Monday, February 10, 2014
Thought of the week: Put up or shut up
By C.L. Brown
The Tar Heels have put it all together during their five-game winning streak. Just how good have they looked?
Guard Marcus Paige is shooting 44 percent from 3-point range and his assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 3-to-1. He has been the team’s leading scorer during that span with an average of 18 points per game.
The Tar Heels have had a lot more to cheer about during their five-game winning streak, but the next two games will provide a big test.
Forward James Michael McAdoo has played up to his potential, averaging 17 points and a team-leading 8.2 rebounds per game.
Guard Leslie McDonald, the only scholarship senior on the roster, has averaged 13 points per game. After making just 7 of 31 (22.5 percent) 3-pointers at the start of league play, he has shot 31 percent (9 of 29) over the past five games. Equally important for the Heels, McDonald has increased his free-throw percentage during the streak to 70 percent despite being at 60.9 percent for the season.
Forward Brice Johnson gives the Heels a fourth player averaging double-figure scoring during the winning streak with an average of 10 points per game. He also leads the team with seven blocks, and the 66-percent free-throw shooter overall has made 10 of his last 13 (77 percent) from the line.
Although coach Roy Williams might use up to 10 players in the rotation, he’s really depending on six -- including forward J.P. Tokoto and center Kennedy Meeks -- for the bulk of the minutes.
The individual improvements have been plentiful during Carolina’s five-game winning streak. It looks nice and all and has truly helped boost the team's confidence and outlook on the season. But the Tar Heels' two games this week will be the real barometer for what to expect moving forward.
“We have had the realization that if we want to be great and we want to be noticed, you have to win,” McAdoo told reporters after UNC beat Notre Dame on Saturday. “It sounds cliché, but no matter what we do in practice, no matter what happens, we have 40 minutes to go out and prove that we are better than the other team -- it does not matter if we are home or away.”
Carolina has the advantage of playing the next two games at home. Duke and Pittsburgh are the last two opponents the Heels face in the top four of the ACC standings. (Of course, they will play the Blue Devils a second time in the regular-season finale.)
A sweep means anything is possible. Well, almost anything. A regular-season conference title is unlikely because of the way Syracuse and Virginia are playing, not to mention the hole Carolina dug itself at the beginning of ACC play with a 1-4 start. But a seat in the top four of the conference and a double bye in the ACC tournament would be a nice consolation. And climbing to something like a five seed in the NCAA tournament isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.
A split with a win over Duke would give the team more bounce than a split with a win over Pitt, but it would still hint at inconsistencies holding the team back.
Losing both likely means the Heels will seem like giants only against teams they’re supposed to beat and end up an eight or nine seed in the NCAA tournament.