College Basketball Nation: James Michael McAdoo

3-point shot: Return pays off for Napier

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
11:36
AM ET
video
In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on how returning to school for another year could have boosted the draft stock of Jahii Carson and James Michael McAdoo the way it did for Shabazz Napier, who was taken in the first round of the 2014 NBA draft.


SAN ANTONIO -- DeAndre Kane was off to the side praying to himself.

Georges Niang could feel his heart about to beat through his chest.

And Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t stop worrying all that might go wrong if officials put even a sliver of time back on the clock for North Carolina to attempt one final shot.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Kane
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesDeAndre Kane's double-double has Iowa State in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.
Instead, after several minutes when nobody at AT&T Center dared more than whisper, officials finally called the game, sending the Tar Heels home, the Cyclones to the Sweet 16 and Kane to the March Madness pantheon of heroic, game-winning baskets.

“To have it end like that,” North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo said, “it’s heartbreaking.”

Sunday evening in the East Region, it ended like this: after McAdoo swished two free throws to tie the game, Kane drove the floor, sliced through two Tar Heels defenders and banked in a layup off the glass with 1.6 seconds remaining to put the Cyclones up two.

North Carolina’s Nate Britt raced the ball back past half court, and called timeout after seeing he still had a second or so left for the Tar Heels to attempt a desperation shot. But it was only a mirage. The operator had started the clock a second too slow. And after reviewing replay for what seemed like an eternity to anyone donning cardinal and gold or Carolina blue, the officials concluded the game was over.

Third-seeded Iowa State 85. Sixth-seeded North Carolina 83.

“I was definitely praying that they'd call the game,” said Kane, who carried the Cyclones back from an eight-point deficit in the final four minutes with a series of tenacious plays, including the game-winner.

Hoiberg, who is taking Iowa State to Madison Square Garden and the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 when he was still a guard for the Chicago Bulls, wasn’t so sure they would.

“The last sequence, I was nervous,” said Hoiberg, whose team was bounced from the third round of the tournament last year on a buzzer-beating shot from Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. “I didn't know if they were going to get the ball over half court where they've got so many guys that can go and jump a lot higher than our guys. You worry about a lob play. They run a very good elevator play. They ran it against North Carolina State at the end and ran through a gap to get them a shot. Those were the things I was envisioning in my head.”

Then the officials called both him and North Carolina coach Roy Williams to the scorer’s table and revealed time had in fact run out on the Tar Heels’ tumultuous season.

Williams instantly gave Hoiberg, his friend and rival from coaching against Hoiberg as a player from the old Big Eight, a congratulatory hug.

Niang, who had broken his right foot in Iowa State’s second round game Friday, jumped off the bench onto his left foot.

And Kane, who was sensational down the stretch, threw both arms in the air and let out a gigantic smile before rejoining his teammates to celebrate Iowa State’s biggest win-or-go-home victory of this millennium.

On the other side, McAdoo, Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald, who themselves hit several big shots, had the expressions of utter disbelief they wouldn’t get another chance to keep their season going.

“Kane hit an unbelievable shot, and when you think you have an opportunity at the end and realize the time went out and you don't have the opportunity, it's tough,” McDonald said. “You're hoping that you're going to have that opportunity, but you don't. It hit us hard.”

Before the final sequence, both teams spent the game hitting each other hard.

Even without Niang, their third-leading scorer and tallest starter, the Cyclones jumped out to a nine-point lead in the first half.

Iowa State seemed poised to put the game away, especially after UNC forward Brice Johnson had to leave the game for good with a sprained ankle. But as they did after losing P.J. Hairston and their first three ACC games, the Tar Heels battled back. And with Paige finding his stroke from the outside and Kennedy Meeks dominating the paint, the Tar Heels led 76-68 going into the last four minutes.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsFor the second straight year, North Carolina failed to advance past the Round of 32.
But Iowa State never panicked. And then, the Cyclones counterpunched.

Naz Long and Monte Morris nailed 3-pointers, then Kane hit Melvin Ejim streaking down the court with a one-handed bounce pass to tie the game at the two-minute mark.

“It was a heck of a basketball game,” said Williams, who failed to take North Carolina out of the NCAA tournament's opening weekend in consecutive seasons for the first time. “If you didn't care who won the game, you had to be entertained.”

Kane, however, wasn’t done. And during McAdoo’s final free throws, Hoiberg dialed up a play for his point guard, who weaved his way down the floor before splitting the defense down the lane for the acrobatic basket, scoring the last of his game-high 24 points.

After Britt’s timeout, McAdoo and Paige and McDonald stood silent, hoping they’d get their own chance at a March miracle that wouldn’t be coming.

“We were prepared to finish the game out,” Kane said. “But it was great they called it.”


We’ve just witnessed another chapter of the Duke-UNC rivalry. This time in Chapel Hill.

Here are five observations from North Carolina’s 74-66 win over No. 5 Duke on Thursday night.

North Carolina’s resilience: Marcus Paige finished the first half without one point. He was 0-for-2. And his three assists equaled his three turnovers. It wasn’t a pretty opening for the point guard. But he shook it off. And the rest of his team followed his lead. With 15 minutes to play, the Tar Heels were down 51-40. But the resurgence of their offense coincided with Duke’s slump. As John Gasaway pointed out in this piece about North Carolina’s improved offensive capabilities during its seven (now eight)-game winning streak, the Tar Heels have blossomed on that end of the floor. They’d averaged 1.12 points per possession during the streak prior to Thursday’s game, per Gasaway. And although that offensive execution was absent before halftime, it reappeared in the second half. Leslie McDonald’s 21-point effort changed everything. Paige’s tough layup in the final 90 seconds was clutch. The Tar Heels could have quit. Let’s be honest. The Tar Heels from two months ago might have quit. Not these guys, though.

Where was Jabari? Rodney Hood was an early catalyst for Duke. Quinn Cook hit big 3-pointers. But Jabari Parker struggled in the second half, when Duke needed him more than it did in the first half. By halftime, he’d Jabari’d the Tar Heels (10 points, five rebounds, two blocks). Other than a sneaky crossover and finish against James Michael McAdoo, he wasn’t really a star in the second half. He finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five turnovers. Good numbers, beyond the turnovers. But give the Tar Heels credit for pressuring Parker and forcing other Blue Devils to be the primary playmakers late.

Drought or defense? In the second half, Duke couldn’t score for about nine minutes. Parker’s layup with 15:14 to go was the Blue Devils' only field goal before Cook’s shot with 6:26 to play. After leading North Carolina 37-30 at halftime, Duke went cold after the break. Yes, shots just weren’t falling for the Blue Devils. But the Tar Heels -- renewed by the return of McAdoo and other players who were limited by foul trouble in the first half -- really clogged the lane and made every attempt difficult for the Blue Devils. And they wouldn't let Duke (5-for-22 from the 3-point line) breathe on the perimeter. North Carolina’s defense was critical during its emergence from an 11-point hole.

Don’t forget about Plumlee In terms of perception and expectations, Marshall Plumlee’s last name hasn’t helped his cause. His brothers, Mason and Miles, are both talented young NBA contributors. Marshall entered Thursday’s contest averaging just 7.5 mpg for the Blue Devils. He was solid against the Tar Heels, though. His final stat line wasn’t mind-blowing. But he looked like a serviceable sophomore big man. He grabbed key rebounds down the stretch. He was a strong defender. He faced foul trouble but he played through it. Plumlee’s attitude and aggression was a factor in the matchup. He also proved that he can help Duke in big games the rest of the way.

Wow! This is a special rivalry. We all know that. Once Duke took control in the first half and extended its lead after halftime, however, it didn’t feel special. It felt like an ordinary, semi-lopsided game. Duke would pick up another quality win and the Tar Heels would face questions about their poor free throw shooting and turnovers postgame. And then things changed. That’s what happens in college basketball. The same North Carolina team that was down by 11 points launched a comeback. The same North Carolina team that couldn’t find the rim began to hit shots. Duke didn’t break, though. The Blue Devils kept fighting through a lengthy drought. But it just wasn’t enough. That was an amazing turnaround. That was an amazing game. We were lucky to see it all unfold.

Carolina vs. Duke: The key matchups

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
12:00
PM ET

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.
James Michael McAdoo wasn't very good last season. It's OK to be up front about it. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 58 percent from the free throw line. He turned the ball over on 18.2 percent of his possessions. His offensive rating, 91.3, means he probably hurt his team offensively more than he helped.

Watching him play wasn't much fun either. McAdoo gobbled up 27.4 percent of his team's possessions last season, and all too often those possessions went like this: McAdoo catches the ball too far from the hoop. McAdoo turns, dribbles, hesitates, faces up -- any of the above, really, or some combination therein -- and shoots a 10- to 15-foot jump shot. Most of the time, it did not go in. It was rough.

[+] EnlargeJames Michael McAdoo
Liz Condo/USA TODAY SportsJames Michael McAdoo is making better decisions this season for North Carolina.
To say McAdoo has improved this season doesn't take much of a leap. It's right there in his numbers: His offensive rating is 105.0; his true shooting is up from 47 percent to 50.3; his turnover rate is down to 11.1 percent. The only thing he isn't better at is free throw shooting, but the sum of his improvements is clear. He's guarding better too. It's a wholesale leap.

But maybe the most impressive thing about McAdoo's improvement is not the what but the how -- how he goes about his offense, how concise, decisive and direct he plays.

There is no better example than his work during Saturday's victory over Pittsburgh. McAdoo had his best game of the season: He was 11-of-18 from the field for 24 points and had 12 rebounds on 27 percent usage. But it wasn't because he started reliably knocking down those midrange jumpers. He made a couple early in the game, yes, but he also badly missed a baseline 10-footer in the second half that was like last season all over again.

Instead, the McAdoo on display Saturday was active and energetic, grabbing seven offensive rebounds, typically beating his defender to spots, establishing good post position and creating a handful of easy points from work done before the ball arrived. When he caught the ball away from the hoop, as he did several times in both halves, he made one quick move, got his shoulder by the defender and went straight to the rim. In the first half, he scored on a picture-perfect baseline drive. In the second half, he caught a post pick-and-roll on the left wing and went straight at the middle of the lane -- no hesitation, no fakes -- where he earned an easy 5-foot floater over the defense.

It was like watching an entirely different player. Last season, McAdoo operated under the impression that the way to score was to be better than defense after you catch the ball. This season -- Saturday especially -- he has begun to grasp just how important pre-touch offense is and how effective you can be when you implement it.

Monday night's trip to Florida State comes in the heart of Bubble Watch season, so much of the focus will revolve around the Seminoles' bubble odds. I'm sure UNC's Thursday matchup with Duke will receive some attention. But in the meantime, watch the matchup happening on the low block, as Okaro White and the rest of the FSU frontcourt will try to make the Tar Heels one-dimensional.


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Roy Williams knows that Armageddon is right around the corner. The faces and names that await his team in its next test just happen to escape him.

The latter remark drew more laughs than the former after North Carolina's 73-62 escape job here over Notre Dame. But a season-best five-game winning streak has done little to calm the neurotic Tar Heels coach as his program turns the page to Wednesday's showdown against rival Duke.

"I never feel like that," Williams said when asked if his team was finding a rhythm. "I feel like every day we've got to play the best we can possibly play or the world's going to end, so I'm never going to be satisfied."

Satisfied, no. Not after a game that began with his Heels missing 20 of their first 28 shots and falling behind by nine early. While the Fighting Irish were connecting on their first four tries from long range, UNC's missed layups were becoming a source of comedy. Consistent giveaways only fueled a Joyce Center crowd that was filled for what coach Mike Brey had called another "program day" for his Irish in their inaugural ACC campaign -- a league slate that commenced with an upset over those Blue Devils last month.

[+] EnlargeJames Michael McAdoo
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsJames Michael McAdoo, who had 18 points and eight rebounds, and UNC were too much for Notre Dame.
But Williams and his band can feel much better about their much-anticipated meeting with Duke given the way the Heels took charge late in the first half, creating offense with their defense to carry a 9-0 run and four-point lead into halftime.

The opening play of the second half portended more of what was to come, with the 6-foot-9 James Michael McAdoo batting off a pass near Notre Dame's bench and saving it in one motion to Leslie McDonald, who cruised in for the lay-in.

It marked the first fast-break bucket of the game for the Heels. They finished with eight fast-break points in the second half, which at times looked like a clinic of how to operate in transition. They finished with 23 points off turnovers, forcing four in the second session's first four minutes and building a double-digit lead that they never really relinquished against an Irish squad that was simply no match athletically.

Notre Dame finished 2 for its last 17 from downtown after its hot start. The Irish were unable to crack the length of McAdoo (four steals), the 6-foot-5 J.P. Tokoto (four steals) or 6-foot-9 reserve Brice Johnson (three steals), who followed his 8-for-8 night against Maryland with a cool 10 points, three offensive rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes.

"The biggest thing was probably just our sense of urgency on defense, but with that just being disciplined and then just being really sound," said McAdoo, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. "Coach uses that word a lot, and I think that really has to do with 1-through-5 playing together and realizing that although we do strive to play perfect defense, someone is eventually going to mess up. But there's four other guys out there on the court that can help cover up for that."

This was different from the 19-6 run to open the Terrapins game, or the 18-4 lead UNC built early against NC State last weekend.

Encouraging may not be the right term considering the way the Heels struggled early in this one, but the 6-4 league record after a forgettable 1-4 start did bring out some smiles after a fifth straight double-digit win.

"Yeah, I do believe in a little bit of rhythm, unlike him," Marcus Paige (16 points, 6 assists) said at the podium, pointing to Williams on his right. "But I think we've had some success and we've been able to build off of it, and it's given us some confidence so we know what we're capable of doing now. We're not struggling as much. We're still not perfect by any means, but we understand that our defense can get us through our tough stretches on offense, and guys are figuring out their roles and what works well. And I think as long as we continue to take and build off that we can keep this run going."

Tokoto (13 points, 7 rebounds) played coy when asked about his next game before saying that momentum is ultimately thrown out the window when Carolina and Duke take center stage.

Still, it sure beats the alternative.

"It's fun, the game coming up is the kind of game you come here to play," Paige said. "But we definitely weren't looking past this. We had won a couple in a row, we didn't want our momentum to stop on a tough road game in a cold, snowy area. We wanted to keep this going, keep the win streak alive and then now we can really focus on the Duke game on Wednesday."

Confidence restored in Carolina

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
12:34
AM ET
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Out of shape and physically unimpressive, the media horde that follows North Carolina basketball is similar to most around the country. Yet during the Tar Heels’ 1-4 start in ACC play, head coach Roy Williams joked his team wasn’t much better.

“At that point, we didn’t think we could beat five of [the media contingent present] and y’all don’t look that impressive as a basketball team,” Williams said.

North Carolina can exhale now that the same can no longer be said about the Heels.

They’ve got the sorely needed confidence boost after the sluggish start to conference play, capped off with Tuesday’s 75-63 win over Maryland. The Heels now own a four-game winning streak -- their longest of the season -- and are above .500 in league play for the first time.

[+] EnlargeUNC/Maryland
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsFour consecutive wins have Marcus Paige and North Carolina above .500 in ACC play heading into a tricky four-game stretch.
“We’ve definitely hit our stride, our defensive intensity has increased, and it’s a lot different than it was the first couple of ACC games,” said sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who scored a game-high 25 points, his personal best in a conference game. “That’s what allowed us to be successful, so if we keep that up I think we’re going to reel off a couple more wins hopefully.”

The Heels will need every bit of their newfound confidence. They enter arguably their toughest four-game stretch in conference play, starting with Saturday’s game at Notre Dame. Following the game in South Bend, Ind., the Heels return home for Duke and Pittsburgh before ending with a trip to Florida State.

Back when Carolina couldn’t beat the media, those four games truly would have been cause for anxiety. Now, they are a simply a welcomed challenge.

“I think they are more confident,” Williams said. “I think they’ve bought in to the sense of urgency issue that we’ve been preaching all year long. I think we are getting a little better defensively.”

Senior guard Leslie McDonald said the turnaround came when the team went “back to basics” and raised their intensity in practice. He added that everyone was pushing themselves a little bit harder and it has paid off in their wins.

“We had the mind frame of we had to be more competitive -- and that’s not talk,” McDonald said. “You can’t just teach somebody to be more competitive; you’ve got to have that will inside of you.”

The confidence factor has manifested itself in many ways for the Heels. Check the fast starts they’ve had in games against NC State and Maryland. They led by 14 points after eight minutes against the Wolfpack and had jumped ahead by 16 points in just five minutes against the Terps.

“It doesn’t always happen, but it’s definitely something that helps us when we see what we’re capable of doing,” junior forward James Michael McAdoo said. “It definitely gives us that cushion as far as NC State, and then [Maryland] just getting that little cushion where we can afford to make mistakes.”

That’s also where confidence comes in because Maryland, after trailing by 16 in the first half, managed to cut its deficit to three. But every time the Terps made a push, Carolina had a response and expanded its lead to the point where it never was less than six in the second half.

McAdoo had 12 points and eight rebounds, but Williams added that his stat line wasn’t reflective of the effort he brought to the floor. And fortunately for the Heels, he has been consistently bringing energy to the lineup.

“His effort has really been important to us the last four or five games,” Williams said.

The next four games could determine a lot about what direction the Heels’ season will go. But the good thing for the Heels, according to forward Brice Johnson, is the past four games established them back on the right path.

“We know we can be really good when we play with a sense of urgency like we did in the first five minutes of the game,” said Johnson, who went 8-for-8 from the field and had 19 points. “You see everybody was running around having a good time, stealing the ball. ... We play like that every night, we can keep this streak going.”

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.”

Tar Heels' defense full of holes

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
1:18
AM ET

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Of the head-scratching losses North Carolina had leading into its ACC opener at Wake Forest, Sunday night's 73-67 loss is the most disconcerting.

There's no poor free-throw shooting to laugh off at the absurdity of the amount of misses. This was not Chris Paul working wonders in the lane. Or Randolph Childress drilling from parts far and farther behind the 3-point line.

This was the Tar Heels forgetting the scouting report. This was too many lapses defending pick and rolls. And this was a virtual open-door policy allowing dribble penetration regardless of who was doing the ball handling. This was as easy as it gets for analysis -- the Tar Heels can't stay in front of the ball.

"We've got to do a better job guarding the basketball," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "Whether it's play zone or do more traps or all of the above -- we definitely have to do a better job guarding the basketball."

Williams tried going zone for a few possessions, but abandoned it when the Heels failed to rebound out of it. Previous games when he used what he terms a "3-2 drop" zone, it has been effective. And judging by their man-to-man against Wake maybe he may be forced to use it more.

It's no exaggeration to say Carolina gave up too many easy baskets. Wake Forest opened the second half by scoring layups on its first six baskets. It wasn't until Arnaud William Adala-Moto made a jumper with 12:29 left that they had to take a higher percentage shot.

"We have to better execute how we talk about defending certain players and defending certain teams," UNC freshman guard Nate Britt said. "They got a lot of dribble drives to the basket that got them easy buckets in the paint that they shouldn't have got especially knowing the players’ capabilities offensively."

The Deacons shot 48 percent from the field, which was the highest percentage Carolina allowed this season. By comparison Michigan State shot 35.9 percent, Louisville shot 38.8 percent and Kentucky managed 40.7 percent. Due respect to the Deacs, but they don't possess more offensive talent than those ranked teams the Heels defeated.

For all of its flaws as a conference, the ACC has plenty of guys who can get to the rim. If this is how Carolina defends, imagine what Syracuse's Tyler Ennis, Duke's Quinn Cook or Notre Dame's Eric Atkins will do. My guess is they'll all study game clips of how the Deacons picked UNC apart.

Then again, it won't matter much if the Heels take the same approach they did against Wake. Senior Leslie McDonald said Carolina they tried to guard everyone the same way instead of knowing the nuances from the scouting report.

"We have to buy in and focus on that, the scouting report is the key of things," McDonald said. "If a player likes to go left, you should know that, you should know everything about the person you are guarding."

Carolina is only good defensively when everyone operates together. The Heels don't have a shot blocker lurking to erase mistakes. The Heels' 15 blocks against Northern Kentucky were in part due to a huge size advantage they won't have over league foes.

Sophomore guard Marcus Paige said Carolina probably practices more screen-on-ball defense than anybody in the country. But it hasn't translated very well to games.

"There's no way people work on that more than we do," Paige said. "In the games we just have lapses and we're not as disciplined so we need to figure out a way to translate what we do in practice over to the game."

Wake is second only to Carolina in free throw attempts in the ACC. The Deacs attack the rim. But James Michael McAdoo hinted that the Heels may be suffering from a lack of maturity. He blamed a lack of effort for their continued defensive breakdowns.

"We've got to change, that's the biggest thing," McAdoo said. "We can't keep letting coach Will[iams] down."

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams refused to acknowledge it.

But he didn't have to.

The signs were all there in Carolina's 82-77 victory against No. 11 Kentucky.

The No. 18 Tar Heels have figured things out. They're no longer a team struggling in new roles because they were stretched outside of their collective comfort zones.

They've settled down now to the point where saying Carolina is playing short-handed even seems like a misnomer. P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald didn't dress for the ninth time this season, and it didn't seem to matter.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige, Dominique Hawkins
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeMarcus Paige has come a long way from his pass-first days as a freshman last season.
"I don't know if we've figured it out like we're clicking like no other right now, but guys do understand their roles better," sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. "We know that we're going to have to play without them until they're ruled eligible or whatever. We've just decided that this is our squad that we're rolling with for the time being."

The Heels have plenty of flaws. Paige is their only consistent 3-point shooter. They're atrocious from the free throw line. They haven't had anyone claim the center spot. But they have learned what their strengths are.

Paige is the face of the successful transitions. As a freshman last season, he was asked only to be a distributor at point guard. With Hairston out, he has moved to shooting guard and has become the Heels' leading scorer.

Early in the season, it wasn't natural for Paige to hunt for his own shot. It's safe to say he has learned now, scoring 21 of his game-high 23 points in the second half and shooting 6-of-8 from the floor.

One of his biggest baskets of the game came while going right at UK center Willie Cauley-Stein, who had five blocked shots. Paige completed a teardrop over the 7-footer's outstretched arm to give Carolina a 70-65 lead with 1 minute, 41 seconds left, which kept it at least a two-possession lead until 7 seconds remained.

"He made two unbelievable shots," Williams said. "That little floater on the baseline -- I'm always kiddingly harping on, I don't like floaters until you show me you can make them, and he's coming pretty doggone close."

Junior James Michael McAdoo is coming close to erasing worries at small forward. His transition from power forward to reserve duty at the 3 had made him pretty ineffective offensively. He had a four-game stretch in which he didn't reach double figures in scoring and shot just 29.2 percent from the floor.

McAdoo played arguably his best game of the season with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He has put up bigger numbers against lesser competition, but his performance caused Wildcats coach John Calipari to say, "McAdoo made a statement."

"Games like today are huge; it feels a lot better," McAdoo said. "If we would have won and I had zero points, zero rebounds, I'd still be happy, but as a human being I want to be able to contribute to the team."

McAdoo got the ball in positions where he could score. Over and over he'd take passes from the wing and aggressively drive to the basket. That led to fouls and was the reason he tied his season high with 19 free throw attempts.

UK forward James Young said McAdoo's offensive outburst took him a bit by surprise, given his recent struggles.

"In the second half, I played most, if not all, my minutes at the 3," McAdoo said. "To be able to log those minutes, it's definitely huge, not only personally, but for the team moving forward."

[+] EnlargeJ.P. Tokoto
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeJ.P. Tokoto has adapted well to playing more minutes and playing more as a shooting guard.
J.P. Tokoto teamed with McAdoo to carry the Heels in the first half, with 11 of his 15 points. Tokoto eased into playing more at shooting guard, which, along with McAdoo at small forward, has allowed the Heels to play a bigger lineup, usually with Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks rounding out the five.

"Guys are accepting the challenge of stepping up and producing when they get the chance," Paige said. "J.P.'s playing a lot more minutes this year as a starter, and he's really producing. It's cool to see our team grow and accept the fact that we're going to have to all step up as a group."

Williams was concerned about how Carolina would perform against the Wildcats after a lackluster practice Friday. It was just the second full practice of the week due to final exams changing players' schedules.

Passes floated to areas with no one waiting to receive them. Man-to-man defensive assignments were missed, and their focus was distant. It was the complete opposite of their practice before the Michigan State game.

Freshman guard Nate Britt attributed it to players coming off the mental fatigue of final exams.

"Coach might have been worried, because he felt like the intensity wasn't there," Britt said. "But I feel like the players, we were fine mentally coming into the game."

Isn't that a sign of a good team?

Williams still says the Tar Heels have a ways to go. But after beating their third ranked team this season -- and shooting a combined 55.1 percent in the second half of those three games -- he has to be flashing a Cheshire grin.

"We're such a young group, and sometimes an immature group," Williams said. "You don't want to get them too fat and happy."

McAdoo, Poythress look to break slumps

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
11:00
AM ET
North Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo and Kentucky’s Alex Poythress both possess talent that highlighted their one-and-done potential as high school recruits. Back then, it wouldn’t have been hard to envision their individual matchup as a key to winning Saturday’s game between the Tar Heels and Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeMichael McAdoo
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeJames Michael McAdoo might find better matchups against Kentucky's frontcourt.
The reality is that it would be surprising if either was the deciding factor, as both have struggled to find their way this season.

Poythress, a sophomore forward, started 31 of 33 games last season for the Wildcats. He has yet to crack the starting lineup this season, and barring injury, there’s little reason to expect him to.

He’s playing his way into becoming an afterthought. He played a season-low six minutes against Baylor. UK coach John Calipari told reporters Tuesday that sometimes “you get into the heat of the game, and you forget. … There are times I forget guys are on the bench.”

Poythress wasn’t the only reserve that Calipari “forgot” about in the loss to the Bears, but it’s quite a fall for a player the Wildcats depended on last season.

As a freshman, he averaged 11.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, which ranked second and third on the team, respectively.

Tuesday’s game against Boise State marked Poythress’ second straight scoreless outing. He is still averaging 5.9 rebounds per game this season, but his scoring has dropped to 4.3 points per game.

In games against Louisville and Michigan State, McAdoo had identical shooting performances, going 3-of-11 from the field in both games. He had nine points and two rebounds against the Cardinals and eight points and four rebounds against the Spartans.

Carolina’s win over UNC-Greensboro marked the first time in five games McAdoo reached double figures in scoring. Although his 13.0 scoring average isn’t far off last season’s 14.4 points, his shooting percentage has dropped from 44.5 percent as a sophomore to 40.4 percent as a junior.

Sophomore guard Marcus Paige said he hasn’t noticed McAdoo pressing the issue, even in practice.

“I’m sure he would like to be shooting a little better,” Paige said. “But at the same time, he’s a competitor and probably like the perfect teammate you could ask for. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win and doesn’t really care about his stat line.”

McAdoo is more comfortable and effective playing power forward, and his troubles this season have been largely due to spending more time at small forward. Carolina’s big lineup with J.P. Tokoto at shooting guard and McAdoo at the 3 could see long stretches against the Wildcats.

McAdoo said the Kentucky matchup could actually be more favorable for him because it plays a traditional frontcourt. He won’t have to worry about floating to the perimeter as much as he did against Belmont and teams with smaller lineups. That’s why he’s still confident he can make the necessary adjustment to small forward while the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald leaves the Tar Heels thin at wing.

“I think it’ll come in time. We’ve only played, what, [eight] games?” McAdoo said. “The season is just beginning. We still got a long way to go.”

Heels have reason to celebrate

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
11:39
PM ET

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams walked over to his players huddled in a circle and jumping after their 93-84 win over No. 3 Louisville on Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

The 63-year-old cracked a smile and disappeared into the blue, his shiny white top barely visible, as he hopped, jumped and bumped into the players. Williams broke from the pack and gave a salute to the fans before the team ran off, hauling the Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship trophy to their locker room.

The No. 24 Tar Heels haven’t had a November win that warranted such an impromptu celebration in a while. Just one week ago, the Heels’ loss to Belmont was just their second nonconference home defeat during Williams’ tenure. The program has also been carrying an albatross of uncertainty while awaiting a final judgment on the status of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.

That’s why a little celebration was in order. Carolina needed this one.

“Since June 5th it’s not been a very pleasant time -- it’s been probably the most difficult time I’ve had as a coach,” Williams said. “It has not been fun in every way, shape or form. But today, out on that court watching their excitement, bumping with them, then going in the locker room celebrating, that’s what I coach for.”

Former coach and mentor Dean Smith used to tell Williams he could accept whatever the outcome was as long as the team played well. Williams said he would respond by saying he’d rather win, but he changed his thinking before the Louisville game because of the many growing pains UNC has endured so far.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsRoy Williams celebrates with the Tar Heels after they knocked off No. 3 Louisville.
“I would have accepted it today. I wasn’t worried about result,” Williams said. “I really wasn’t. I wasn’t thinking win, win, win, I was thinking we had to play better. If we played better we’d have a chance.”

The Cardinals proved to be the right opponent at the right time for the Heels.

The Cards aren’t as deep in the front court and the Heels seem to never run out of big bodies. The Cards preferred to play a faster pace that the Heels enjoy, too. The Cards preferred to press, and the Heels have been playing two points guards in the lineup with Nate Britt and Marcus Paige.

“We tried to outscore them and I think they were better at it,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.

Paige said the Heels were “best in that environment” of playing a fast tempo and it certainly helped that they had a good example to learn from in Ty Lawson. Williams showed his team clips from the Heels’ 2008 Elite Eight win over Louisville in which they consistently beat the press by quickly getting Lawson an outlet pass.

Carolina, which had just 14 turnovers, never allowed the press to be a problem. Often the hidden effect of Louisville’s pressure is end of game fatigue for its opponents. But since Britt and Paige both handled the ball, that wasn’t a problem either.

“There were stretches where I was pretty tired, I played 38 minutes [on Saturday],” Paige said. “Nate being able to be out there, me and him together, kept both us from getting too fatigued and worn down, which is what they want to do.”

Not many could have predicted a nine-point outing on 3-of-11 shooting from James Michael McAdoo, who averaged 17 points, would end in a Carolina victory. But McAdoo’s offensive struggles never were a factor thanks to a group that virtually grew overnight.

Williams called freshman center Kennedy Meeks “one of the worst players on the planet” for his one-point, three rebound performance in five minutes against Richmond, but added that against Louisville he was “unbelievable.”

In his most extensive playing time this season, Meeks nearly posted a triple double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. His outlet passes were crucial in helping the Heels break the press.

“I just realize [against Richmond] that’s not the way I play, that’s not the way I’ve played my whole life. It was time for me to step up,” Meeks said. “This is college now, it’s all about me being a man so I did pretty good today.”

Britt, who was benched for critical stretches in the second half against Holy Cross and Belmont, also had his best outing of the season. The freshman guard set personal bests with nine points and five assists.

“I just feel like I’m starting to get more comfortable and I can kind of play like myself,” Britt said. “Earlier it’s just a lot of things I had to learn, lot of things I’m still learning. The more and more I play, I’m starting to get more relaxed and I’m coming into my own.”

Paige continued to show his development in his new role as a shooting guard with a career-high 32 points. That marks the third time in the last four games that the sophomore guard has set a new scoring high. He did it with on efficient 9-of-12 shooting.

Paige had high praise for Louisville’s Russ Smith, who scored a career-high 36 points, saying “there’s a reason why he’s a National Player of the Year candidate.” Paige is playing his way on that list too, whether he realizes it or not.

“I don’t know about all that I’m just trying to help this team win,” Paige said. “Whether it’s dishing the ball, or shooting the ball, whether it’s defending, I’m trying to be the guy that consistently brings something to the table for this team.”

The win changes the season narrative for Carolina and raises expectations back that may have been reconsidered after the Belmont loss.

“We understand that we still have a chance to be special. We just have to come out and play as hard as we did today consistently,” Paige said. “The belief in this locker room is that we’re one of the best teams in the country.”

They proved it by beating the Cardinals, and on this November that’s reason enough for the Tar Heels to celebrate.

Heels, Cardinals set for matchup

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
8:15
PM ET

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – There’s no convincing Louisville players that they’re not about to face an elite North Carolina squad at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Most of the third-ranked Cardinals said they had not seen the Tar Heels play this season until they watched the Heels beat Richmond in Saturday's first game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament. Despite Carolina being a shell of the team ranked No. 12 in the preseason, the Cardinals are still showing respect for the name.

Maybe a tad too much respect considering P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald did not make the trip for UNC.

“We know they’re the real deal,” Louisville’s Luke Hancock said. “It’s always going to be Carolina, it’s a top program. Coach [Roy] Williams is going to have them ready to play.”

When the schedule was released, a potential Louisville-Carolina matchup looked to be the first real test for both teams. The reality is it will be more of a barometer for the Tar Heels.

With no word on the status of Hairston and McDonald, whose eligibility is under review by the school and NCAA, Carolina will be playing with its current rotation for the foreseeable future. It’s about to hit a rough five-game stretch that includes a Dec. 4 trip to No. 1 Michigan State and a Dec. 14 home date against No. 4 Kentucky.

“We’re definitely going to try to show up -- well, we will show up -- and compete like we did today,” UNC forward James Michael McAdoo said after Saturday's 82-72 victory over the Spiders. “We’ll start focusing on games like this which are definitely huge games for us going into conference play.”

The Cardinals had the kind of win against Fairfield that coach Rick Pitino can use to grab his team's attention. After winning their first four games by an average of nearly 34 points, Pitino called their 71-57 victory on Saturday their “poorest game of the season.” He even hinted that the Cardinals might have been looking ahead to UNC.

Louisville’s postgame locker room reflected his sentiment. Players sat slumped into their lockers, the entire room void of the laughter and energy usually associated with winning. On the contrary, the Cardinals had the look and feel of a group that had just lost.

“It’s eye-opening for us just to not play as well as we want,” Hancock said. “This type of effort will lose against a lot of teams.”

Forward Montrezl Harrell, who led Louisville with 14 points and 12 rebounds, said the Cardinals played like they didn’t respect Fairfield, and it showed early.

“We should have come out and been prepared to play from the very beginning,” Harrell said. “But we weren’t and got burned for it in the first half. Playing against a team like North Carolina, if we start off like that we can really get burned and not be able to bounce back.”

Pitino even elevated the praise for the Heels, after watching his team shoot just 38 percent and his starting backcourt of Russ Smith and Chris Jones commit a combined eight turnovers.

He said North Carolina's size could give the Cardinals problems, especially with the Heels' offensive rebounding.

“You’re going to see a close game [on Sunday] -- if we don’t get blown out,” Pitino said. “If we play this way, there won’t even be a game.”

Just two games ago, Carolina players were thinking they might not belong on a court with Louisville after struggling to a 62-54 win over Holy Cross. McAdoo joked afterward that if the Heels played that poorly against the Cardinals, all he could do was “hope that Louisville played bad, too.”

The bad news for the Heels is Louisville might have gotten that one out of the way.

“We’ll come back,” Pitino said. “I don’t expect us to have two bad games in a row.”

Heels making unconventional the norm

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
5:15
PM ET

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Erase for a minute everything you’re used to assuming about a North Carolina basketball team under coach Roy Williams.

The No. 24 Tar Heels are not that team.

This team can’t impose its pace and use the fast break to outrun teams. It can’t merely overpower an opponent on sheer talent. It will have to grind out wins much in the fashion of Saturday's 82-72 victory over Richmond in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

North Carolina (3-1) trailed for much of the first half, and its lead didn’t reach double digits until 1:35 remained in the game.

Because P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald have yet to suit up for the Heels, every game could present something new. Williams agreed it’s probably the least conventional team he’s coached since arriving in Chapel Hill.

“By this time of the year most times, it’s fairly close to a set lineup,” Williams said.

Nothing is set this season.

Not the lineups.

Not even the playing style.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
AP Photo/Michael DwyerMarcus Paige made a career-high six 3-pointers and played point guard for much of the victory over Richmond.
The Tar Heels were so unpredictable against the Spiders that sophomore Marcus Paige, who made a career-high six 3-pointers and set a career high with 26 points, even played point guard.

Paige is a point guard, but he’s had to play shooting guard with their current roster situation. When he moved back to point for a span against Richmond, forward J.P. Tokoto played shooting guard for the first time this season.

“I played more minutes at point guard in this game than I probably did all year so far,” Paige said. "That was a little different."

Williams generally avoids playing zone defense. But Spiders guard Cedrick Lindsay couldn’t be defended in man-to-man as he scored a career-high 29 points against the Heels.

Lindsay almost single-handedly forced the Heels to unveil a 1-2-2 zone for stretches throughout the game as he was successful driving the lane for baskets. After this game, zone isn’t likely to be a one-time occurrence for Carolina either.

“We have been working more on the zone with this team than any team I’ve ever had,” Williams said. “We gave up some straight drives to the basket, which the zone is supposed to stop that kind of stuff. We’ve got to get a lot better at it, but we’ll play it some more -- there’s no question.”

The game ventured into uncharted territory for senior guard Wade Moody, a walk-on who had played a total of 60 seconds through the first three games. He entered the game with four minutes left in the first half and played three minutes.

“Wade can shoot the ball,” Williams said. “I wanted to give him some time today. You never can tell; he may get more time later on.”

Forward Brice Johnson is making his case for more time -- whether it comes at center or power forward. He came off the bench to record career highs with 24 points and 12 rebounds, his first double-double.

In the past three games, Johnson has played center with James Michael McAdoo at power forward during the deciding stretches. It gives the Heels their best scoring options in the frontcourt while Kennedy Meeks and Joel James are still developing.

“I did it last year, so it’s whatever they need,” Johnson said. “I might now be able to guard the biggest guy, but I’ve added a little bit of weight and a little bit of strength so I can hold my own now.”

What the Tar Heels lack in flash, they make up with toughness. Williams said he wanted to see how they would bounce back from their first loss.

They showed their resilience from the free throw line after missing 26 free throws in the loss to Belmont. Carolina responded against Richmond by shooting 70 percent from the line. They showed it during the game after falling behind by nine in the first half but taking a 36-33 lead into halftime.

“With North Carolina basketball, you’ve got five guys on the court that are all capable of going off for big games,” McAdoo said. “I think that’s really what you just saw today -- them trying to take certain things away and other guys stepping up, which is huge, definitely, as the season goes on.”

Itsy-bitsy issue with Hall of Fame matchup

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
10:30
AM ET
We have given Richmond fodder for this weekend.

North Carolina has given the Spiders reason to believe.

No one is giving Fairfield a shot against Louisville in the Hall of Fame Classic at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. So pencil in the Cardinals into Sunday's championship game.

But we have anticipated a Louisville-North Carolina matchup for the title. And we are not alone. The organizers planned this accordingly, selling the event as a major showdown between two Hall of Fame coaches and storied programs.

[+] EnlargeChris Mooney
AP Photo/John MinchilloCoach Chris Mooney and the Richmond Spiders could be bracket busters in the Hall of Fame Classic.
And then the Tar Heels started to implode, losing P.J. Hairston over the summer and then again into the fall as the NCAA and the school investigate possible extra benefits. Toss in Leslie McDonald for similar reasons and the Tar Heels are now officially less than whole. It showed when they struggled with Holy Cross and lost at home to a traditionally pesky -- but not as strong as in the past -- Belmont.

Oh, and Richmond beat Belmont earlier this season. Could the Spiders spoil this planned matchup?

Of course.

"I've noticed that," Richmond coach Chris Mooney said of the hype for Louisville-North Carolina any time the Hall of Fame Classic bracket is posted on television or online. "Hopefully we can [upset the plans]. It's a huge opportunity for us. We are pretty good, I think."

Here's why:

The Spiders, two years removed from a Sweet 16 appearance, have the type of point guard they need under Mooney and must have to beat out a player like North Carolina's Marcus Paige. Cedrick Lindsay is averaging 19 points and has nearly as many steals (7) as turnovers (8) in four games.

The Spiders have defended well, save the only loss, to Minnesota. Richmond didn't give up 3s to Belmont (4-of-18); North Carolina did (Belmont was 15-of-37).

The issue for Richmond is its own perimeter shooting.

"We have shot horribly so far [9-for-65 in the first three games, 8-of-26 against zone against Hofstra]," Mooney said. "We are a pretty good shooting team, so those numbers will go up, of course."

They must if the Spiders are to pull off the upset. The frontcourt is still green and James Michael McAdoo has been one of the few strengths for the Tar Heels. This is a wounded UNC team that can't afford to be bruised again so soon after the Belmont loss. UNC sees the need to play Louisville as well, especially with Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., and Kentucky at home within the next few weeks.

The Spiders have an opportunity in an Atlantic 10 that will be led by VCU, UMass and Saint Louis. There is room for a fourth challenger. La Salle has struggled of late. Richmond can seize the spotlight with a win this weekend. The chance is at hand.

SPONSORED HEADLINES