAB, they threw up so many bricks you would think they were building a house: they went 28-65 from the field including 1-12 from behind the arc. Struggles from three-point land are not uncommon for this team, either; even in their wins against ranked teams they have not shot well from behind the arc.
The team is operating two men down and with the prospect of NCAA sanctions hanging over their heads. Last summer, P.J. Hairston was pulled over several times while intoxicated, but the NCAA doesn’t care about that. Putting people in danger while driving under the influence isn’t a disciplinary priority for them; they are more concerned that one of the cars Hairston was driving was rented for him by a booster. The NCAA, everybody—the shining beacon of what is just and true in this world. Leslie McDonald was used in advertising by a local mouth guard company. Both players are suspended indefinitely.
There are several theories for the delay of the rulings. One is that there is a backlog of cases the NCAA is investigating. Another is that a decision has already been relayed to UNC and Coach Williams is keeping it close to his chest. Either way, whenever these players return it will be a huge boost for the Tar Heels, especially Hairston, who was their best player by the end of last season.
All Told: So far, this team has been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You never really know what you will get: a well-oiled basketball machine that embarrassed Michigan State on its home court or a lazy, jump shot–jacking joke of a squad that got schooled at UAB. When they are playing together, this team is fun to watch. When you add in the possible return of P.J. Hairston, this team is a contender for the National Championship.
Championship titles aren’t handed out for expectations, though, and their inconsistency early on is a big worry. The ACC championship will be a huge barometer for the Tar Heels. If they can win the ACC tournament, it shows that they have developed the consistency needed to make a run to the Final Four. If they lose, even in the conference championship, it shows that they are not ready for the gauntlet that is the Big Dance.
Tobin Howes is more myth than man, yet more beast than myth. He has been known to disappear to the Southern Hemisphere for months at a time but his love of North American sports always brings him back. His turn-ons include but are not limited to girls in high socks, well cooked broccoli, and the smell of dryer sheets. Turn-offs are pencils, girls in short socks, and Maroon 5.