North Carolina Tar Heels: John Calipari

Weekend Homework: Roy vs. Cal

December, 12, 2013

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 But that doesn’t mean he's outdated.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.
It goes without saying the games against Duke won’t take a backseat to any opponent this season. Here are five games that could gauge how good, or average, this season will be for the Tar Heels:

5. at Virginia, Jan. 20

The Heels lost for the first time in five trips to John Paul Jones Arena last season. This game could be determined by style points. The Cavs want to use their slow, methodical pace while Carolina wants to run. The difference with this Virginia team is it doesn’t have to play slow to be successful. UVa has the talent to make a move into the upper echelon of the ACC. And with the only regular-season meeting between these two, the outcome could end up serving as a tiebreaker.

4. vs. Louisville, Nov. 24

Both teams have to win in order to face each other (the Cards against Fairfield, UNC against Richmond). But if this game comes to fruition as it should, it could be like an NCAA Tournament game in November. Even without Chane Behanan, Louisville will have a formidable frontcourt led by Tarboro, N.C., native Montrezl Harrell. Surprisingly, the biggest test for Carolina won’t be seeing how Marcus Paige and Nate Britt will handle the Cards’ formidable pressure. It will be seeing if the defense has improved on stopping dribble penetration. If they can’t Louisville’s Russ Smith is going to give them fits.

3. at Syracuse, Jan. 11

Carolina and Syracuse have faced off seven times (the Heels hold a 4-3 edge), but ironically six of those meetings have come on neutral courts. Only once have they played a true road game and that came the final season Michael Jordan donned Carolina blue in December 1983. This will be the only regular-season meeting with the Orange in their inaugural season in the ACC. In anticipation, Orange fans have already purchased more than 30,000 tickets for the game that’s quickly headed towards a sellout. It’s one signal that the ACC will no longer just be measured by the Carolina-Duke rivalry.

2. Kentucky, Dec. 14

After a one-year hiatus, it will be great to see two of college basketball’s marquee programs back at it. The Wildcats, who are No. 1 in the USA Today/Coaches preseason poll, have a tough non-conference schedule, too. I don’t expect them to waltz into the Dean E. Smith Center with an undefeated record, despite coach John Calipari openly discussing the possibility for an undefeated season as a goal. But it will be UK’s first true road test and Carolina’s first home game against a ranked opponent. The last three regular-season games in the series have been determined by a basket.

1. at Michigan State, Dec. 4

This game, more than any other non-conference matchup, will be an early season barometer for North Carolina. Remember last year’s disaster on the road at Indiana? Well, the Breslin Center can be as loud and intimidating for opponents as Assembly Hall (or Cameron Indoor Stadium for that matter); if the Heels aren’t ready it could produce similar results. Carolina will see exactly how far their stable of big men have matured going against State’s Adreian Payne. The Heels can use a lineup that matches up with the Spartans, so the bigger question will be how they will handle a top five team on the road.

Bracketology: Kentucky, UNC's chances

February, 7, 2013

Joe Lunardi discusses the chances that Kentucky and North Carolina qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams says he doesn't start thinking about the NCAA tournament mix until after the regular season.

Kentucky coach John Calipari, too, prefers to focus on the here and now.

It's another thing the veterans have in common this season (whether or not they really are paying attention), as their blue-blooded teams find themselves inexplicably sliding all over the postseason bubble.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, you'd have to go back to 1974 to find the last NCAA tournament that didn't feature either Kentucky or UNC. Yet despite their recent victories -- each team has won five of their past six -- the programs find themselves in precarious positions: No. 10 seeds in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology, prior to their overtime victories on Saturday.

The reasons? Youth. Inconsistency. Defense.

UK (15-6, 6-2 SEC), the defending national champion, lost six players to the NBA draft after beating Kansas last April. Since then, Kentucky brought in's second-ranked recruiting class, began the season ranked No. 3 in The Associated Press poll -- and then slid all the way out of the ratings after falling to Duke early, then losing consecutive games to Notre Dame and Baylor in late November/early December.

UNC (15-6, 5-3 ACC), which arguably might have made it to the Final Four and perhaps played UK in the championship game last season if point guard Kendall Marshall had not fractured his wrist, lost four-fifths of its starting lineup to the draft's first round. With an eighth-ranked recruiting class and the return of would-have-been lottery pick James Michael McAdoo, it started the season at No. 11, rose to as high as ninth, and then fell out of the Top 25 mix before Christmas after an 18-point walloping at Texas.

Many other teams (and fan bases) might have expected rebuilding seasons, giving their programs a one-year pass.

But not the Wildcats, who after all won last year's title with a rookie-laden team; why couldn't they do it again?

And not the Tar Heels, who showed after winning the 2005 title that they were still capable of returning to the NCAA tournament despite losing six of their top seven scorers. Why couldn't they do it again?

"I think it is just the reality of it; the expectations are never going to be realistic," Williams said last week. "But sometimes, like last year, we were picked first, and what did I tell you? It didn't bother me, because I knew that was pretty close. This year, we were picked 11th, and I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's not the guys that I see.' But we've got a chance -- sort of like that [movie] 'Dumb and Dumber.' We've got a chance.

"I think it is part of the reality of it, that people aren't going to be realistic, which is OK. I'd much rather have unrealistic expectations than no interest."

Click here to continue reading this story.

Coaches most likely to join 900-win club

January, 1, 2013
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim recently became the third member of the 900-win club, joining Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as the only Division I men's coaches to reach that milestone.

So who, if anyone, might join that elite trio down the line?

Here’s a subjective look at the most likely candidates based on age and current win total.

10. Jeff Capel (37 years old) - 162 wins
Currently an assistant at Duke, Capel got his head coaching start at 27. He'd obviously need to get another head-coaching job soon, but at 162 wins, he’s got a good head start -- especially if he ends up as Coach K’s successor.

9. Steve Alford (48) - 447 wins
In his sixth season at New Mexico, Alford has been a head coach every year since he was 27. At 48, he’s almost halfway to 900.

8. Brad Stevens (36) - 149 wins
Stevens was one of the fastest ever to reach both 50 and 100 wins. Still only 36, he has many years in front of him. But Stevens won’t have the Horizon League to kick around anymore.

7. Rick Pitino (60) - 641 wins
Six seasons in the NBA have set him back, but Pitino would reach 900 wins in about 10 years if he averages 25 per season.

6. Roy Williams (61) - 685 wins
Williams didn’t become a head coach until he was 38. That’s six years older than Boeheim was. With 215 wins to go, Williams would likely need to coach until he was about 70.

5. John Calipari (53) - 513 wins
Averaging 34 wins per season at Kentucky, Calipari is making up for the four seasons he lost to the NBA. At 53, he needs fewer than 400 more wins to reach 900.

4. Thad Matta (45) - 333 wins
Matta is in his 13th season, and he’s never had fewer than 20 wins. In fact, Roy Williams is the only coach with more wins through his first 12 seasons.

3. Billy Donovan (47) - 430 wins
Only Boeheim and Krzyzewski have longer active streaks of 20-win seasons than Billy Donovan. At 47, he figures to be halfway to 900 before the end of this season.

2. Bill Self (50) - 487 wins
No one under 50 years old has more wins than Self. Since coming to Kansas, he’s averaged more than 29 wins. At that rate, he’s less than 15 seasons away from 900.

1. Bob Huggins (59) - 717 wins
Bob Huggins is already well beyond 700 wins and hasn’t turned 60. That’s well ahead of where Boeheim was at the same age. At 24 wins per year since arriving at West Virginia, he’s on track to get to 900 at a younger age than either Boeheim or Bob Knight.
Unlike shooting or rebounding or point guard play or the variety of other specific basketball skills we’ve been highlighting in our Best of the Best lists throughout this week, the category of “most important” is far trickier to quantify. It depends not only on a player’s contributions, but on the team around him and where the two dynamics meet in the middle. There is also a constant temptation to conflate “most important” with “best” or “most valuable,” and those arguments (hello, baseball) always make my head hurt.

My editors asked me to name the 10 players most important to their teams in the country, and that’s precisely what I’m going to try to do. But I also attempted to avoid the rabbit hole that is individual talent at the mid-major level. Instead, I tried to narrow the criteria down to players most important to their teams’ chances of winning a national title, or making a deep tournament run, or maintaining some level of national relevance. Let’s give it a shot:

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Canaan
AP Photo/Dave Martin, FileWith much of last season's cast gone, Isaiah Canaan is even more key to Murray State this season.
1. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Last season, Canaan was hands down the best and most important player on a team that went 31–2, leading his team in minutes, points, assists, offensive rating (122.2), 3-point field goal percentage (45.6) and a wide swath of other statistical categories. He dominated the ball, scored at will and facilitated to boot. He was really, really good.

And that was on a team that included seniors Donte Poole, Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long, on a team that already was beginning to bring along guard Zay Jackson as Canaan’s new backcourt partner. The first three players are gone to graduation; Jackson is missing the entire season after pleading guilty to wanton endangerment for running over two people with his car in a Walmart parking lot. (True story.) So Canaan, already crucial to his team’s success a year ago, becomes the primary returner on a squad that still very much maintains conference-title and NCAA tournament aspirations. No one player in the country will mean more to his team this season.

2. Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller, the AP Preseason Player of the Year, obviously is important. He is the unifying force on a team that desperately needed exactly what he provided as a freshman: interior scoring, rebounding, strength, efficiency, you name it. He led the Hoosiers in field goal attempts by a wide margin, and Indiana fans could frequently be heard complaining that Zeller wasn’t getting enough touches. Truth is, they probably were right. Before he arrived, with similar personnel, Indiana won 12 games. Afterward, they went 27–9. He doesn’t get credit for all 15 wins of that improvement -- other players got better, too -- but there’s no question his impact was immense. You know all this already.

Here’s the twist, though: All offseason, we’ve been praising the Hoosiers’ depth, and there’s no question Tom Crean has a wealth of pieces at his disposal. But right now, aside from Zeller, the frontcourt is looking a little slim. Forward Derek Elston (better as a 15-foot jump-shooter anyway) is injured, and the eligibility statuses of freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea (a wide-shouldered rebounding force) and Peter Jurkin (a 7-foot center) are both up in the air. Zeller already has much riding on his shoulders, and more help was supposed to be on the way. If it isn’t, Zeller’s task becomes even more daunting.

3. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Last season, there were two players in the country who used at least 28 percent of their team’s available possessions and posted offensive ratings (a measure of individual player efficiency) above 120. The first was Damian Lillard, who did this for the Portland Trail Blazers the other night. The other: Doug McDermott. He shot 63.2 percent from inside the arc (on 400 shots) and 48.6 percent outside (on 111), and he rebounded well on both ends for good measure. Creighton has guys who can play. Grant Gibbs is a sublime entry passer, Jahenns Manigat is coming on strong and Ethan Wragge can shoot it. But there’s no getting around the fact that McDermott’s incredible inside-out offensive versatility was the main reason his team boasted the fifth-most efficient offense in the country last season, per Seeing as Creighton’s defense was so lackluster, the Bluejays very much needed that offense. Even assuming they improve somewhat on the defensive end this season, they’ll still need to score like crazy in 2012-13. That’s where McDermott comes in.

4. Peyton Siva, Louisville: Every time we talk about the huge talents returning at Louisville, we talk about how good the defense is going to be. This is for good reason: It was the best in the country last season, good enough to get the No. 4-seeded Cardinals to the Final Four. It will keep them in excellent shape in the season to come. It’s bankable like that. Then, after we sing the defensive hosannas, we get around to talking about how so-so Louisville’s offense was, and how if the Cardinals are truly a national title contender they have to find ways to score.

Siva is the most crucial piece in this discussion. The UL senior point guard is 5-foot-11 and quick as lightning; the problem is that he just isn’t very efficient. He shot 24.6 percent from 3 in 2011-12. He turned the ball over on nearly a third of his possessions (29.3 percent). According to Synergy scouting data, Louisville uses Siva more frequently than any other player to initiate pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key, a play type it favors as a team, but he is merely average in his execution. Why? Because defenses don’t have to respect his jumper. They play under the screen, the play dies and Louisville goes to Plan B.

To me, if Louisville is going to turn its offense to something more coherent, Siva is the key. Without a more efficient performance at the point guard spot, the Cardinals will still be a brutally tough out. But they won’t reach their full potential.

[+] EnlargeRyan Harrow
Mark Zerof/US PresswireNC State transfer Ryan Harrow takes the reins of a talented, but again young, Kentucky squad.
5. Ryan Harrow, Kentucky: The NC State transfer is getting his moment in the John Calipari point-guard spotlight this season, a vaunted role typically reserved for NBA lottery picks. That spotlight can be harsh -- never more so than from Calipari himself -- but there are good reasons for Calipari’s insistence on point guard excellence. For one, his dribble-drive offensive system (which he has used variously in recent seasons, and might return to more in 2012-13) thrives on point guard play more than most.

The second reason? Harrow, who spent last season on the bench after a freshman campaign in Raleigh, is in many ways a veteran in Kentucky’s latest amalgamation of highly talented but still raw freshmen. His ability to run an effective offense, while dealing with players still getting used to each other and the college level at the same time, will be key to Kentucky’s success this season.

6. Trey Burke, Michigan: Burke has something of a similar challenge to Harrow’s, but one accentuated by what could be a major adjustment at the offensive end. Last season, Burke sprang onto the scene at the helm of an archetypal John Beilein-style "spread the floor and fire away" 3-point-shooting team. The team’s three most efficient shooters are gone, replaced by touted freshmen (Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary) unlike anything Beilein has had the luxury of landing during his tenure in Ann Arbor. Now, Michigan’s best lineup will look more conventional, with big, athletic, bruising players.

This could be a boon on defense, but it will require a shift on offense; it seems almost unfathomable the Wolverines will shoot nearly as many 3s this season. At the middle of it all will be Burke, a preseason All-American who will see his distribution and leadership abilities fully put to the test.

7. Adonis Thomas, Memphis: It was tempting to put point guard Joe Jackson in this spot. The same could be said for center Tarik Black. Jackson has still yet to harness his immense talent in a totally cohesive way; Black can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble. But I decided to go with Thomas. Why? For one, he’ll be stepping into former Tiger Will Barton’s shoes, and there was no mistaking Barton was the best player on a pretty underrated 2011-12 Memphis team. But Thomas could arguably be even better, at least on the offensive end; by all accounts, the 6-6 small forward has been utterly lacing long-range shots all offseason. That versatility would make Thomas, who played power forward until his injury last season, an utter nightmare to guard and could introduce a new dynamism to a Memphis offense that was already pretty good in the first place. I’m really intrigued.

8. Lorenzo Brown, NC State: C.J. Leslie is the obvious pick here, but I think we kind of know what we’re going to get with him. He’s athletic, he’s one of the best in the country at catching on the block or elbow and diving to either side of the rim, and he should be locked in from start to finish this season. Maybe that’s presumptuous, but I’m taking Leslie’s productivity as a given. (OK, it’s definitely presumptuous. Make me look smart, C.J.) Brown, on the other hand, feels more crucial because, like some of the other PGs on this list, it is his job to make the whole Wolfpack thing work. That includes integrating Rodney Purvis; playing better defense at the point of attack; and keeping Leslie involved and finding sharpshooter Scott Wood on the wing. If Brown has a top season, NC State might indeed be worthy of that lofty, tourney-run-infused No. 6 preseason ranking. If not, the “overrated” refrain will ring out early and often.

9. Phil Pressey, Missouri: Senior guard Michael Dixon’s indefinite suspension probably won’t last too long, but that’s hardly the only reason Pressey deserves a nod here. Along with Dixon -- who is more of a catch-and-shoot player than Pressey, a gifted ball handler, penetrator and creator -- Missouri’s backcourt has kind of a crazy/thrilling challenge on its hands in 2012-13. The Tigers have to replace the losses of Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon with four transfers: Keion Bell (from Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (from Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (from Connecticut) and Earnest Ross (from Auburn). Those players have all been on campus for a while, and it’s not exactly like figuring out guys you just picked up in an open run ... but compared to the rest of the country, it’s not all that far off, either.

10. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: It will be easy, in the coming months and years, to forget just how good North Carolina’s 2011-12 frontcourt was. That’s what happens when you have gigantic expectations and bow out of the NCAA tournament short of the Final Four. But let it be known: Tyler Zeller and John Henson (and, oh yeah, Harrison Barnes) were really good. Not only did they control the paint and score easily on the offensive end, but they were fast enough to race down the floor in Roy Williams’ up-tempo system, getting easy buckets on offense and turning UNC’s interior defense into its overall team strength.

Given all that, McAdoo has a ton riding on him in 2012-13. He was a highly touted recruit who probably could have been a lottery pick last season, but he chose to avoid that route (word to Marvin Williams) and come back to prove himself on the college stage. Carolina returns some promising wings (P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald) and brings in a really interesting frosh at point guard (Iowa native Marcus Paige), but McAdoo will be in charge of the low block. If he lives up to his heady NBA potential, look out. If not, UNC will labor. It’s that simple.

UNC's Williams out-blings UK's Calipari

September, 11, 2012
North Carolina coach Roy Williams couldn't quite match Kentucky coach John Calipari's 2012 national championship ring in trying to impress top-five recruit Julius Randle earlier this week (the Tar Heels, of course, fell short of the Final Four last season). But according to USA Today, Williams found a way to "31-up" him during an in-home visit with the highly-coveted forward.

First, Jason Jordan wrote, Williams opened a case featuring 30 rings earned from his two national championships, plus Final Four berths and league titles. And they make a shiny impact.
"When coach Williams opened the case you almost couldn't look directly in it for fear of going blind," Randle joked to USA Today. "It was crazy."

But that wasn't the end of the bling. Wrote Jordan:
Once he'd achieved the wide-eyed reaction he hoped for, Williams added the exclamation point, reaching into his pocket and pulling out Michael Jordan's 1992 NBA championship ring he won with the Chicago Bulls.

"He said Jordan gave it to him to show his players what they could achieve with hard work and determination," Randle said. "I was just shocked. I couldn't believe I was holding Jordan's ring."

Was it enough sparkle to lure Randle to Chapel Hill? Time will tell...

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- A few quick thoughts after Kentucky's thrilling 73-72 victory over North Carolina on Saturday.

Overview: Kentucky's Anthony Davis blocked John Henson's attempt at a game-winning field goal from the baseline with 5 seconds remaining in the top-ranked Wildcats' 73-72 victory over No. 5 North Carolina at Rupp Arena. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a game-high 17 points for UK, while Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller added 14 each for North Carolina, which led 60-56 with about 8 minutes remaining before losing the lead down the stretch. It was an epic game between two of the three winningest programs of all time and what certainly appear to be two of the three best teams in the country this season.

Turning point: Trailing 60-56, Kentucky uncorked a 13-4 run late in the second half and never trailed again. Doron Lamb hit two huge 3-pointers in that span, the second of which stretched a 66-64 lead into a 69-64 cushion with 3:25 remaining. North Carolina still had a chance when Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague missed the front end of a one-and-one with 21.5 seconds left and the Wildcats leading 73-72. The Tar Heels passed inside to Zeller on their final possession, but the senior center lost the ball and it ended up in the hands of Henson, whose shot was blocked by Davis on the baseline. Davis corralled the ball and passed it to Teague, who ran up the court as time expired, setting off a wild celebration as the Tar Heels somehow failed to foul.

Why Kentucky won: The Wildcats were simply better down the stretch. Lamb's 3-pointers were huge and Kidd-Gilchrist, who also had 11 rebounds, was active throughout the game. Kentucky continues to play excellent defense as well. UK blocked seven shots and forced North Carolina to shoot 41 percent from the field.

Why North Carolina lost: The Tar Heels struggled to get good looks in crunch time. They didn't have a 2-point field goal in the final 6 minutes, and even the two 3-pointers they hit (one by Barnes, the other by Reggie Bullock) were heavily defended. Still, this game was played at an extremely high level between two teams with rosters full of future first-round draft picks. It's hard to knock the Heels for a strong, gutsy performance in one of the toughest road environments in all of college basketball.

Star of the game: Davis came up with the biggest play by blocking Henson, but he hadn't been all that effective up to that point. Lamb scored 12 in the second half and his two late 3-pointers were huge, mainly because each of them were answer shots after North Carolina had pulled within one or two points on its previous possession. Those kinds of baskets will drain the life out of an opposing team. Still, the star of the game can be no one other than Kidd-Gilchrist, who finished with 17 points and 11 boards and was 6-of-10 from the field. There's no question he outplayed preseason All-American Barnes.

Other observations: North Carolina's P.J. Hairston was questionable entering the game, but he played and contributed 11 points and missed all but one shot. ... Former Kentucky stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Brandon Knight were in attendance. ... Carolina made six of its nine 3-point attempts in the opening half and finished 11-of-18 (61 percent) ... Barnes picked up his third foul with more than 6 minutes left in the opening half. ... Nearly 30 NBA scouts and front-office types attended Saturday's game. ... Third-year Kentucky coach John Calipari remains undefeated in Rupp Arena.

What's next: North Carolina kicks off a stretch of six straight home games when it hosts Evansville on Tuesday. Included in the stretch are tilts with Long Beach State and Texas. Kentucky's next game is against undefeated Indiana next Saturday in Bloomington. That should be another classic battle between blue bloods, although it'll be tough to top this one.