College Basketball Nation: Roy Williams

Williams: McCants doesn't ring true

June, 7, 2014
Jun 7
6:39
PM ET

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams told ESPN's Jay Bilas that he was in "shock" and "disbelief" when he learned former guard Rashad McCants had told "Outside the Lines" that tutors wrote his term papers, he rarely went to class for about half his time at UNC, and he remained able to play largely because he took bogus classes designed to keep athletes academically eligible.

In a 35-minute, on-camera interview Saturday that was attended by 11 former basketball players as a show of support, Williams said the experiences McCants shared did not match what he knows about his players' academic efforts and records and the basketball program he oversees.

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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.”

Heels don't mind winning ugly

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
11:48
PM ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Duke & North Carolina have improved

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
9:31
AM ET

Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRoy Williams (left) and Mike Krzyzewski (right) have their teams playing well in recent weeks.


North Carolina and Duke come into Thursday's matchup as two of the hottest teams in college basketball. Since January 21 (the last 4 weeks), North Carolina and Duke are No. 1 (95.3) and No. 2 (94.8), respectively, in BPI.

HOW DUKE HAS IMPROVED

Offensive rebounding
Duke is grabbing 40.7 percent of its own misses over its last nine games, compared to an offensive rebound percentage of 29.7 in its first 17 games. The Blue Devils are averaging 15 offensive boards per game in their last nine games.

That improved offensive rebounding has led to four more points per game on offensive put-backs in the last nine games compared to the first 17.

Jabari Parker
In his last nine games, Jabari Parker is averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting.

During that time, 72 percent of Parker’s field-goal attempts have come in the paint. In his first four ACC games, only 37 percent of his field-goal attempts came in the paint.

Parker's pick-and-roll defense has also improved recently. Opponents shot 74 percent against him on pick-and-roll plays in his first 16 games, but that figure has fallen to 23 percent in his last 10 games.

Deeper rotation
Lately, Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee have received more playing time.

Dawkins, Sulaimon, Jefferson and Plumlee are combining to average about 20 more minutes in the last 10 games than they did over the team's first 16 games.

During this recent stretch, the foursome is contributing nine more points, two more offensive rebounds and three more assists per game.

Sulaimon has taken on more of a ball-handler role, averaging 3.8 assists per game in his last 10 games more than doubling his average (1.5) from his first 15 games.

HOW NORTH CAROLINA HAS IMPROVED

North Carolina has been terrific in its last seven games, averaging nearly 16 more points per game than in its first five conference games. The Tar Heels are shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc in their last seven games compared to 23 percent in their previous five games.

Much of the improvement has to do with the play of James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige.

James Michael McAdoo & Marcus Paige
James Michael McAdoo is averaging 16 points and eight rebounds per game in his last seven games and has been especially efficient on post-up plays, shooting 50 percent in his last seven games, up from 39 percent the rest of the season.

Marcus Paige, meanwhile, has been a more efficient half-court scorer in recent games and can thank his improved accuracy on jump shots -- making 48 percent of his shots over the last seven games.

His effective field-goal percentage on jump shots in those games is 67 percent, compared to 50 percent earlier in the season.

Paige has also been a more efficient distributor, averaging about two more assists per game with a 2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio over his last five games.


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.”

3-point shot: More Buffaloes woes

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
9:37
AM ET

Andy Katz discusses Colorado's latest injury, Oregon's recent struggles and North Carolina's succession plan after Roy Williams eventually retires.
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.

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."
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.

Missed free throws costing Tar Heels

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
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Grant Halverson/Getty Images
North Carolina has been frustrated by poor free throw shooting all season
The charity stripe has been anything but giving for the North Carolina Tar Heels this season.

The most recent example: Wednesday’s three-point loss to Texas in which the Tar Heels missed 23 free throws. But that was hardly an isolated incident.

Here’s a look at the struggles UNC has faced all season from the line:

Free throws are killing the Tar Heels
UNC has missed 128 of 317 free throw attempts this season, an average of 12.8 a game. That is more than any other school in the country.

Three of the four worst free throw shooting performances in the Roy Williams era have already occurred this season. The Tar Heels missed 26 free throws against Belmont, 23 against Texas and 19 against Kentucky. Back in 2011, North Carolina missed 20 free throws against Nicholls State.

What should be a strength is a weakness
Actually getting to the line has not been an issue for UNC – they have the highest free throw rate in the ACC, averaging at least one free throw for every two field goal attempts.

Converting from the line, though, has been another story.

The Tar Heels have the eighth-worst free throw shooting percentage in the country, shooting 59.6 percent. Nicholls State is shooting the poorest from the line among D-I teams at 55.6 percent.

Poor 3-point shooting is compounding this problem
Struggles from beyond the arc for the Tar Heels this season have forced them to go inside more often. This has only added to their woes, as their big men have had trouble from the line.

This season 13 percent of UNC’s total points come from the 3-point line, the lowest in the country. During Roy Williams’ title seasons of 2005 and 2009, 3-pointers accounted for 26 percent and 23 percent of the total points, respectively.

Two of UNC’s three starting forwards, James Michael McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto, have shot 54.4 and 38.5 percent from the line, respectively.

The lone success
Though the team as a whole has struggled from the line, point guard Marcus Paige is not to blame. Paige is the only player on the team to have a free throw percentage higher than 75 this season.

Paige leads the ACC in free throw percentage and is one of only eight players in the country shooting better than 90 percent from the free throw line (min. 50 attempts).

Weekend homework: UNC coaching effort?

December, 19, 2013
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North Carolina coach Roy Williams scheduled a 5 a.m. Thursday practice immediately following the Tar Heels' 86-83 loss to Texas on Wednesday night. He’s tired of preaching effort to his team, which has had a tendency to elevate its play against ranked teams and go through the motions against the rest.

Davidson normally would command respect, but this season it’s not a team that has proved capable of an upset. The Wildcats will stumble into Chapel Hill on Saturday with a 4-7 record. They lost leading scorer De’Mon Brooks to a knee injury after just five games.

In other words, Williams should have an indication pretty quickly about the Heels' effort levels because the opponent isn’t inspiring. One barometer will be rebounding, as they were outrebounded for the second consecutive game and the third time this season.

[+] EnlargeLeslie McDonald, Isaiah Taylor
Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY SportsLeslie McDonald made his season debut and made four 3-pointers, but was part of the problem at the free throw line.
Sophomore guard Marcus Paige said he hopes it doesn’t take more early-morning practices -- or losses -- to learn their lesson.

“If we didn’t give enough effort in the game, he’s got to drill it in somehow,” Paige said. “I mean, we’ve had a couple of games now where we’re saying the same thing. Effort is what got us. Effort is what got us. Either we have to change it or it is going to be forced to be changed.”

Williams is also looking to force a change from the free throw line. The Heels missed 23 free throws against Texas, which wasn’t even the worst this season. That number is 26, from their 83-80 loss to Belmont.

Paige is shooting 91 percent from the line, while the rest of the team is making just 52 percent. Even senior Leslie McDonald, a career 73 percent shooter, seemed hexed. Although he made 4 of 9 3-pointers, he was just 3-of-8 from the free throw line against the Longhorns.

McDonald played his first game this season after being cleared by the NCAA on Wednesday afternoon. An announcement was forthcoming on junior guard P.J. Hairston, but he is likely out for the season, based on the fact that the school did not submit his reinstatement papers to the NCAA.

The Heels could also be without center Joel James, who was injured just seconds into the game against Texas. The coaching staff will have to make more adjustments if James is out, but Paige said effort should never be one of them.

“You come here to play for North Carolina, you shouldn’t be coached on effort,” Paige said. “Effort is something you bring because you want to be here and you want to be successful. It’s frustrating.”

Davidson has lost to Duke by 34, Virginia by 13 and Clemson by 31. In other words, it's exactly the kind of opponent that the Tar Heels should overpower. Will they? That’s been question North Carolina hasn't answered consistently all season.

Weekend Homework: Roy vs. Cal

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
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After a one-year hiatus, North Carolina and Kentucky renew their rivalry in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Ol' Roy versus coach Cal.

One embraces the past. One constantly chases the future. They do things differently, but their contrasting philosophies often end with the same results.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari, Roy Williams
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsJohn Calipari and Roy Williams have had similar up-and-down seasons so far this year.
Since the 2008 season, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Kentucky’s John Calipari have won a national title and coached in two Final Fours. Williams also has reached two Elite Eights to Calipari’s one during that span, but UK ended the Heels' season in the 2011 Elite Eight. (Both also finished at least one humbling season in the NIT.)

The Tar Heels, who lead the all-time series 22-13, have a “White Out” promotion planned. Williams is too old school to go along with the theme by wearing a white suit. But that doesn’t mean he's outdated.

Perhaps that's what provoked UNC assistant coach C.B. McGrath, filling in on Williams' radio show Monday, to go on a rant reminding listeners of Williams' achievements at Carolina.

"Coach obviously has done a great job, with Twitter and this kind of stuff now, it's all about self-promotion," McGrath said. "Coach doesn’t have a Twitter account, he's not going to brag about himself."

Never mind that Calipari has his own website and Twitter account while Williams would like to retire never knowing what it's like to maintain either. Or that Williams once starred on his high school square dance team while Calipari once welcomed Jay Z into his locker room. Or even that Calipari's rosters tend to turn over from the exodus of players to the pros while Williams likes to add pieces each year to build a contender. When the teams meet at 5 p.m. ET in the Dean E. Smith Center, it's not a matchup of whose style is right and whose is wrong.

Williams and Calipari will have more in common than many realize. The Heels and Wildcats have both been a bit unpredictable this season.

Carolina players are still adapting to playing without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, who are still awaiting word on their eligibility. Their highs have included wins over Louisville and Michigan State, but their lows came in losses to Belmont and UAB.

UK assembled arguably the best freshman class in history, but relying on freshmen -- no matter how talented -- comes with some inconsistency. Earlier in the week Calipari said his team was so young, he had to teach them how to huddle. The Cats' losses were to ranked teams in Michigan State and Baylor, but they've still struggled to find their groove.

The team that wins Saturday will be one step closer to finding it.

Kennedy Meeks ahead of schedule

December, 7, 2013
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks dropped nearly 40 pounds before the season began, yet he still knows quite well how to throw his weight around.

The 6-foot-9, 280-pounder was at it again Saturday night with 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists in just 15 minutes of play during Carolina's 81-50 win over UNC Greensboro, which is coached by former UNC guard Wes Miller.

"Down in the post, he still has that weight, so he uses it very well, spinning off guys getting other people in the air, finishing through contact and stuff like that," sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto said.

Had North Carolina coach Roy Williams decided to chart center Meeks' development through the first eight games of the season, chances are the freshman from Charlotte would be ahead of schedule.

Since posting 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against Louisville, Meeks continues to give the Tar Heels reasons to be optimistic about his potential. He has scored double figures in three of their past four games, and his eight rebounds against UNCG marked the third time he has led the team in a single game.

"I'm maintaining my goals right now; I can get better," Meeks said.

[+] EnlargeKennedy Meeks
Liz Condo/USA TODAY Sports Six-foot-9 freshman Kennedy Meeks posted his third double-figure point total of the season Saturday.
Who can argue with him after watching him mature the past few weeks? UNCG certainly was outsized by Carolina in the frontcourt and was outscored 40-26 in the paint.

But remember, Meeks also put up 15 points and seven rebounds in Wednesday's win over Michigan State. Those Spartans in East Lansing had comparable big men, and Meeks still stood tall.

"His confidence is slowly growing just because he's getting that experience, especially in some big-time games early in the year," sophomore guard Marcus Paige said. "He's had some success, and that's going to help him. I try to stay on him -- keep his highs not too high and manage his lows. He's a freshman; that's going to happen. He has a chance to be really good."

Last season, Carolina didn't really have a good scoring option in the post. This year, they have two. Brice Johnson added some strength and has become consistent as a sophomore. He is the team's second-leading scorer. But that was expected.

Meeks was a bit of a wild card, because no one knew how fast he would adapt to college basketball.

Williams has raved about Meeks' ability to throw outlet passes to get the Heels in transition. Against the Spartans, he showed he has good vision in the half court too. In a second-half lineup that featured all three of the UNC freshman, Meeks delivered a textbook backdoor pass to fellow freshman Nate Britt for a layup. By the way, Meeks has only three turnovers in eight games.

"Kennedy is great," Paige said. "He takes care of the ball, he makes good decisions in the post, and he can score … I know it's early in his career, but he's showing a lot of positive things."

They were virtually all on display against the Spartans, like a fadeway jump shot, or like an ability to step outside of the paint and shoot a 15-foot jumper with the soft touch of a guard.

And he's not only a scorer. His rebounding total of 53 through eight games trails Johnson for the team lead by only two, despite the fact that Johnson has played nearly 50 more minutes this season.

About the only thing Meeks doesn't have, he still can get as he sheds more weight.

"He's got to keep working on his body, because he needs to be explosive, and he's not explosive in there," Williams said. "He's tipping the ball a couple of times, and if you're more explosive, you go up and get it with two hands and follow or dunk something like that. But offensively he really helps us."

And for now, that's exactly what the Heels need.

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