College Basketball Nation: P.J. Hairston

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Fans trickling out of the Dean Smith Center after North Carolina 's third home loss of the season could engage in a lot of blame and finger-pointing.

They should start with Louisville.

Then Michigan State.

And yes, Kentucky, too.

Carolina's trio of wins over ranked teams built a substantial benefit of doubt cache that it continued to tap -- until Wednesday's 63-57 loss to Miami.

[+] EnlargeMcDonald
Andy Mead/Icon SMIThe reinstatement of senior guard Leslie McDonald hasn't paid dividends for the scuffling Tar Heels yet.
The Tar Heels are on empty right now. They're wounded, they're hurt, they're experiencing more doubt now than they did after losses to Belmont and UAB.

"There's no question we're feeling stress," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "You do that at North Carolina, you're not supposed to lose."

The Tar Heels dropped to 0-2 in the ACC for the second straight season and the third time under Williams. The first time it happened, the Heels went on to win the 2009 national championship.

Against the Hurricanes, who entered 0-2 in conference play, there weren't any moments to suggests the Heels are a potential title team.

"We're a little shook, 0-2 in league play is not the way we expected to start," said guard Marcus Paige. "Everyone faces a little adversity here and there. I know we have guys who are not ready to give in and quit, but this group is tough enough to make things happen. We just have to change."

Williams was almost as emotional postgame as he tends to be during season-ending news conferences after a NCAA tournament loss.

"When you go to school here and you coach here as an assistant, and you come back and coach here, it's a feeling of ownership and it's a feeling of pride," Williams said. "And right now I'm not doing a very good job with this basketball team. That's the hardest thing there is that I've ever had to say."

The Heels have shown all along they're a team with a thin margin of error and a thick stack of flaws. Carolina did a good job of masking them for most of the season.

There was a thought that P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald would return and their inconsistencies and deficiencies would go away. Once it was known that only McDonald would be reinstated, nothing has really changed from the North Carolina team of the preseason.

The Tar Heels are still limited from the perimeter. They are still limited when forced to play a half-court game. Miami exposed both of those weaknesses.

The Canes held the Heels to a season-low 23 points in the first half.

Paige, the Heels' leading scorer, struggled for the second straight game shooting 2-of-15 from the field and tied his season low -- set Sunday in the loss to Wake Forest -- with eight points.

McDonald, who is second on the team in 3-pointers, shot 3-of-12 from the field and also had eight points.

Miami played zone the entire game, which the Heels will see again Saturday at No. 2 Syracuse.

Here's the part where a public service announcement on Carolina's 3-0 record against ranked teams this season would have come up a week ago. That was before back-to-back losses against teams expected to finish in the lower tier of the ACC.

Freshman guard Nate Britt said the team hasn't been dwelling on those wins, but they could still serve to help confidence.

"The only thing that we draw off it is that we're capable," Britt said. "Other than that, I think it's a thing of the past. We have to worry about the games ahead of us and how we can best execute against the teams that we have to play in conference."

Paige added that the wins don't define the Heels any more than their losses do.

"The wins aren't going to help you win the game Saturday, the losses aren't going to help you lose the game Saturday," Paige said. "You've got to show up to play every day."

Consistency of play happens to be a lesson the Heels are still trying to learn.
What we're reading while we dread final-weekend shopping. Submit links via Twitter.
  • As you've likely heard, and has been expected since Wednesday's reinstatement of Leslie McDonald, North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston will not be returning to the Tar Heels in this or any other season. C.L. Brown has the story: "The actions were there," [UNC coach Roy] Williams said. "All of us in life pay for our actions, and these are some very difficult consequences that he's paid for his actions. I have no problem saying that. That's the very frustrating part. The very mad part. Like your children, you get very mad and very upset at their actions, but you still love your children."
  • Meanwhile, the Hairston family released a statement through a lawyer saying they were "displeased" with UNC's decision "not to submit the necessary paperwork to the NCAA requesting to have P.J. reinstated," also calling it "a shame." CBS' Gary Parrish has some thoughts: "From there, the statement goes on to ask for privacy throughout the rest of the holiday season, and it's all so silly. I mean, seriously, Hairston family? You think it's a 'shame' that UNC won't seek reinstatement? Why isn't the 'shame' that a promising basketball prospect ended his own college career by knowingly violating NCAA rules and then choosing to lie -- or, at the very least, not be honest -- about those violations when NCAA and UNC officials asked about his transgressions?"
  • Christian Laettner made the most famous shot in the history of college basketball while wearing a uniform. That he was wearing a uniform isn't news, of course; uniforms are compulsory during basketball competitions. What is news is that said compulsory garment is now going where most famous game-worn sports uniforms go: to the auction block! "Lelands.com, an online auction house, says it is selling the jersey that the former Duke Blue Devils forward was wearing for the famous moment in the East Regional Finals of the 1992 NCAA Tournament when he caught an inbounds pass from Grant Hill at the free throw line and hit the turnaround jumper as time expired to beat the Kentucky Wildcats by one in overtime. The owner of the jersey has asked to remain anonymous, but the auction house showed ESPN.com a notarized letter in which the consigner says he had a relationship with Laettner, who gave him the jersey when the season concluded. Lelands.com officials said they also matched the jersey to up-close pictures taken of Laettner's uniform for the game."
  • UCLA freshman Zach LaVine is dunking his way into becoming a household name, writes SI.com's Chris Johnson.
  • Finally, if you've always wanted to see Bob Huggins give an otherwise nondescript interview in a completely amazing Santa hat, Christmas done come early. All hail Santa Huggs.
North Carolina found its answer even before Friday’s announcement.

The discovery took place versus Louisville, at Michigan State and against Kentucky. The Tar Heels can still win big without P.J. Hairston.

Ultimately, knowing that question doesn't need to be asked anymore lessened the blow from the university’s decision not to seek Hairston’s reinstatement. The clouds of speculation that have hovered over Chapel Hill since July can move on now.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Hairston
Lance King/Getty ImagesThe Tar Heels now know they will be without P.J. Hairston, but with wins over Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville they have proven they can win without him.
“It’s already affected our team from a mental standpoint,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “My team has been so resilient.”

They will have to show a bit more strength as center Joel James has a sprained right MCL and could be out up to two weeks. James was injured in the opening minute of Wednesday’s game against Texas. Williams was leaning toward starting sophomore Brice Johnson in his place.

Had Hairston played, he would have immediately been Carolina’s best offensive weapon; the Heels don’t have a player who can create off the dribble the way that he can or shoot from as deep a range as he has.

In his absence, Carolina has been essentially a team of talented role players. They've worked together in their wins because they don’t have the individual star power that can take over a game. As assistant coach C.B. McGrath alluded to last week, the Heels have also bought more into improving on defense.

That’s why there were no signs of a doomsday mood sweeping through the Dean Smith Center before Friday’s practice. The Tar Heels stopped depending on a triumphant return of their best player a long time ago.

“Finding out what the decision was, it’s kind of a relief, it’s kind of sad, too,” sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto said.

It’s a relief because the Heels don’t have to wonder about lineups or roles changing. Marcus Paige will have to continue to be a scorer. James Michael McAdoo and Isaiah Hicks will have to continue to play small forward for some stretches. Freshman guard Nate Britt will continue to have to play major minutes regardless of whether Leslie McDonald supplants him in the starting rotation.

Partial relief came in the form of McDonald on Wednesday when he was cleared by the NCAA and reinstated after sitting out the first nine games while his eligibility issues were ironed out. Although Carolina lost to Texas 86-83 in his debut, he provided four 3-pointers, which ranked him second on the team.

“Having Leslie back out there on wing gave us some size, some shooting, stretched the floor -- what we've been missing this season,” Tokoto said. “Having him back, I feel like our team is much better this year now so definitely glad to have him back.”

It’s sad because the team saw what Hairston endured without the guarantee of gaining his eligibility back. Coach Roy Williams initially suspended him July 28 after a second traffic stop this summer. He did not allow Hairston to be on the media guide, did not allow him to be a team captain and forced him to do extra conditioning just to earn the right to practice.

Williams was near tears at several points during the news conference. He called it, “the lowest moment I’ve gone through in 26 years.”

“It’s what it is and we've got to move on,” Williams said. “But my care for that young man is never going to stop.”

As the investigation process dragged on, the Heels knew this outcome was a possibility even though they remained optimistic of his return.

So even while receiving news they didn't want to hear, there’s no reshaping goals or lowering of expectations. Hairston, who practiced with the Heels on Friday, said as much when he addressed the team.

“His message was we have to come together as a team, we can’t let it affect us,” Tokoto said. “We just have to keep rolling.”

Since the start of the season, really, and maybe a little before, Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston have typically been discussed as though they were a package deal.

Understandably so: Both perimeter-oriented UNC shooting guards were watching games from the sideline in casual dress for vague eligibility-related reasons. Both players were practicing but not playing. Save an explanation of NCAA enforcement, "Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston" worked. It was the easiest shorthand.

The partnership is now officially dissolved.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Hairston
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesP.J. Hairston will continue to watch UNC from the sidelines.
On Wednesday, the NCAA declared McDonald reinstated and eligible to play against Texas Wednesday night. It said nothing of Hairston, save that North Carolina had not even submitted a reinstatement request on his behalf. UNC will get the lesser of the two players back in the lineup immediately. Hairston's fate -- and the miniature circus that has accompanied him -- will continue to hang over the Tar Heels.

And even so, it's still great news for North Carolina.

On paper, McDonald's case sounds similar to his teammate's -- caught up, like Hairston, in a swirl of mouth guard brands, Durham holding companies and paper-trail relationships to convicted felon Hadyn "Fats" Thomas. In the end, the NCAA found McDonald accepted "the use of luxury cars, payment of parking tickets, a cellphone and lodging" during the spring and summer of 2013.

But his official penance -- a nine-game suspension and a forfeit (to charity) of about $1,800 -- was no more draconian than the one handed to Oregon's Ben Carter and Dominic Artis for selling their team-provided Nikes just months ago.

McDonald was, in other words, a fairly regular impermissible benefits case. Whatever Hairston's situation amounts to -- whatever it means for his future, or lack thereof, as a UNC Tar Heel -- it is not that.

In the meantime, North Carolina fans can focus on the upside: Their already very good team is immediately going to get better.

The "already very good" might be the biggest surprise of this entire North Carolina ordeal. The Tar Heels were supposed to be crippled by losing Hairston, last season's efficient and versatile leading scorer. Instead, they have knocked off two No. 1 teams (Louisville and Michigan State, the latter at the Breslin Center), handled Kentucky Saturday in Chapel Hill and remained rightfully ranked pretty much all season. They also peppered their upsets with losses to Belmont and UAB. Occasionally, they've been the most thrilling team in the country; they've always been the most confusing.

Little-used sophomore Brice Johnson has become a star; freshman center Kennedy Meeks isn't far behind; and point guard Marcus Paige has been smooth and commanding. The Tar Heels have played excellent defense -- they allow the seventh-fewest points in the country per possession -- they chase down offensive boards and they don't turn the ball over too often.

The one area where UNC has been out and out bad is perimeter shooting: The Tar Heels have made 25 3s all season; Paige accounts for 21 of them. Smartly, UNC shoots the single-lowest rate of 3s to field goal attempts in the country this season -- a whopping 15.9 percent. Credit the Tar Heels for not wasting possessions with shots they can't make, I suppose, but no one wants to be that one-dimensional on offense forever.

McDonald is an immediate panacea. For all of his struggles staying on the floor in what feels like one of those existentially long college basketball careers, McDonald has done one thing repeatedly and with success. That thing is "shooting the basketball." And unlike Hairston, McDonald won't return to a team that has carved its own identity in search of leading-scorer-type touches. He will be a spot-up shooter, a role player, but one whose chief skill is also his team's chief need.

It might not show up against Texas tonight. It might take a little time. But McDonald's return is an unequivocal positive for North Carolina.

Whether it's better or worse or just as good as a joint return with Hairston will have to remain a matter for would and could. He and McDonald are no longer twins in NCAA casual-clothes purgatory, no longer a package deal.

But at this point in UNC's ongoing saga of a season, the Tar Heels will happily take it. One out of two ain't bad.

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."

Heels, Cardinals set for matchup

November, 23, 2013
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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
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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
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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.

UNC passing the boards with ease?

November, 6, 2013
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While pondering what North Carolina won’t be as long as P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are out of the lineup (hint, proficient from the perimeter), there’s one area where the Tar Heels should dominate.

On the boards.

Rebounding was most certainly a struggle last season when the Heels were forced to play a four-guard lineup that moved forward James Michael McAdoo to center. Carolina held its lowest rebounding margin (+1.6) of the Roy Williams era and came close to being the first team since 2003-04 to get outrebounded.

It shouldn’t be that close this season.

While UNC awaits word from the NCAA regarding eligibility issues for Hairston and McDonald, Williams will be forced to use a big lineup at times. He could even potentially (however temporary) use a lineup that features J.P. Tokoto at shooting guard and McAdoo at small forward.

Having the team’s two best rebounders paired with a frontcourt that could include forward Brice Johnson, who had the second highest rebounds per minute last season, would be an overpowering matchup for most of their non-conference foes.

Carolina doesn’t face a team that finished on the plus side of rebounding margin until the fifth game of the year when it will play either Fairfield or Louisville in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament.

Consider UNC's 2013-14 non-conference opponents' rebounding margin (& national rank) from last season:

Oakland -0.8 (205)

Holy Cross 0.0 (142)

Belmont -1.5 (T-240)

Richmond -5.8 (331)

Fairfield +0.8 (153) or Louisville +3.6 (66)

UAB +1.7 (120)

Michigan State +7.6 (10)

UNCG -0.9 (209)

Kentucky +4.3 (48)

Texas +0.9 (149)

Davidson +2.0 (114)

Northern Kentucky -5.0 (N/A)

UNCW -1.5 (233)

Rebounding has also been a point of emphasis with Williams in determining who will get to start at center. It’s why Joel James is more focused on his rebounding technique than he is post moves.

“I feel like if you make that contact first, you have a better chance of rebounding the basketball,” James said. “It’s coming slowly, but it’s coming.”

Statistically speaking, the Heels controlled the boards better in 2007-08 than any team during the Williams’ 10 seasons. They enjoyed a rebounding margin advantage of 11 per game. While the 2011-12 team grabbed the most total rebounds, averaging 45.0 per game, their rebounding margin was slightly behind at 10.4 per game.

This team might not quite reach that stratosphere, but all signs indicate rebounding will be once again be a strength this season.
After cops found cocaine and marijuana in a car that Marshall Henderson was driving over the summer, Ole Miss fans feared the worst for the SEC star. Andy Kennedy had previously announced an indefinite suspension for the troubled standout who’d been reprimanded for a variety of antics since his arrival last season.

On Tuesday, Ole Miss threw the book at Henderson. A three-game suspension for incidents in the postseason and his behavior late last season -- a penalty that will cost Henderson the team’s first two SEC games.

The opponents in those league matchups? Auburn and Mississippi State.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Henderson
Benjamin Lowy for ESPNAfter a lot of talk about punishing Marshall Henderson, it seems as if the oft-troubled guard got off light with his suspension.
Harsh, I know.

But it’s typical.

Throughout the offseason, there has been more smoke than fire with regard to possible suspensions of significant players. The punishments will ultimately prove to be meaningless because players involved probably won’t miss a significant chunk of the season or contests that will matter much on Selection Sunday.

In July, North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston was cited for reckless driving weeks after an arrest for marijuana possession and driving without a license. Roy Williams promised “serious consequences” after Hairston was suspended indefinitely following his July citation. But Hairston will return.

He was the star of North Carolina’s “Late Night with Roy” preseason event last week. During the team’s media day earlier this month, Williams told reporters that he’s still undecided on Hairston’s punishment but earlier reports confirmed that he will play at some point in 2013-14.

“He’s been assigned some things that he has to do,” Williams told reporters. “He’s achieved some of those already -- he’s got some more -- and I promise everybody we’re not going to go in on game night and say, ‘Oh yeah, P.J., you’re not playing tonight.’ We’ll make an announcement before that, but right now he’s still going through the process, we’re going through the process and we’ll wait and see what happens.”

Got it.

Rick Pitino seemed furious at Louisville standout Chane Behanan when he recently announced that the forward had been suspended indefinitely and that the earliest he’d return would be early December. He also said that it was “not probable” that the junior would rejoin the defending national champions. That was mid-October. About a week later, Pitino announced that Behanan would return “in a short period of time.”

Oh.

Purdue’s A.J. Hammons, a Big Ten player of the year candidate, will miss two exhibitions and the season opener against Northern Kentucky due to a suspension for misconduct. Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin was suspended for the second time in seven months in June, but he’s back practicing with the Gators.

A memo to the mischievous: If you’re going to mess up, do it during the offseason.

Offseason problems give college coaches the ability to chastise players privately because there are no games for them to miss and there’s less overall chatter about the sport. The timing of the issues allows them to reprimand players without putting them in situations that require them to miss meaningful games. And they can shroud the entire process under the “rules violation” and “internal punishment” tags.

The players involved in some of the offseason’s high-profile mischief haven’t necessarily escaped punishment.

Perhaps Hairston has to run to Charlotte every week and Behanan has to do pushups outside the KFC YUM! Center with the national championship trophy on his back to make amends.

We’ll most likely never know the extent of the chastisement for them or other players in similar situations.

But they’ve avoided predicaments that would have potentially forced them to miss significant matchups had their challenges occurred in the middle of the season.

The offseason fuss has exceeded the actual aforementioned penalties thus far -- although we’re still not clear on the fate of Behanan and Hairston.

Overall, it seems as though the punishments won’t do a lot of damage to the programs that have disciplined key players.

Missing time against the Northern Kentuckys of the college basketball world is trivial.

The suspensions all warranted headlines when they were announced. But come March, we’ll barely remember them if the players return and thrive during the season without creating additional drama.

Seems to work out for everyone involved.

Video: UNC gearing up for season

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North Carolina coach Roy Williams discusses P.J. Hariston's troubled offseason, UNC's incoming freshman class and the diagnosis for women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell.
It's almost impossible to know what Roy Williams really thinks about the P.J. Hairston rental car fiasco. For the most part, Williams has been quiet. When he's spoken to reporters, he's kept it vague. Is he torn over the decision? Does he want to close ranks around his player, even if the optics are tough? Or is he gritting his teeth instead, knowing he needs Hairston for UNC to bounce back from a so-so (by its own standards) season, even if he'd rather cut the cord?

I don't know. But if Williams is half as torn as the UNC community seems to be about it, he's had some long nights this offseason.

The latest such example came this weekend, from the Daily Tar Heel, where 23-year athletic academics tutor Jack Halperin published an open letter to Williams calling his decision to keep Hairston on the team "disgraceful," and pinning his own decision to leave UNC's academic services office on the same:

Roy, after 23 years as an academic tutor, and after going through the devastating football scandal, I am resigning in protest of your disgraceful decision to allow P.J. Hairston to remain on the team.

If I were arrested driving with no license, illegal drugs and a gun in a felon’s car, my employment at this University would end immediately.

Hairston’s DTH headline quote was, “I will play this season.” Since when does the criminal decide his fate?

Jack Halperin
Athletic academic tutor


Yeah. It's not good.

It would be not good at any school, of course. Simply put, support staff don't call out coaches. Like, ever. Certainly not in public. Definitely not in such strong language. And so this would be embarrassing for any school it happened to, whether its academics ready was squeaky clean or not.

North Carolina's academic record is not squeaky clean. Indeed, the Tar Heels are in many ways still reeling from the years-long scandal and subsequent inquiries into academic improprieties in the Afro- and African-American Studies department, where both athletes and non-athletes were found to have benefited from bogus classes and questionable grades. Chapel Hill has been at something like a dull, constant roar for two years now. Some are desperate to move on. Others are determined to keep the discussion at the fore.

If a college basketball writer's inbox is any indication, UNC fans' thoughts on Hairston run along the same rough lines. That's not how it usually goes: Usually, fans support a player and their coach almost blindly, because that's just part of the deal. A few months ago, when NC State fans were crowdsourcing their investigation into Hairston's rental cars, there was plenty of unity; attack foments solidarity. But what about now? Are UNC fans cool with Hairston being back in Williams' good graces?

Let's be real: If Hairston comes back and makes another 90 3s this year, and posts another plus-120 offensive rating, and leads the Tar Heels to (let's say) the Elite Eight, no one in Chapel Hill will complain. That's just how it goes. But what about now? There are few things more embarrassing to a storied college hoops program than having one of your own athletics academics staffers call your coach's decision "disgraceful" in the student newspaper. At what point do Carolina fans get fed up?

Video: When will P.J. Hairston play?

September, 26, 2013
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ESPN college basketball insider Jeff Goodman breaks down when he expects North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston to play this season.

3-point shot: Coaches must use influence

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1. Former Oregon coach Ernie Kent was hired in an executive role with the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Kent said Monday his goal is to grow the game, about which he said has been "very passionate since he was out of coaching." He said he has seen how much coaches care about student-athlete welfare from visiting schools since he has been out. But this organization needs to be much more forceful in the legislative process. The NABC has lost its activist role of late. The coaches should never be surprised by the draft date (pushed through by the ACC) or complain about the transfer waiver issue as much as they do without really trying to affect change. Coaches have the power in college basketball, much more so than the players. If they want to really force an issue then they must get out front, educate other decision makers and make sure they can actually do something. The governance structure is going to change, with more weight given to the power schools. That shift is coming. So the coaches, who are their best lobbying group, must almost act like legislators. Not knowing about the shift in rules that affect them is ignorant. It should never happen. If Kent is going to have a real effect in his job, then he must act.

2. North Carolina said Monday that P.J. Hairston's status hasn't changed. That means he's still suspended. But the school also must make clear if he can practice or play in anything competitive. Practice starts Friday. This shouldn't take long. Either he is practicing Friday and beyond or he is not. The length of any discipline is up to North Carolina. No one should tell them how long or if he should be suspended. But the fan base and those who contribute to the program should know his status. That is of the public domain. Once that is known, then Hairston and the Tar Heels can move forward with the season.

3. Indiana starts an intriguing season Friday, the one post-Big Ten title and Sweet 16 appearance. The anchors, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are gone. So what is Tom Crean looking for in the first week of practice? "Getting this team to understand that transition and help defense require great effort and talking," Crean said. "Also getting the team to understand the next play, the next pass and the next-shot mentality over worrying about the last play."

In high school, I flipped multiple times in my friend’s SUV after a bunch of teenagers thought it would be a good idea to punch the gas on a slick Milwaukee road. We weren’t wearing seatbelts, either.

A few years later, I topped 100 mph with another buddy simply because we wanted to know what it would feel like to hit 100 mph on the freeway.

During college, I piled into a small vehicle with seven other people, even though we knew the driver was completely drunk.

In all of those situations, we could have killed ourselves or someone else.

I don’t want this column to read as though it’s coming from the Pulpit of the Saintly Sportswriter. Because it’s not.

North Carolina star P.J. Hairston has made some dumb decisions. I have too.

But it doesn’t excuse the behavior or end the jeopardy surrounding his future. And it doesn’t minimize the severity of his decisions or mine.

On Sunday, Hairston was suspended indefinitely after being cited for reckless driving near Salisbury, N.C. The team’s leading scorer reportedly hit 93 mph in a 65 mph zone.

He could have killed himself, or someone else.

That was only the latest in a series of incidents that include a June arrest for marijuana possession and driving without a license. A gun was recovered near the vehicle.

But the charges against Hairston were dropped in that case. Still, the university may have to deal with an NCAA investigation because the car Hairston was driving was reportedly rented by convicted felon Haydn Patrick "Fats" Thomas.

The junior wing was also cited for speeding in May.

There’s a mess in Chapel Hill. And Hairston is responsible for it.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Hairston
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesWith his numerous off-court issues lately, P.J. Hairston has a lot of making up to do within the UNC basketball family.
Hairston, who led the program in scoring with 14.6 PPG last season, chose to play a third season for the Tar Heels after considering the NBA draft. At the time, he said he returned because he wanted to “support” Roy Williams.

"I have spent a lot of time with my family over the past couple of days discussing school and my future and I have decided to return to the University of North Carolina for my junior year," said Hairston, per the school’s website. "I value the experiences I have had over the past two years in Chapel Hill, and hope to continue to grow under Coach Roy's guidance. Coach always says 'When you focus on the team during the season, I will support you in the off-season.' This is my way of supporting coach, my teammates and the Tar Heel community. Go Heels!"

Hairston has betrayed Williams, his teammates and the Tar Heel community with this stretch of drama.

Any punishment seems justifiable right now.

Should he be kicked off the team? If he had hit another vehicle on Sunday and seriously injured or killed someone, we wouldn’t even pose the question.

Should he be suspended for the season? The semester? 15 games? Five? That’s up to Williams.

But Williams, who promised severe consequences for Hairston after last month’s arrest, will probably be supported regardless of the punitive measure he chooses.

The last thing any coach needs is a distraction on a team packed with youth, especially if a veteran is responsible for that distraction.

It’s a difficult situation, however, for Williams and other coaches. The “what could have happened” is not “what actually happened.”

Hairston and the other motorists in his vicinity on Sunday were not harmed. Fortunately. And who knows the full truth behind that traffic stop in Durham last month, but charges against Hairston were dropped.

The court of public opinion -- see Twitter -- recommends excommunication from Tar Heels basketball.

And, as I mentioned earlier, Williams has that right.

But I don’t think that’s the proper choice.

I think Hairston needs Tar Heels basketball for reasons beyond basketball.

In the past two months, he’s become a second-round NBA prospect with red flags. This latest event might have cost Hairston millions in earning potential and his professional future.

That NBA dream was simply deferred when he decided to return for his junior season. Now, it might be dead.

If he really came back to “support” Williams and boost Tar Heels basketball, he can prove it now.

It’s time for the standout to drop the ego and do whatever it takes to regain Williams’ trust, if he’s granted that opportunity. It’s time for Hairston to forget about basketball and consider his livelihood. It’s time for Hairston to prove to his teammates that he’s learned from his mistakes.

A lengthy suspension -- barring any additional problems -- would be sufficient. Lengthy could mean 10 games. Could be 15 or even more. Doesn’t matter.

Basketball is secondary.

Whatever it takes to get Hairston’s life back on track. Whatever it takes for Williams to believe in him again.

Perhaps Williams will give Hairston that chance. Perhaps he won’t. He doesn’t have to.

And Hairston has to accept either outcome. He did this to himself.

Hairston’s antics suggest that he’s embraced this fictitious idea of invincibility that often dooms young men on grand stages.

Just a little faster. Just a few puffs. Just one more drink. Just one last party.

A lot of college kids -- grown people, too -- make poor choices every day.

Sometimes we get caught. Sometimes we don’t.

Hairston, however, has to realize that a suspension or jail time could be the least of his worries if he runs (or drives) into more trouble.

He could be eternally sidelined in a cemetery if he’s not careful.

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