Tar Heel Panic-o-Meter Level- MODERATE
It’s been almost a month since the Confidential looked at the current Tar Heel basketball team and not a lot has changed-
We still have no idea who this team is, or what they’re capable of.
Carolina entered the month of December with a decent 4-1 record and an exciting win over #3 Louisville, taking home the 2013 Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament Championship trophy in the process. The Heel’s only loss up to this point was to a strong Belmont team, in part, because of a significant mismatch on the perimeter due to the continued absence of PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald. The season wasn’t going exactly as hoped, but precisely as expected. Despite the adversity of a young roster and the ever-present cloud of the NCAA, the Heels were adapting and growing together at exactly the right time, leaving them poised to enter conference play as a better team than when the season began.
And then they lost to UAB.
Nothing against the Blazers. They have some talented players and are coached well by former Roy Williams player and assistant Jerod Haase, but this isn’t what was supposed to happen. The Louisville game was supposed to be the corner and Carolina was supposed to be around it, having moved on without Hairston and McDonald, perhaps permanently. But it’s not that easy. Last night’s loss, only two days into a promising December, revealed that many of the questions surrounding the team still remain. Let’s look at some of the things we were wondering a month ago, and see how well we can answer them six games in-
1) Besides Paige, who will step up as a leader? Will McAdoo finally live up to the previous (potentially unfair) expectations?
By now, we know that part of this is true. Marcus Paige IS a leader. He’s averaging 12 more points this season, while playing out of position, and is the go-to guy for the Heels at the end of the game. He’s been playing championship-level basketball and putting up player-of-the-year numbers. Yet, when he struggles, as he did last night, so does the team.
McAdoo continues to have a hard time with expectations. One month into the season, he’s averaging roughly 13 points, 6 rebounds and 1 assist. That’s certainly not an awful stat line, but it’s not what the team needs from him in order to be successful. Look at his last three games (stats courtesy of ESPN)-
UAB- 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 blocks, 2 steals (23.1% field goal percentage)
Louisville- 9 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 blocks, 0 steals (27.3% field goal percentage)
Richmond- 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 blocks, 2 steals (50% field goal percentage- only six shots)
Those are the stats of a solid, complimentary first-man-off-the-bench- not an expected go-to scorer and former projected Top-10 NBA Draft pick. Now, to be fair, McAdoo is trying his best. It’s been said that he practices well, and at times, it looks like he’s giving it his all during games. But it may be time for North Carolina fans to realize that he’ll never be the player that they expected or wanted him to be. And that’s okay. It’s difficult to judge talent, especially in high school where the competition is so varied and the players bodies are constantly changing. Maybe the “experts” were just wrong about James Michael? He’s still an excellent player and will continue to improve, just at a slower pace than originally expected. Did he make the wrong decision when he turned down the NBA Draft after his freshman year? Maybe. With a larger role and more playing time, his weaknesses have been exposed. But the decision is in the past and now he must make the best of his situation. It’s obvious that he’s doing that, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s enough. Still, March is a long way away, and McAdoo may just prove his detractors wrong in the end.
2) Where will the threes come from? Without Hairston, Bullock and McDonald, there’s not a proven go-to guy on the roster.
In short, Marcus Paige- and that’s it. Paige is making nearly 45% of shots from behind the arc, but the rest of the team’s percentage is so embarrassing that it’s not even worth mentioning. If Paige can’t make threes, no one else is going to do it- and the Tar Heels will probably lose. They saw this in the UAB game, where he went 0-6. They saw this in the Belmont game, where he went 1-3 (which isn’t exactly the worst percentage ever). And they saw this in the Holy Cross game, where he went 3-8 and the team struggled. North Carolina’s season, at least it seems like at this point, rests on the smooth stroke of their best player who’s playing out of position and is being relied upon to contribute way too much. If Hairston and McDonald don’t come back, and that seems to be the case, then look for the Heels to continue to struggle from the perimeter. There’s not even another player worth mentioning as someone whose improvement would help- Carolina just doesn’t have any shooters.
3) Who will be the starting center? Williams said that the whole roster is in flux besides Paige and McAdoo (likely due to Hairston’s suspension), but this position is the biggest question mark of them all.
Since the season began, Joel James has been the primary starter at center. Six games in, however, many fans are beginning to question why. His improvement from last year is clear- he’s averaging almost twice as many points and rebounds from his freshman season, and his free throw percentage is up in still limited minutes. But is he the best center on the roster? Kennedy Meeks is putting up stronger numbers in a similar amount of time. Many fans want Meeks to start. But the fact is, that Roy Williams has his reasons for everything, even if he doesn’t share them. He didn’t win two national championships by accident. Maybe Meeks plays harder off the bench? That seems to be the case with Brice Johnson’s sixth man role, and he’s thrived this season. Maybe James plays better in practice? Players often ‘earn’ playing time during the week. Or maybe Williams just trusts more veteran players in his system? We don’t know why James is starting. But since he is, it’s important to look at the positives. James is showing vast improvement from last year and Meeks is doing well in his role. It’s too early to decide that this is a bad thing.
4) Just how long will Hairston and McDonald be out?
We’re six games into the season and there hasn’t been a single word from the NCAA. No “we’re looking into the situation,” or “we’re still fact-gathering.” No “there will be a reinstatement at some point,” or “these two players will be declared permanently ineligible.” It seems that the NCAA just doesn’t care which is business as usual. Hairston and McDonald broke the rules, that’s not in doubt. They should be punished. In fact, most Carolina fans would agree that Hairston should be off the team permanently despite whatever the NCAA rules. But the NCAA is doing itself, and most importantly, its student athletes, a disservice by staying silent.
It didn’t take the organization any time at all to determine that Johnny Football and Cam Newton could play again, despite blatant and unrepentant rule-breaking on their behalf. It barely looked into the Alabama football program following the discovery that safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix accepted money from a member of the staff (do they really believe he was the only one?). No, the NCAA preserved their ‘championship level’ programs with quick rulings and a blind eye. But they certainly didn’t do this to a traditionally successful, yet struggling Miami football program. They waited over two years to make a ruling, when all of the offending players, coaches and administrators were already gone. Same with Carolina football. And the Heels should expect the same type of backhanded, disorganized, corrupt timeline again. After all, Carolina hasn’t been a realistic title contender in a few years. Now they’re an afterthought. Declining. Because 2009 was really that long ago.
How long will Hairston and McDonald be out? Probably the whole season. And don’t expect a ruling on whether they should have been out until long after they leave Chapel Hill. After all, it’s the NCAA way.
So who is this team and what are they capable of? Who knows. It’s still early in the season. Realistically though, while Tar Heel fans shouldn’t panic yet, they should see the Louisville game as the exception, not the rule. March is a long way away. Panic level- MODERATE