College Basketball Nation: North Carolina

Most North Carolina players could give a brief rundown on what they know about Ohio State guard Shannon Scott heading into Saturday’s game with the Buckeyes in Chicago.

The significance of his father? That was a bit harder for the young Tar Heels to remember, even though Charles Scott’s journey is extremely significant.

Willie Cooper was the first to integrate the Tar Heels freshman team in 1964. Scott was the first black scholarship basketball player at North Carolina in 1966. He paved the way for them all: Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, Antawn Jamison, Sean May, Ty Lawson.

[+] EnlargeShannon Scott
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesShannon Scott might be an Ohio State Buckeye now, but his father Charles was one of the most influential players in North Carolina history.
Scott is the school's sixth all-time leading scorer and has his No. 33 jersey among those honored -- not retired -- in the Dean E. Smith Center rafters. He helped lead the Tar Heels to Final Four appearances in 1968 and 1969.

“Did I go with the idea of being a pioneer? It was the ‘60s and at that time you do things because they needed to be done, not with the concept of being a pioneer,” said Scott, who lettered from 1967-70. “It was the era of integration in many circumstances and I just happened to be one of instruments of integration for the University of North Carolina.”

His love for his alma mater and his former coach is unquestioned. Scott’s other two children, Simone and Shaun, both graduated from UNC. He returns to Chapel Hill at least once each year and visits coach Dean Smith.

Scott might not wear scarlet and gray at the United Center, but this is the one time he won’t exactly be “shouting N.C.U.” as the fight song suggests.

“Luckily it has only come up once in four years and I hope it comes up once again, maybe in the NCAA championship,” Charles Scott said. “It’s going to be tough rooting against North Carolina, but that’s my son out there. Make no mistake about it, I will be rooting for my son and his team.”

Scott once envisioned seeing his son follow in his footsteps to Chapel Hill. Many summers he would bring Shannon Scott back for basketball camps.

Shannon Scott, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, also dreamed of playing in Carolina blue when he got serious about basketball in middle school. Things changed as he got older and he thought about forming his own legacy in a program.

Carolina made the decision easier for him, with a roster that included Larry Drew II and Kendall Marshall. Scott, who was rated No. 34 in the class of 2011 by Recruiting Nation, didn’t want to be the third point guard.

“I had to decide did I want to go and be my own person or the son of somebody,” said Shannon Scott, who currently leads the Buckeyes and is second nationally with 7.8 assists per game. “I felt like trying to have my own name, I had to go somewhere else rather than become ‘Charlie Scott’s son’ had I gone there.”

Truth is, being the son of Charles Scott would carry weight wherever he attended school. Shannon Scott could never really just stay in the background on any team. His dad shared stories here and there, but mostly he heard from other Tar Heels fans of the sacrifices his dad made to play.

Shannon Scott heard about his father being passed over for the ACC Player of the Year award as a junior and senior. He heard the stories of isolation and how his father didn't really form lasting and deep bonds with his teammates because he could not hang with them socially outside of basketball. And he heard about his father playing in front of crowds that threw objects at him on the court and stopping at restaurants that wouldn’t serve the team.

“The server would just never come over, the whole team would be waiting to get their food and they would never have anything just because he was there with them,” Shannon Scott said. “Stuff like that is crazy, but I understand that it happened.”

As inconceivable as segregation is to players who saw Barack Obama elected president in their teenage years, they all respect what Charles Scott went through in order for them to play.

North Carolina freshman forward Justin Jackson met Charles Scott, whom he called “one of the great Tar Heels,” when Shannon Scott came to Houston to work out at a John Lucas’ camp.

“Playing college basketball isn’t easy, let alone having to keep up with your academics, and we don’t even have to deal with the whole race issue and everything like that,” Jackson said. “He definitely made a huge mark on college basketball as a whole and the University of North Carolina.”

Scott joked that when he’s recognized by current players for being the first, it just makes him feel old.

Such was the case when Carolina’s sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks sought out Scott for a project in a history class last semester. Hicks said he got a B on the paper, but talking to Scott about his experience was the real lesson.

“Nowadays you can’t imagine going through that stuff, you can’t picture it because it’s not happening to you,” Hicks said. “Of course, I had to thank him.”

Carolina's big barometer at Kentucky

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
North Carolina’s post players face arguably the biggest challenge of the season against a Kentucky frontcourt rotation that -- even with the loss of Alex Poythress -- will be a bit longer and a bit deeper than any other team they will play.

The successes or failures of Carolina’s Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks against that front line could be the biggest barometer in determining the outcome. The Tar Heels are still unbeaten when both score in double figures, including four games this season.

"We’ve got to play the best game we’ve played all year," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We have to make some outside shots to open things up inside ... we’ve got to have the best rebounding game of the year."

[+] EnlargeBrice Johnson
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeThe Tar Heels need a motivated performance from Brice Johnson if they are going to beat Kentucky.
Meeks has been the Heels’ most consistent post player. He leads the team with 10.1 rebounds and is second behind Marcus Paige in scoring with 13.8 points.

Meeks was a non-factor in Carolina’s win against Kentucky last season. He scored one point and had four rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. His conditioning is much better now, and he represents the kind of physical presence the Wildcats don’t have on the blocks. Their big men tend to be on the leaner side. For all the pounds Meeks has shed, he’s still 270 pounds and will have to wield his weight as a weapon against UK.

The 6-foot-9 Meeks could potentially be matched against 6-foot-11 Karl-Anthony Towns or 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein. What he loses in height, he might make up for by taking the game to his opponent.

"We’re not going to make them lose six inches of their height, you just have to be more aggressive with it," Williams said.

Kentucky leads the nation according to in percentage of blocked shots. But Williams said the worst thing to do against shot-blockers is play intimidated.

Johnson’s biggest opponent at times this season has been himself. He joked that Williams told him before his 19-point, 17-rebound outing against East Carolina that he needed to find his brain.

"I told him I found it in a corner somewhere, dusty, I mean it’s been hiding from me," Johnson said.

It’s been a major difference when Johnson comes out focused or, for whatever reason, he’s been off his game. Johnson has fallen into a pattern since the second game of the season of alternating double figures in scoring with single-digit outings. That doesn’t bode well for the Tar Heels considering he scored 19 against East Carolina on Sunday.

If he ever were to break the trend, this would be the game to do it.

"I’m not satisfied at all with that up-and-down play, because you’re a junior now," Williams said. "I’m one of those guys who says, 'if you can do something once, you can do it a second time.'"

Johnson had some success off the bench against Kentucky last season, albeit against an entirely different frontline than he will face on Saturday. With the injury to Poythress, Cauley-Stein is the only post player who played substantial minutes last season.

But the opponent rarely matters with Johnson. He tends to be swayed by his early shots. If he makes them, then he’s generally into the game mentally. If he misses early on, it brings down the rest of his play. Paige said he’s been trying to make Johnson understand that he can be effective by more than just scoring points.

"The effort on the glass, diving for loose balls, contesting every rebound and going up over three or four guys to get the ball, that’s the type of Brice we need," Paige said. "We don’t need the one that shoots fadeaways, we need the one that goes at the rim."
Marcus Paige leads North Carolina in scoring and is still unequivocally the guy Roy Williams wants handling the ball if they were in need of a potential game-winning shot. But the junior guard acknowledges that something is off right now with his game and it's not just his shooting.

Paige said it has nothing to do with the trying to live up to lofty expectations including being named the ACC's preseason Player of the Year.

“I think I'm handling it alright,” Paige said. “Obviously I'm not killing the game right now. I know what I need to do for this team. (Against ECU) I was 6-to-1 assist-turnover, J.P. (Tokoto) was 8-to-1 -- that's the type of thing we need. We need me to be a steady presence on the court, be a leader and be a vocal leader too.”

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports"There's something funky going on with my shot right now and I'm going to go back, look at some film," Marcus Paige said.
There is a certain feeling that as Paige goes, so will the Tar Heels. He feels a bit of that pressure and that caused his leadership to slip when his shot wasn't falling.

“Because I was struggling, I got a little bit away from that trying to get myself going,” Paige said.

Not much has changed from last season in Paige's role on the team. He may not have to score as much as he did last season -- his average of 14.0 this season is down from 17.5 points last year while Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson have emerged as reliable scorers.

But Paige does still need to carry the Heels from the perimeter. And that's where he's falling off. Over the past five games, he's 11-of-39 (28.2 percent) from 3-point range.

Paige said defenses have been pretty much playing him the same way all season, aside from North Carolina Central's use of a box-and-1.

Through the first eight games he's shooting career-lows across the board: 35.5 percent from the field, 34.0 percent from the 3-point line and 80 percent from the free throw line.

OK, so independently the free throw thing may seem a bit nitpicky, but considering the decreases in the two other categories it is more proof that something's amiss. Besides, Paige shot 87.7 percent from the line last season when he openly stated he want to chase the single-season free throw percentage mark of 91.1 held by Shammond Williams.

“There's something funky going on with my shot right now and I'm going to go back, look at some film,” Paige said. “I might be kicking my leg, not holding my follow through or something. I've got good looks so it's not necessarily anything there. I just need to start knocking them down.”

He may have to rediscover his mid-range game. The only two games he's attempted more shots inside the arc than out came in the opener against N.C. Central and Sunday's game against East Carolina.

In his first two seasons, he shot about the same amount of two-point attempts as he had 3s. This season, 56 percent of his shots have been 3-pointers.

Facing a Kentucky team on Saturday where shots in the lane will be tough to come by, Paige has to get things worked out in a hurry.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks' previous appearance in Time Warner Cable Arena was as a 12-year-old brought out for the Charlotte Bobcats' (now-Hornets) halftime entertainment scrimmaging with the rest of his little league teammates.

Saturday against Davidson, the Charlotte native was the Tar Heels' main attraction, recording a team-high 19 points with a game-high 12 rebounds in their 90-72 win.

It seems as the sophomore’s waistline shrinks, his game continues to grow. And it’s a concept he’s still getting used to.

[+] EnlargeKennedy Meeks
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKennedy Meeks was all smiles after recording a double-double in North Carolina's win on Saturday.
“Kennedy was huge inside,” said UNC coach Roy Williams, no pun intended. “He’s got to get his mind correct that he does have a different body, that it can do certain things.”

Meeks flashed the raised fist to Williams to signal he needed a break with just under four minutes left in the game. Before Williams could replace him, Meeks denied a pass and came up with a steal at halfcourt that he took in for a dunk.

“I guess I wasn’t as tired as I thought I was,” Meeks said.

He finished off some buckets with a flex for the cameras. He blocked two shots, had two steals and three assists in playing a season-high 31 minutes.

Meeks showed flashes of this potential last season, but couldn’t consistently pull off such performances in part because of his conditioning. It’s not so much a problem this season.

His new diet includes drinking more water with fewer carbonated and sugary drinks. He’s eliminated pizza, too. It’s helped him get down to about 270 pounds from 319 when he arrived on campus last year from West Charlotte High School.

He was so eager for a good showing in front of the block of 15 friends and family members in attendance that he started off the game flat.

Sophomore guard Nate Britt said the bounce in Meeks’ step was obvious as early as his pregame dance routine when the team gathers in a circle before taking the floor.

“You could tell that we were in Charlotte and he was happy to be home,” Britt said.

But early on Meeks appeared headed for the dreaded homecoming dud performance.

Three minutes into the game, after two blown defensive assignments, Meeks found himself being benched.

“I was like, 'Aw, man, this isn’t going to be good,'” Meeks said. “I was holding my head down but I have great teammates.They kept encouraging me to just post hard and stuff will fall through, and it did.”

The Wildcats tried double-teams on the post that for the most part Meeks either bullied through or passed out of without problems. In other words, he didn’t become, what the character-limited scoreboard overhead displayed, “Kennedy Meek.”

“Coach [Steve] Robinson always tells me every day, be aggressive and good stuff will happen for you,” said Meeks, who is the only Tar Heels player to score in double figures in each of their first three games.

It wasn’t just his scoring that helped the Heels. With the pace of the game more to Davidson’s liking early, Meeks helped get the Heels out running with his ability to turn a rebound into a quick outlet pass. Williams said he’s the best at doing that than anyone he’s ever coached and it helped the Heels get transition baskets they would not have scored otherwise.

“We know that his outlet passes are some of the best in the country,” freshman forward Justin Jackson said. “If the bigs get the ball, then we just get out.”

Even that was an adjustment. Meeks said his teammates haven’t always run out after rebounds, so he didn’t have the option of making a quick throw down the floor.

“Now they know I’m looking every single time, no matter who is in front of them or who is behind them,” Meeks said. “I think they’ve prepared themselves more for that.”

The Heels head to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas next week, where the competition level will increase and they could potentially face two ranked teams, including No. 3 Wisconsin. The Heels will need Meeks to continue to be a strong post presence and it seems he's prepared to deliver.

It won’t always be as easy as it was Sunday night for North Carolina forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks. After all, Robert Morris was woefully undersized in the post. Even playing zone defense against the Tar Heels didn’t help mask its deficiency.

Johnson scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the No. 6 Tar Heels' 103-59 victory. Meeks made his first six field goal attempts and scored 21 points with a game-high 12 rebounds.

But their performances were as much a function of their growth as it was simply taking advantage of a weaker opponent.

[+] EnlargeBrice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsThe production of Brice Johnson, left, and Kennedy Meeks in the season's first weekend should have North Carolina fans all smiles.
“I guess it just comes with experience with me and him being there a lot last year,” Johnson said. “… It carried over to this year -- it’s just gotten a lot better.”

Johnson has led the team in scoring in both games this season, including just 12 against N.C. Central. Meeks has been the second-leading scorer in both games, including 10 points and nine rebounds in the opener.

Any prediction of where the Heels can end up this season includes the scenario where the tandem of Johnson and Meeks are playing at a high level.

“Since last year they have been offensive go-to guys,” junior J.P. Tokoto said. “… They finish pretty much everything. It takes about two to three guys to get them stopped and it results in a foul most of the time, so they are going to be very, very [instrumental] to our success.”

Guard Marcus Paige said the team even talked about as much identifying their frontcourt scoring as one of the keys to their season.

“They’ve shown that they can do it and they’re willing to do it,” Paige said. “I mean that’s big for our team. If they can keep up -- maybe not 20 [points] and 12 [rebounds] every night, but this level of production -- against quality opponents then we’re going to be pretty happy with that.”

Carolina was undefeated last season in the seven games both Johnson and Meeks scored double figures -- including two of its biggest wins of the season against Louisville and Michigan State.

Meeks singled out the Louisville game for when the pair really learned how to complement each other’s play. It was the first games where both played extended minutes in the same lineup.

“That’s when we really started clicking with the high-low and him cutting to the basket and me being in the short corner,” Meeks said.

He added that both take pride in their ability to make interior passes and they’re always looking for each other. Two of Johnson’s three assists against RMU came in passes to Meeks and the lone assist for Meeks was a dish to Johnson.

It’s one of the reasons their results can’t be easily dismissed by the level of competition. Paige said the high-low that Meeks and Johnson worked would be effective against all zones they might face.

“That passing can be done against bigger, more athletic guys as well,” Paige said. “It’s an unselfishness and a willingness to throw the ball inside a lot. That’s not going to change.”

Coach Roy Williams hopes nothing changes from their fast start. Both Johnson and Meeks have the talent to rank among the best big men during his tenure at Carolina. They could be out to prove it this season.

“What we have to do is see that over the course of the season,” Williams said. “I thought last year those guys had some good games -- some really good games -- every now and then. But it’s got to be on a consistent basis like Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Tyler Hansbrough and Sean May. Those guys [gave] it to you every night.”

Early-entry winners and losers

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
The NBA’s early-entry deadline passed Sunday night as Division I coaches were returning from the only April recruiting weekend.

For the first time since the end of the season, the coaches finally know whom they will have and whom they won’t for next season.

Here are the winners and losers after the early-entry deadline. Keep in mind, some teams -- Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Colorado, Arizona State and Tennessee -- knew long ago they would be losing players, so they don’t fit in either category.


Kentucky: The Wildcats could have been starting from scratch again next season. The players would have had plenty of reason to bolt after making the national title game. But only two did, and the Wildcats can absorb the losses of Julius Randle and James Young. The decisions by Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee to stay, coupled with newcomers Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr., give Kentucky a deeper and more versatile frontcourt. The return of guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison means coach John Calipari doesn’t need to restart his perimeter. Kentucky is probably the only program in the country that can be in the winners column by losing two lottery picks because of the NBA draft-level depth of the freshman and sophomore classes.

Wisconsin: The Badgers were within one stop of advancing to the national title game before Aaron Harrison’s 3-point dagger in Arlington, Texas, in the national semifinal. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky easily could have put their postgame emotions behind them and said goodbye to Madison. But they did not. The return of the two scorers -- one on the wing and one inside and out -- means the Badgers have enough returning to be a Big Ten preseason favorite, a top-five team and a national title contender.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels were in a danger zone. UNC lost James Michael McAdoo, who had been inconsistent at times during his career. It could have seen point guard Marcus Paige and forward Brice Johnson bolt too. But that didn’t happen. Having Paige return is huge for coach Roy Williams. Paige will be the preseason favorite for ACC Player of the Year. His return was a must for UNC to be a conference title contender.

Louisville: The Cardinals had the most electric frontcourt player in the American last season in Montrezl Harrell. Few players could keep him off the backboard when he was going for a flush. The Cardinals continue to reload but don’t need to restart in the ACC sans Harrell. They won’t have to with his return.

Arkansas: The Hogs were a bit of an enigma last season with a sweep of Kentucky and a near-miss overtime loss at home to Florida. But the chances for Arkansas to make the NCAA tournament next season under Mike Anderson would have been reduced considerably if 6-foot-10 Bobby Portis and 6-6 Michael Qualls declared for the draft. Anderson was pleased to report Sunday that they did not.

Nebraska: The goodwill created by the Huskers’ run to the NCAA tournament could have been snuffed out if Terran Petteway was romanced by the good fortune and declared for the NBA draft. But he chose against it, and as a result Nebraska should be in the top six in the Big Ten and competing for a bid again.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had moments last season when they looked like an NCAA tournament team. They should be next season with the decision by point guard Juwan Staten to return to Morgantown. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He will enter the season with a strong case to be considered for Big 12 Player of the Year honors.

Oregon: The Ducks are constantly in transition but needed some sort of consistency from one season to another with a key transfer. Joseph Young had the goods to declare. But he’s coming back to give them a legitimate scorer going into next season and an all-Pac-12 player in the quest to return to the NCAA tournament.

Utah: Larry Krystkowiak has the Utes on the verge of being an NCAA tournament team. That plan could have easily been derailed if Delon Wright took the bait of being a possible first-round pick. Wright’s return means the Utes will be an upper-half Pac-12 team and a preseason pick to make the NCAA tournament.


UCLA: The Bruins found out late Saturday night that Jordan Adams was gone. He joins Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine. That means four of five starters are not back from the Pac-12 tournament champs. Steve Alford has a stellar recruiting class, but this team will be extremely young.

Michigan: The Wolverines are a prisoner of their own success. Nik Stauskas was hardly a two-year player when he was signed. But he matured into a Big Ten Player of the Year. He jumped with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, who had no choice after a one-year ban because of a failed drug test for marijuana during the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines will enter a new era under John Beilein.

Syracuse: Tyler Ennis was probably more of a two-year point guard when he was signed. But he was one of the best players in the country as a freshman and capitalized on his success by leaving for the lottery. Jerami Grant's departure means the Orange will look quite a bit different in their second year in the ACC.

Missouri: The Tigers lost coach Frank Haith to Tulsa and their two best players in Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. They will be pushing a restart button next season.

Xavier: The Musketeers had one of the most dynamic players in the Big East last season in Semaj Christon. Xavier is never down, but this presents yet another challenge for Chris Mack.

New Mexico: Alex Kirk was a potential early entrant. Add his departure to the known exits of Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams and the Lobos are rebuilding under Craig Neal.

Clemson: The Tigers had serious momentum with a strong finishing kick led by K.J. McDaniels. Brad Brownell always finds a way to keep his teams competitive. He’ll need to reinvent the team again with the loss of McDaniels.

Oregon State: The Beavers had a real gem in Eric Moreland, if he came back to work on his skills. He is tantalizing with his length and athleticism for the NBA, but he leaves the Beavers as a raw product when he and Oregon State could have benefited from his return.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have recruited at a high level the past four years under Tom Crean. Noah Vonleh is the latest to bolt. The problem for the Hoosiers is that he left a year too early, before he could have a full effect on the program with an NCAA berth.

NC State: The Wolfpack made a remarkable late surge to the NCAA tournament and won a game in the First Four before a late-game loss to Saint Louis in the round of 64. They had the ACC Player of the Year in T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack were supposed to be rebuilding last season and at times looked the part. But the run to the tournament changed the narrative. Now, with Warren gone, the rebuild might be underway.

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels were a disappointment last season even with Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith. Now they’re both off to the NBA draft, putting more pressure on Dave Rice to keep the Rebels chasing San Diego State, among others, next season.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost their best defensive player and leader in Aaron Craft. Now one of their top scorers is gone, too, with LaQuinton Ross' decision to declare.


Arizona: The Wildcats lost Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson -- two significant body blows. But the return of Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski, coupled with another elite recruiting class led by Stanley Johnson, means the Wildcats will be the pick to win the Pac-12.

UConn: The Huskies could afford to lose DeAndre Daniels with the addition of transfer Rodney Purvis but couldn’t handle the loss of Ryan Boatright. His return gives Kevin Ollie a lead guard to run the offense and jump-start the defense. No one will pick the defending champs to win the title again, but that’s exactly how UConn likes the odds.

LSU: Johnny Jones knew he was likely going to lose Johnny O’Bryant III, but there were questions about whether he would be without freshmen bigs Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. He got them both back, and the Tigers should be in contention for the NCAA tournament.

Michigan State: The Spartans weren’t surprised Gary Harris left after two seasons. But Michigan State would have taken an even deeper dip if Branden Dawson had jumped at the chance for the NBA. Dawson wasn’t a lock for the first round. He took the advice and stayed.

Heels don't mind winning ugly

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina’s 63-61 win over Notre Dame is not the way head coach Roy Williams prefers his victories. The Tar Heels scored just nine points in the first 10 minutes of the second half and made just nine field goals.

Fortunately for Williams, his team isn’t just about scoring. The Heels are just as likely to win a game like Monday night's by getting stops as they are by getting buckets.

“I’ve said it before to have a really good team you’ve got to win some of those games ugly, you’re not going to be perfect every night,” Williams said. “We’ve been good enough in times past to impose our will on other people and we haven’t done that with this team, but we’ve competed hard enough and well enough to sneak in there 12 times in a row anyway.”

Williams said he was tired of winning games ugly, but it’s been the way Carolina has gotten it done of late. Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto made up for the rest of the team struggling offensively against NC State. The Heels also had a tougher than expected four-point win Saturday at last-place Virginia Tech.

Paige said style points don’t matter at this time of the year, the Heels just have to be able to find a way to win heading into the postseason.

“That’s going to come in handy maybe later on down the stretch in a tournament game when it’s a hostile environment, both teams are playing well and you still have to find a way to win,” Paige said. “That’s the most important thing. Are you tough enough to find a way to win? Are you tough enough to get a stop? We got multiple stops, a couple big blocks, came up with loose balls, that’s why we won the game.”

[+] EnlargeJames Michael McAdoo
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJames Michael McAdoo liked how North Carolina finished against Notre Dame.
The Heels shot 50 percent and put up 41 points in the first half, which tied Florida State for the most scored against Notre Dame in ACC play in the first 20 minutes. They mustered only a season-low 22 points in the second half.

There were no second-half scoring heroics for Paige against the Irish. The Heels’ leading scorer with a penchant for scoring outbursts after halftime was held to a season-low seven points on 2-of-8 shooting.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey used a diamond-and-1 defense to effectively keep Paige from getting open looks.

“At the seven-, eight-minute mark in the huddles we were like, ‘He’s going to start to go now,’” Brey said. “We saw what he did to NC State -- that was off the charts. We did a pretty good job of making somebody else beat us.”

Paige, who scored the game-winning layup to cap a career-high 35 points against NC State last week, still found a way to beat the Irish at the buzzer. He did it defensively by providing the game-clinching block on Eric Atkins’ drive to the basket with one second left.

Paige had all of five blocks the entire season. But he left Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia, who was 2-of-6 from 3-point range, alone in the corner to help out.

“You could kind of see it in Atkins’ eyes that he was taking it and keeping it all the way to the basket,” Paige said. “So I just went all the way in and made that choice that I was going to try to defend the rim instead of giving them a 3. And I guess I guessed right. He tried to lay it up and I was there.”

During the second half Williams was upset with the way Leslie McDonald and Tokoto were playing defensively and took them out. But the Heels got a boost from an unlikely lineup combination that included freshmen Nate Britt and Isaiah Hicks along with reserve center Desmond Hubert to help cool off Notre Dame’s hot streak.

Notre Dame began the second half shooting 9-of-13 from the field as it rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to take a 49-48 lead. In the final 10 minutes, the Tar Heels limited the Irish to 5-of-13 shooting. Carolina held them without a field goal for nearly an eight-minute span that lasted until 5:20 remained.

“I can’t say enough good things about what they did during that stretch,” James Michael McAdoo said. “Me and Nate talking on the ball screens, Isaiah getting out and denying and Desmond being kind of a quarterback out there and just helping everybody get to where they need to be. They definitely were huge for us.”

Paige added that Carolina’s 12th straight win heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Duke was huge too, no matter the manner in which the Heels won.

“Finding ways to win is important in March,” Paige said. “We didn’t play as well as we’d like to but we still found a way to win.”

Time to believe in Carolina

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina finally gave a reason to believe what you see.

This unlikely bunch of Tar Heels became the first team in history to beat the Associated Press preseason No. 1 (Kentucky), No. 2 (Michigan State), No. 3 (Louisville) and No. 4 (Duke) with their 74-66 win over the Blue Devils on Thursday.

Their previous wins all gave way to inconsistent play. But Thursday’s victory is the one that can be trusted.

“After the Michigan State game, we were so high we felt like no one could knock us off our horse,” forward J.P. Tokoto said. “I mean, they were the No. 1 team in the country and we went into their place. It’s hard not to think that you’re unbeatable. But you can’t do that. We learned, learned from our mistakes.”

Make no mistake now, this imperfect group of Tar Heels are one of the hottest teams in the country after winning their eighth straight.

Their free throw shooting percentage is nearing historic lows in school history. They are limited from outside the arc. They’re not being carried, as Carolina teams in the past, by a bona-fide NBA draft lottery pick. But they’ve figured things out now.

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Robert Willett/Getty ImagesMarcus Paige scored 13 second-half points to help UNC get past Jabari Parker and Duke.
“No one’s out there realizing that ‘All right, I’ve got to score 20 a night.’ Nobody on our team has to do that, we’ve just got to play together,” forward James Michael McAdoo said. “People are seeing that in the different games where if someone doesn’t play well, everyone else just steps up.”

It hasn’t been like that all season that’s why the Tar Heels had the wildly inconsistent swings.

They lost to Belmont at home. Then they beat Louisville on a neutral floor. They lost at UAB. Then they go out and beat Michigan State and Kentucky. They lost to Wake Forest and Miami en route to a 0-3 start in ACC play.

Now they’ve reeled off eight wins for the first time since winning nine straight in the 2010-12 season.

McAdoo finished with his sixth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Marcus Paige had all 13 of his points in the second half. Earlier in the season, that likely would not have been enough.

“We’re getting comfortable being able to play consistently, we’re not having the ups and downs we had earlier in the year,” Paige said. “We’re figuring ourselves out as a team and peaking at the right time late in ACC play.”

Peaking? Yes. But not to the point where North Carolina coach Roy Williams felt comfortable proclaiming his team has arrived. He could point to the sluggish start at Florida State on Monday when they trailed by 15 and had scored just six points midway through the first half.

Even Williams had to admit the Heels have matured from the team that posted big nonconference wins.

“Those wins we had earlier in the season, they needed those, they really did,” Williams said. “Right now I think we all need to continue to play well because we’re gaining confidence from it. I don’t think you’re ever going to say, ‘We’re there.’”

Maybe not, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Heels are playing with an intangible confidence.

“We didn’t have ‘it,’ whatever the hell ‘it’ is,” Krzyzewski said. “When you have ‘it’ -- I thought Carolina had ‘it’ -- then you’re going to lose to a team like that.”

The Heels keep adding new wrinkles to their winning formula during their streak. Thursday it happened to be the reintroduction of Leslie McDonald.

The senior from Memphis entered the game having made just two of his previous 15 from 3-point range and was 8-of-31 from the field since scoring a season-high 20 points against NC State.

McDonald carried the Heels offensively in the first half against the Blue Devils, scoring 11 of their 30 points en route to a new season-high of 21. He did it by abandoning his normal hangout spots beyond the 3-point line and pulling up for mid-range jumpers or driving to the basket.

“The last time I did that was in high school and I don’t remember that,” McDonald joked.

Carolina had already used zone more often this season than at any other time during Williams’ tenure. But they waited until the second half to unveil a 1-3-1 against Duke, which Maryland and former Williams’ disciple Mark Turgeon also used with some success last week.

Williams has admitted before his reluctance to go zone for fear of giving up rebounds, but it helped slow the Blue Devils down. It was partly responsible for keeping Duke’s Jabari Parker without a touch for a five-minute span from 7:55 to 2:44, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. Carolina went from trailing by four to leading by four during that span.

“That 1-3-1 really helped us, we had never shown it in a game so it may have caught them off guard a little bit,” Paige said. “I don’t think they scored a whole bunch out of it and it kind of took them out of rhythm offensively.”

The Heels continue to get unexpected, yet timely, contributions.

Carolina entered the game shooting just 62 percent from the free throw line and only made 7 of 14 first-half attempts. Freshman guard Nate Britt was perfect in six free throw attempts and led a 13-for-17 effort in the second half.

With forward Brice Johnson in foul trouble the entire game, center Desmond Hubert tied his season-high with 11 minutes. He doesn’t bring the same offensive presence as Johnson, but for the second straight game he had a dunk putback off a missed shot. Hubert had just eight rebounds in conference play, but finished with a season-high five.

They’re doing it as a team and their confidence is growing as long as their winning streak.

“This is a big win for us and it proves to a lot of people that those wins early in the season -- our potential that we showed -- we’re starting to get there,” Paige said. “This team can make a deep run if we keep working and we can beat any team in the country if we play to our potential.”

Carolina vs. Duke: The key matchups

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20

Here's a look at the individual matchups that could determine Thursday night's game between North Carolina and Duke:

McAdoo vs. Parker

James Michael McAdoo is coming off his worst game of the season. He fouled out scoreless having played just 13 minutes in Monday's win over Florida State. If the Kentucky game was any indication, McAdoo will be up for facing Jabari Parker. McAdoo rendered Kentucky’s Julius Randle, another highly-touted freshman, a non-factor offensively during the Heels' win over the Wildcats.

Parker will be more of a challenge because he’s more comfortable stepping out on the perimeter than Randle. McAdoo may want Parker to drift out, however, as Parker has scored more than 20 points in three of Duke’s last four games while making more of a concerted effort to stay in the paint.

“He’s taking it upon himself to get the basket, he’s posting up a lot more. That’s where he’s most effective," Duke’s Rodney Hood said of Parker. “Not saying he can’t hit a jump shot, [but in the paint] that’s where he can punish people.”

[+] EnlargeSulaimon
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDuke's Rasheed Sulaimon has the length to make scoring a little tougher for UNC point guard Marcus Paige.
Sulaimon on Paige

Rasheed Sulaimon has started three of the last four games at point and could be matched up with Marcus Paige, the Heels’ leading scorer. At 6-foot-4, Sulaimon brings a little more length than Tyler Thornton or Quinn Cook and could make scoring a little more difficult for Paige. Florida State tried the same strategy by using the 6-foot-5 Aaron Thomas on Paige. It was effective for a half until the Heels started running Paige off more screens and he lit it up with 14 points in a nine-minute span in the second half. That went right along with Paige’s recent trend of producing big in the second half after a slow start.

“I don’t let my performance in one half dictate how I feel the rest of the game. I’m usually pretty even keeled throughout the game,” Paige said. “I’m not going to let a poor shooting performance or a couple of turnovers in the first half affect my mindset for the second half because I know my teammates are counting on me to produce.”

Tokoto on Hood

J.P. Tokoto is accustomed to drawing the opponent's best wing player, having just chased around Pittsburgh’s Lamar Patterson for the better part of a game. Hood may be the best player Tokoto will have faced this season. Hood isn’t one-dimensional. He’s shooting 45 percent from 3-point range, yet he can put the ball on the floor and create shots on his own. Tokoto said his defensive strategy doesn't change regardless of the opponent.

“I just approach every game with the mentality that I’m going to beat him up defensively,” Tokoto said. “Not so much foul, but just kind of get into him, get the ball out of his hands, keep the ball out of his hands -- whoever it is.”

[+] EnlargeDez Wells
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsUNC's Kennedy Meeks has size on his side, but Duke's Amile Jefferson will try to counter with quickness.
Jefferson on Meeks

Kennedy Meeks played arguably his second-best game of the season against Florida State (trumped only by his Louisville performance of 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists). He scored a career-high 23 points on 11 of 12 shooting from the field, and most of those baskets were point-blank putbacks.

Duke's Amile Jefferson, meanwhile, has been outsized all season. He’s listed as 6-foot-9, 210 pounds. Meeks is listed at 6-foot-9, 290 pounds.

“For me it’s about fighting the other guy because a lot of times they’re bigger, stronger, height-wise,” Jefferson said. “For me it’s about using my quickness to beat them up and down the floor length, on offense and defense. Really it’s just about fighting the entire game, making sure they feel me every possession.”

McDonald & Cook vs. Slumps

Carolina’s Leslie McDonald and Duke’s Cook are fighting similar slumps. McDonald has made just two of his last 15 from 3-point range and is 8 of 31 from the field since scoring a season-high 20 points against NC State on Feb. 1.

“He’s a phenomenal shooter from outside. We need him, and he knows that,” McAdoo said. “We’re not going to put too much pressure on him because as you’ve seen, we are still capable. But hopefully [against Duke] his shot is falling. When he is on, he’s just another great player, an added dimension.”

Cook’s recent performance against Maryland highlighted his inconsistencies. It was the only game this season that he didn’t record an assist, and he also had three turnovers. He played a season-low 14 minutes in the game.

If either player can emerge in this game, it could be a huge boost for his respective team.

The X-factors

  • Carolina’s Brice Johnson just posted his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds against Florida State. Johnson could see extended minutes if the Heels are hurt by Duke pulling its five out to the perimeter on pick-and-rolls. Johnson is better suited to defend it than Meeks or Joel James.
  • Duke’s Andre Dawkins shoots like every shot is going in and was a big factor off the bench when he scored a season-high 20 in the Blue Devils' win at Pittsburgh in late January.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina got its confidence back with a five-game win streak against teams it was “supposed” to beat. Win No. 6 in its streak brought a bit of validation.

The Tar Heels jumped No. 25 Pittsburgh for fourth place in the ACC standings with their 75-71 victory over the Panthers on Saturday. It proved what guard Marcus Paige has known in the course of the streak: The Heels are a different team than the bunch that stumbled to a 1-4 start in ACC play.

“I’m guessing we were predicted to win the first two conference games we played in our league, too, and we didn’t take care of business,” Paige said. “Those five games -- and especially this game -- were huge for us confidence-wise. This kind of shows that we really have improved. We’re not the same team that had the highs and lows earlier in the year.”

Observations from an important victory:

[+] EnlargeJames Michael McAdoo, Derrick Randall
Liz Condo/USA TODAY Sports James Michael McAdoo is averaging 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds during UNC's six-game winning streak.
1. UNC forward James Michael McAdoo has been comfortable playing in the background, but he’s now front and center for this team. McAdoo’s 24 points and 12 rebounds marked his fifth double-double this season. The Heels now feed off his energy and intensity.

“His approach is just different; even in practice, he goes hard every possession now,” Paige said. “ I’m not saying he didn’t before; it’s just that extra level of focus and attention that he’s bringing is kind of contagious.”

McAdoo said the only thing that changed was learning how to tune out distractions and focusing on having fun.

“I’m not going to say at the beginning of the year I was stressed out and not having fun, because I was,” McAdoo said. “But at the end of the day I just realized, when I’m out there, I’m a junior, I’m a leader. My teammates are looking at me to make plays, and I need to do that.”

2. Carolina has to finish stronger. The Heels led by seven with 55 seconds left, but Pitt still managed to cut it to three and had a chance to tie the score in the final 20 seconds.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams called it "weird stuff" that allowed the Panthers to nearly complete the comeback, such as the officials reviewing the monitor and overturning a possession to give Pitt the ball. McAdoo fouling out on a loose ball scramble. Jackson Simmons going to the floor for a different loose ball scramble, but his feet deemed out of bounds when he recovered it.

“I felt like I was in the ’72 Olympics,” Williams said. ‘That’s what it felt like out there.”

Then there was Pitt’s leading scorer, Lamar Patterson, who had a team-high 16 points, with a wide open 3-point look that could have tied it with seven seconds left. Patterson got open on an out-of-bounds play with the Heels in zone.

“He’s a good shooter; I was hoping we got a Dean Dome type of bounce for us,” Paige said. “… I was just thankful we were able to get away with it.”

3. J.P. Tokoto is the team’s best defender. Tokoto defended Patterson for most of the game and helped hold him to an ineffective 5-of-15 from the field. The key for Tokoto was forcing Patterson to drive where the Heels rotation could help out. That wasn’t an easy task with the amount of screens Patterson ran through.

“If I shadow like coach C.B. [McGrath] was telling me, I wouldn’t hit most of them,” Tokoto said. “I hit a few of them trying to deviate from the plan, but most of the screens I didn’t hit. There were a lot of them.”

4. The Heels are still unreliable as a team from the free throw line, but they can add Brice Johnson to the list of players who can have the ball late in a game. Johnson, who was shooting 66 percent on the season, went 7-of-10 from the line against the Panthers, including 3-of-4 in the final minute of play.

Johnson is shooting 74 percent (20-27) from the free throw line in conference play.

“I shoot them in practice, I shoot them after practice with coach [Hubert] Davis, just shoot them as much as I can,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s just myself; it’s not the way I shoot them, it’s me not using my legs in the middle of the game when I need to, that’s how I miss them.”
I’ve still got the game ticket and the $12 Trailways bus receipt that delivered me from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill on Feb. 20, 1986.

It’s tucked away in a photo album that I pulled from the shelf to crack open only because of what takes place Tuesday night at the Dean E. Smith Center.

Maryland is coming to the SAC.

[+] EnlargeUNC ticket
CL Brown/ESPNThis ticket allowed its owner to see Len Bias score 35 points and lead visiting Maryland past North Carolina.
Long before it became called the Dean Dome or Smith Center, it was referred to around campus as the acronym for Student Activities Center when the building first opened in ’86.

I was there when the Terps played their first game in the SAC.

And I’ll be there for their last game as a member of the ACC.

The series that began with a 26-20 Carolina win on Feb. 5, 1924, will essentially end nearly 90 years to the day on Tuesday night. Next season Maryland joins the Big Ten and the schools have no plans to continue the series.

The Tar Heels have dominated the all-time series, 121-57, and often won in ways that were just cruel for Maryland fans. (I bet Chuck Driesell still dreams the baseline is open and Michael Jordan still comes out of nowhere and blocks his shot like he did to preserve a 72-71 Carolina win in 1983.) But there’s something infinitely wrong about the schools no longer playing.

“I still think of Maryland as an ACC school and I’ll always think that way,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I’m old fashioned, old school. We’ve had some great, great games with them.”

The greatest game for me came while watching from Aisle 110, Row O, Seat 5. It was the section behind the North Carolina bench.

Williams, an assistant on staff then, was still two years away from getting his first head coaching job at Kansas. The Tar Heels were No. 1 at the time.

But I came to see Len Bias.

My oldest brother, who was a freshman at UNC, got the ticket for me knowing how much I liked Maryland.

Armed with a Kodak Tele Disc camera, which in theory had a zoom lens, I have picture after picture of Bias shooting over Jeff Lebo. Over Steve Hale. Over Steve Bucknall with Warren Martin’s outstretched arm trying to block his shot.

But I didn’t get the picture.

Surrounded by Carolina students, I contained my cheering for most of the game. But by the time Bias made a jumper for his 29th point, I gleefully turned to my brother seated to my right to celebrate. In the second it took to swivel my head back to the left, there was Bias dunking the ball backwards after a steal.

Since I missed the actual play then, I got former Maryland guard Keith Gatlin, a sophomore on that team, to explain what happened. The Terps were trying to rally from a nine-point deficit so they were supposed to be pressing after made baskets. After Bias’ jumper that cut it to seven, for a split second, he forgot to press.

I’ll let Gatlin explain from there:

“Warren Martin threw the ball to Kenny Smith and within the same motion Kenny Smith turned around, Lenny took the ball out of his hand and reverse back dunked on Warren Martin. It happened so quick a lot of people were like, ‘Holy crap!’ "

"It was amazing. I’d seen him do amazing stuff in practice, but the way he went from that to that was incredible. I think it shocked Carolina because literally Warren Martin threw the ball in. Before he could get back in bounds Lenny was turned backwards sitting on his head dunking the ball.”

Bias finished with 35 points as Maryland won in overtime 77-72 for North Carolina’s first loss in the Smith Center.

Tuesday night's game won’t have the kind of talent assembled like that night in 1986. (Brad Daugherty was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft. Bias went third before his death from an overdose. Kenny Smith had a prosperous NBA career before heading to the broadcast booth.)

But here’s hoping the series can muster a finale worthy of a kid keeping his game ticket as a souvenir.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina knew it was capable of a performance like Sunday’s 80-61 beatdown of Clemson. The Tar Heels just needed a reminder.

So coach Roy Williams had a video spliced together of clips from wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky and showed it to his team on Saturday. Carolina’s problem all season has been trying to sustain the urgency and effort that it showed in those nonconference games. The Heels finally revisited it against Clemson.

Williams doesn't have a formula to ensure they continue to play with such urgency, but he knows they can’t win without it.

“We have no chance if we don’t do that,” Williams said. “I’ve had some teams that were gifted and could win without their best effort. This is a team that really needs to have that maximum effort.”

The win over Clemson had little to do with any technical changes Williams made. He didn’t all of a sudden press more or use zone or come up with a new offensive set that the Tigers weren’t prepared to face.

The Heels simply ran to recover defensively on picks a little faster and tried for rebounds a little harder and competed a little bit better than they have for any game since the new year began. That’s something the Heels can do no matter the opponent.

“They played with much more competitive spirit than I’ve seen on them in some other games,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

[+] EnlargeUNC Celebrates
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJames Michael McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks and the rest of the Tar Heels were in a good mood Sunday given their effort against Clemson.
Williams said he didn’t mention Carolina’s absurd home winning streak against Clemson, which now stands at 57-0, while his team prepared for Sunday’s game.

Truthfully, the streak did have a little something to do with why the Heels played with an added bounce.

“We definitely didn’t want to be that team to let the streak go down,” forward James Michael McAdoo said. “Definitely just came down to playing with pride. We didn’t talk about it that much but in the back of our heads we knew that we weren’t going to be that team today.”

Since Carolina's loss to Virginia on Monday, Williams spent the week of practice preaching urgency. He had the team watch a montage from its three best wins that showed times where players dove to the floor for a loose ball; or crashed the boards for offensive rebounds; or did something as simple as making the proper rotation on defense.

“It’s almost like you forget about it, but you look back and we beat some really talented teams,” said sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who had 15 points and five assists. “We kind of just went back to remind us that we can be really good if we invest.”

The Heels showed they were all in early.

If there was ever a game to go through the motions it was this one. The Tigers have been coming to Chapel Hill to play Carolina since 1926 and have never left with a victory. No one would have questioned it had the Heels come out with little emotion given the opponent.

McAdoo, who scored a game-high 22 points with seven rebounds, proved early North Carolina’s effort would be different. On a Paige missed jumper, McAdoo dove on the floor to corral the long rebound and called timeout as Clemson players surrounded him. Coming out of the timeout, Nate Britt hit a 3-pointer to extend the Heels' lead to 15.

Hustle was contagious as J.P. Tokoto started a fast break by also diving to the floor for a loose ball. Although Leslie McDonald missed a 3-point attempt in transition, Kennedy Meeks was there for the offensive rebound and even grabbed his own miss before converting.

“You talk about winning basketball plays, when James Michael tonight dives on the floor and gets us an extra possession, when J.P. dives on the floor in the first half -- those are winning plays,” Paige said. “They showed us that when we make those, and we have a conscious effort to make those, everything goes a lot more smoothly.”

The Heels (12-7, 2-4 ACC) caught a break in their schedule too. Their next four games come against teams with losing records in the ACC, starting with Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

If Carolina needs another reminder moving forward, Williams can show clips from the Clemson game as a standard of effort.

McDonald, who started for just the third time this season, said the Clemson game should be the “primary example of what we should do every game.”

“We visually see what this high level of intensity and sense of urgency can do for our team,” said McDonald, who ended his slump with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. “It can really help us so we just need to feed off it.”

Paige, McAdoo set tone for Heels

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo can’t remember who said it first, but both realized it needed to be said.

North Carolina’s co-captains sat on the plane ride back from their loss at Syracuse last week that dropped the Tar Heels to 0-3 in the ACC knowing they needed to do something.

“I’m not going to say our backs were against the wall or that we were panicking, but something had to change,” McAdoo said. “We definitely just tried to adapt and just really do what we’re capable of doing and have done in the past.”

The Tar Heels did have their backs to the wall. Never in program history had they started off 0-4 in conference play.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Paige had 21 points against Boston College to help UNC snap a three-game ACC losing streak.
Paige and McAdoo decided to do as captains do, gathering the rest of the team for a players-only talk. Freshman Kennedy Meeks said the meeting was like the team took a collective “look in the mirror.”

“They asked us why are we here? Who we are playing for? How important is it to us?” Meeks said.

It was evident in UNC’s 82-71 win over Boston College on Saturday that the message got through. Carolina played with more energy and more urgency than it had since league play began.

Paige and McAdoo figured the best way to set an example was by their actions. And they set the tone from the start, scoring 25 of Carolina’s 36 points in the first half, marking their highest total in a half in ACC play. That is, until the Heels topped that with 46 second-half points.

“I was able to start off quick today, and I think that helps me get the rest of my teammates involved,” McAdoo said. “It just takes the pressure off everyone as a whole and then we’re out there clicking.”

McAdoo, who finished with 17 points, has reached double figures in 10 straight games. Paige finished with a game-high 21 points, which was an especially refreshing sight for the Heels after he has struggled in league play.

It was the most combined points for the duo since also accounting for a combined 38 points against UNC Wilmington.

When the co-captains play as well as they did Saturday, Carolina will look like the team that registered arguably the best three nonconference wins of any team nationally.

“As the leaders of this team, when we set the tone, that gets contagious,” Paige said. “So, we need to keep asserting ourselves early trying to make a stamp on the game so everything will come easy for our teammates, as well.”

When the Heels got off to a sluggish start in ACC play last season, they also held a players-only meeting. Sophomore J.P. Tokoto, who had 14 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds, said the difference this season is the players actually listened to Paige and McAdoo’s plea. Tokoto said last season’s talk “went in one ear and out the other” because players were more likely to brush off advice when it came from a teammate.

“We don’t have egos,” Tokoto said. “Our team meeting, I feel like it helped because of the individuals we have on the team this year. Guys are willing to listen, willing to make changes. We had the results today.”

UNC coach Roy Williams did his part to shake things up after a week off between games. Jackson Simmons made his first career start at center, and Leslie McDonald made just his second career start -- his first this season.

“You lost three in a row, you had to try to do something,” Williams said.

Paige and McAdoo had the same sentiment, adding that players can hear what needs to change from the coaching staff only so much. At some point, it needed to come from within the locker room.

“We just chatted, ‘Hey, we need to get the guys together and make sure we’re all on the same page,’” Paige said. “It’s not just going to happen on game day. We’ve got to commit to playing hard and making that a habit rather than once every four or five games.”

The win was more a reprieve than a cure-all. On Monday, the Heels head to Virginia, which has won four of its past five games.

If Paige and McAdoo come to play, the Heels will at least have a chance to win.

“It’s always good that when we have Kennedy step up and play well, and Leslie hit shots,” McAdoo said. “We know night in and night out we’re [Paige and McAdoo] going to be called on to be the leaders of this team.”

Drawbacks of living in a hoops hotbed

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
ESPN released the top markets for college basketball viewing earlier this week, and I happen to disagree with its findings.

I lived in Louisville, Ky., the better part of the past 13 years before moving back to North Carolina and getting a house in Durham. I happen to know, and can say with confidence, that people care more about college basketball in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill (known to locals as the Triangle) than anywhere else in the nation.

How did I come to this conclusion, despite the numbers that rank Louisville as the No. 1 viewing market, and Raleigh-Durham fourth behind Louisville, Greensboro, N.C., and Memphis? I know because even the crooks love college basketball here.

I learned that firsthand on Sunday when I turned the key in the lock of my front door to find it was already unlocked. A few steps inside I saw a pair of my North Carolina basketball shorts on my living room floor. It was obviously not where I stored them.

I had been robbed.

How did I come to this conclusion, despite the numbers that rank Louisville as the No. 1 viewing market, and Raleigh-Durham fourth behind Louisville, Greensboro, N.C., and Memphis? I know because even the crooks love college basketball here.

The perpetrator(s) smashed out a window to gain entry into my house. I fully expected to see an assortment of electronic gizmos missing. That was the normal part. But what I didn’t anticipate was how much the thief or thieves loved college basketball.

They stole my entire collection of college basketball shorts minus the one pair they must have dropped on their way out. If they were a fan of just one school, they didn’t show it either. They took them all.

I had just about every variation of North Carolina shorts evolving from the design with the Tar Heels foot on the side from the 1957 national title team to the argyle pattern down the side that they currently wear.

I also had all three variations of Duke shorts from the home whites to the road blues (before they incorporated a black stripe into the pattern) to the Blue Devils alternate black shorts. One of the first columns I wrote at my first job in Rocky Mount, N.C., was about buying those white Duke shorts and how, as a graduate of North Carolina, my brother and my former roommate likened me to a traitor.

My response was that I’m a fan of college basketball, and Chapel Hill wasn’t the only place that it was played.

So my collection grew.

Maryland. Florida. Michigan. Illinois. About 20 pairs total, all gone. (And man, I loved wearing those Florida shorts since they were reversible!)

I’m actually kind of glad some of the pairs I’d worn along the way, like Kansas and Kansas State, were so old and tattered that I had long ago discarded them on my own. That was like a peaceful parting compared to fate the rest of my collection suffered.

I wasn’t as big into wearing jerseys, but they got the few I had too: Michael Jordan North Carolina No. 23. Gone. Indiana No. 4 (you know, because it’s not made for a particular player, right?). Gone. North Carolina No. 40, which was a gift on my 40th birthday. Gone.

The irony in the theft is that the shorts of so many ACC teams that I had were probably stuffed into the Big East Conference duffle bag that they stole too. I’m sure that symbolism wasn’t lost on the thief or thieves, seeing how much they apparently love college basketball and all.

I hope whoever was responsible for this gets caught just in time to watch the NCAA tournament from a prison cell.
C’mon, Memphis.

I never thought Cincy would stomp the Tigers the way it did last weekend. That was my lone blemish.

I figured out the rest, though.

I have a feeling, however, that I’ll be less accurate this weekend. Too many difficult matchups to predict.

So I’d advise you to take all of this with a grain of salt. (What on earth does that mean anyway?)

Last week: 4-1
Overall: 17-8


[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsRoy Williams takes his wildly inconsistent squad into the Carrier Dome to play No. 2 Syracuse.
North Carolina at No. 2 Syracuse, noon ET, ESPN: Oh, Tar Heels, college basketball’s chameleon. At least they make it fun, right? I mean, every time North Carolina takes the floor, we’re all curious about the version of the program that will actually show up. Will it be the team that has defeated every ranked opponent that it has played this season (Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky)? Or will it be the team that has suffered losses to UAB, Texas, Miami and Wake Forest? Saturday’s matchup at Syracuse might be this team’s toughest test thus far. The Orange do most things well. They’re a Ken Pomeroy gem. They’re great on the offensive glass, they don’t commit many turnovers, they force plenty of turnovers, they defend well, and they’re loaded -- the same situation that North Carolina has encountered and overcome multiple times against ranked opponents.

Prediction: North Carolina 82, Syracuse 80

No. 9 Iowa State at Oklahoma, noon ET, ESPNU: When I was in Ames earlier this week for Iowa State-Baylor, Cyclones fans told me that they were nervous about this game. Lon Kruger’s program has given other nationally ranked opponents fits this season. The Sooners are fifth in the country with 87.0 PPG scoring average. On paper, Iowa State is certainly the better team. And the Cyclones are coming off a 15-point whipping of Baylor. But this is their third true road game of the season. Plus, there’s a gigantic matchup versus Kansas coming on Monday. This is dangerous for the Cyclones because Oklahoma is good enough to ruin Iowa State’s undefeated record, especially if Fred Hoiberg’s program gets caught looking ahead.

Prediction: Iowa State 82, Oklahoma 75

No. 25 Kansas State at No. 18 Kansas, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: San Diego State became just the third team to beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse over the past 115 games. Think about that. That’s a tremendous streak. The Jayhawks rarely lose at the Phog. But Bill Self’s current assembly is still figuring things out. That’s fine in early December. But it should be troubling in early January, especially when Kansas has so much competition at the top of the Big 12, perhaps the best league in the country pound for pound. And the Jayhawks are playing a confident Wildcats team that is nationally ranked after upsetting Oklahoma State last weekend. Kansas State has a stubborn defense that can exploit KU’s knack for committing turnovers (K-State is 39th in defensive turnover rate per Ken Pomeroy). Can and will, however, are two different things.

Prediction: Kansas 79, Kansas State 76


No. 20 Iowa at No. 3 Ohio State, 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS: Ohio State nearly knocked off Michigan State in East Lansing after recovering from a 17-point deficit earlier this week. That’s really all you need to know about the Buckeyes. Their defensive prowess and guts have anchored the program all season. This wasn’t their first close call, but it was more proof that it will take a 40-minute effort (and possibly extra time) to beat Thad Matta’s program. For 30 minutes, Iowa outplayed Wisconsin on Sunday. Illinois’ lopsided loss in Madison on Wednesday should put the Hawkeyes’ performance in Madison in the proper perspective. Even after Fran McCaffery was ejected from that game, the Hawkeyes continued to fight. McCaffery’s team might be a legit Big Ten contender. Iowa would prove it by beating a top-tier squad on the road. Iowa will prove it by beating a top-tier Big Ten squad on the road.

Prediction: Iowa 69, Ohio State 68

Xavier at Creighton, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network: Grant Gibbs’ knee injury is a major blow for Creighton. The Bluejays could have lost star Doug McDermott too. McDermott suffered a shoulder injury in a win over DePaul earlier this week. But he’ll be available this weekend for a critical Big East battle with Xavier. The Musketeers haven’t lost since late November when they ended the month on a three-game losing streak. They outplayed preseason title favorite Marquette on Thursday night behind Semaj Christon’s 28-point effort. Creighton, Villanova and Xavier are all 3-0 in league play. So Sunday’s matchup could be critical in the race, even though it’s early. The next time Xavier faces Creighton (March 1), Gibbs should be back in the mix. But even without him, Creighton will tough to beat in Omaha.

Prediction: Creighton 90, Xavier 88 (overtime)