North Carolina Tar Heels: Reggie Bullock

Thought of the week: Paige turning

November, 18, 2013
Marcus Paige could stand to be a little more selfish.

Not in the annoying kind of way that would alienate the locker room. In the assertive and confident way when you know you bring the most to the table. North Carolina will have more games like Sunday’s loss to Belmont if Paige plays passively on offense.

“He’s our best shooter, and the guys need to work harder to get him open,” UNC coach Roy Williams said after watching Paige score a career-high 23 points against Holy Cross on Friday.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Liz Condo/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Paige showed this weekend that he can be a big-time scorer, but the Tar Heels need him to continue to tap into that scorer's mentality.
I’m still not sure Paige views himself as the team's best shooter. Or at least, I’m not sure Paige feels that in being the best shooter he’s entitled to take more shots. He should, because he is.

Maybe we’ll look back on Paige’s performances from this past weekend -- including his 17 points in the loss to Belmont -- as the opening chapter in his development as a scorer.

“It’s obviously a work in progress, just because it’s something I haven’t had to do here yet,” Paige said. “But at the same time, you’re a basketball player, and if the team needs you to step up and be a scorer, then that’s what you have to do.”

Last season, Paige scored in double figures only 10 times and accomplished it in back-to-back games only twice. He’s been in double figures all three games this season and is second on the team behind James Michael McAdoo with an 18.0-point average.

Paige’s performance against the Crusaders came in large part because he was forced to take over with Carolina shooting 27 percent in the first half. It shouldn’t come to that point anymore.

Paige has to bury his point guard instincts -- as long as P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are out of the lineup -- that have him thinking about setting up other players.

“My teammates trust me enough to be a good decision-maker while still maybe taking more shots or being more aggressive,” Paige said. “That’s just something I know I have to do.”

It’s clear that he's the Tar Heels’ best, maybe even the only, perimeter shooting threat. It’s also clear that Carolina will struggle offensively if Paige and McAdoo aren’t scoring.

It’s not a stretch for Paige to have a scorer’s mentality.

“In high school I felt more comfortable hunting my shot, especially my senior year,” Paige said. “Last year I became a distributor with three scorers [McAdoo, Hairston, Reggie Bullock] as good as me. I still have a little bit of that aggressive mentality in me. I’m going to have to bring it out at least for the beginning of the year.”

Judging from the way the Heels handled the late-game situations against Belmont, squandering a five-point lead in the final 60 seconds, they don’t have an alpha male on the roster. There was no one who demanded the ball for the final shot.

Paige can be that guy.

“He was a scorer in high school, and I like scoring point guards,” Williams said. “Ty Lawson was a scorer, Raymond Felton was a scorer, and I like scoring point guards. I think it gives them an extra dimension.”

Paige has that extra dimension. He’s just going to have to nurture it for the Tar Heels to blossom.

2014 class could be right piece

November, 14, 2013
Roy Williams won two championships in Chapel Hill thanks in large part to three standout recruiting classes. On paper, he just landed a fourth on Wednesday.

Williams delivered one of the nation’s best recruiting classes and gave a comment on each:

Theo Pinson, a 6-foot-8 wing, is ranked eighth in the ESPN 100: “He can do almost everything on the court and do it well. He can handle the ball, pass, defend and he has tremendous savvy.

[+] EnlargeJustin Jackson
Chris Williams/Icon SMI2014 UNC signee Justin Jackson is the nation's top-ranked small forward.
Justin Jackson, a 6-foot-6 wing is ranked 13th: “He’s 6-8 with perimeter skills. He performed well last summer against tough competition, including at USA Basketball events.”

Joel Berry, a 6-foot-1 point guard, ranked 15th: “He is a true quarterback on the floor, but he has the ability to score as well.”

It matches the 2010 class of Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall for the highest average ranking. But the formula for winning titles doesn’t come with a talented class alone.

Williams has proven when he stacks classes the right way, Carolina contends for the title.

As you recall, Matt Doherty recruited the classes who proved to be the cornerstones of the 2005 national championship team. That included the 2002 class that featured Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton.

Marvin Williams, from the class of 2004, proved to be a key addition to that team and was in Roy Williams’ first full recruiting class in Chapel Hill.

The starters for the 2009 title team came from portions of the 2005 (Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green) and 2006 (Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Deon Thompson) classes.

The team built to win in 2012 had key starters from three classes in Tyler Zeller (2008), John Henson and Dexter Strickland (2009) and Marshall and Barnes (2010).

Even if James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston are not on next year’s squad, the Heels will still have a nice blend of old and new talents from three straight classes. That once again could be the formula for a serious Final Four contender.

Pinson and Jackson in particular will give Carolina the depth and athleticism on the wings that it has lacked. Berry will team with Marcus Paige and Nate Britt to form one of the fastest back courts Williams has had at UNC.

UNC recruiting classes under Roy Williams

J.R. Smith, SF
Marvin Williams, PF
Quentin Thomas, PG

Tyler Hansbrough, PF
Danny Green, SG
Bobby Frasor, SG
Marcus Ginyard, PG
Michael Copeland, F

Wayne Ellington, G
Ty Lawson, PG
Brandon Wright, PF
Deon Thompson, PF
Alex Stepheson, PF
Will Graves, SF


Ed Davis, PF
Tyler Zeller, C
Larry Drew, PG
Justin Watts, SG

John Henson, PF
Dexter Strickland, SG
Leslie McDonald, SG
David Wear, PF
Travis Wear, PF

Harrison Barnes, SF
Regge Bullock, SG
Kendall Marshall, PG

James Michael McAdoo, PF
P.J. Hairson, SF
Desmond Hubert, C
Jackson Simmons, PF
Stillman White, PG

Marcus Paige, PG
Joel James, C
Brice Johnson, PF
J.P. Tokoto, SF

Isaiah Hicks, PF
Kennedy Meeks, C
Nate Britt, PG

Theo Pinson, SF
Justin Jackson, SF
Joel Berry, PG

Position series: Small forwards

October, 23, 2013
This is the third installment of a position-by-position look at the Tar Heels.

It's funny to think that Reggie Bullock’s decision to turn pro turned the Heels into a team that is thin at wing. But it did just that. However, the Heels can be thankful for one of the carry-over benefits from their use of a four-guard lineup last season. P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are now both used to having to defend small forwards. Both are versatile enough to spend time at small forward, depending on the personnel coach Roy Williams uses at any given time.

[+] EnlargeJ.P. Tokoto
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY SportsJ.P. Tokoto could see a much bigger role for the Tar Heels this season.
The strength of the position will probably hinge on how well sophomore J.P. Tokoto is prepared to play it. Tokoto is a natural small forward. He’s arguably the team’s best on-ball defender with more steals per minute played than anybody on the roster.

“His defensive presence and the pressure on the ball, attacking the rim and jumping over people to get rebounds is incredible,” McDonald said. “He’s that guy that you want on your team. He’s going to give it all he has.”

After averaging just 8.6 minutes per game last season, Tokoto could see the biggest increase in minutes played on the team. That is, as long as can produce in his expanded role.

“I don’t think it’s an audition, I think it’s an opportunity that coach has presented to me,” Tokoto said. “... it’s not just given to us, we have to go take it. I’m excited to get out there and show people what I can do.”

Oddly enough James Michael McAdoo will also get a chance to showcase his skills, or lack thereof, at small forward. When Williams decides to use a bigger lineup McAdoo will move to the 3-spot with Tokoto, McDonald or Hairston, when he returns from suspension, playing shooting guard.

McAdoo faces two major challenges in playing small forward: He’ll have to prove he can defend in some cases smaller and quicker opponents. He’ll have to take better care of the basketball after leading the team with 96 turnovers last season. Williams seemed confident he could handle the transition.

“He can’t do that (play small forward) if he turns the ball over, so the ball-handling part of it has to get better,” Williams said. “I have seen a more focused player than I’ve ever seen and a guy that’s having a very, very good preseason. I really hope that James Michael is my biggest worry -- that means I’ll be in good shape.”

Small forwards

Tokoto: 6-5, 200, So., 2.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 48.8 FG%

McDonald: 6-5, 215, Sr., 7.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 35.7 FG%

Hairston: 6-6, 220, Jr., 14.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 43.1 FG%

McAdoo: 6-9, 230, Jr., 14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 44.5 FG%
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said during his radio show Monday night that he will be contacting NBA personnel to gather information about the pro prospects of his players, as usual. But at this point, he’s not sure whether any Tar Heels will be leaving early for the NBA.

“We’ll look into it and see,’’ he said. “I don’t feel the sense of urgency right now with it that as I have in years' past. We were an 8-seed [in the NCAA tournament]. We finished third in the league. We had 11 losses. The NBA usually likes to find those guys that come off teams that won 30 games and go to the Final Four. And our guys understand that. That’s not saying anything negative.

“But with P.J. [Hairston] and Reggie [Bullock] and James [McAdoo], those three for example, they’re going to be NBA players; there’s no doubt in my mind. Is it going to be next year? I think that is a big question. And I think each one of those kids can gain a great deal from coming back and improve their game.

“John Henson’s dad said it better than anybody: It’s not how quickly you get to the NBA, it’s how ready you are to play when you get there. And I think all three of those kids, I’ll have discussions with them and I’ll have discussions with the NBA people about them, but I don’t think there’s any cut-and-dried guy that’s going to be leaving for sure.”

None of the Tar Heels’ three leading scorers currently are currently listed in the top 20 of ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford’s draft prospects . McAdoo, a sophomore, was considered a lottery pick last season, but opted to return.

The Tar Heels, which lost in the NCAA Round of 32 to Kansas on Sunday, lose only one scholarship senior, starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland. Williams noted that the Tar Heels posted 106 victories during Strickland’s tenure.

“Dexter had a fine, fine career, and he’s a youngster that has a chance to continue playing basketball,’’ Williams said. “It might have to be one of those routes where he goes to Europe or somewhere like that. But if he works at it and gets lucky and stays lucky, he has a chance.”

UNC's Williams gets 700th career win

March, 22, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams picked up his 700th career victory when North Carolina defeated Villanova 78-71 at the Sprint Center on Friday. But after the game, Williams said he was equally as proud of another number.


That’s how many wins Williams’ current crop of Tar Heels has achieved during what some would call a transition year. Considering UNC had four players selected in the top 17 of last summer’s NBA draft, the coaching job Williams has done in 2012-13 is one of the more impressive of his career.

Friday’s victory propelled UNC to a third-round NCAA tournament game against either Kansas or Western Kentucky. That hardly seemed like a possibility three months ago, when the Tar Heels were manhandled by a struggling Texas team that a few weeks earlier had lost to Division II Chaminade.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesIn guiding North Carolina to the round of 32, Roy Williams picked up his 700th career coaching win.
“It was terrible,” guard Dexter Strickland said about the loss. “We didn’t have any experience. We didn’t know how to play with each other yet. We didn’t know the level of intensity we needed to play with as a team. We were just trying to find ourselves.”

Strickland paused.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” he said.

Indeed, North Carolina finished third in the ACC with a 12-6 record. During Friday’s first half, the eighth-seeded Tar Heels looked capable of making one of the more unlikely Final Four runs in school history.

Williams’ squad led by 20 points in the first half. The basket must’ve looked like hula-hoop to the Tar Heels, who shot 50 percent before the break.

North Carolina, however, became complacent in the second half and allowed the ninth-seeded Wildcats to take a 45-44 lead.

“We thought we were good enough to win this game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

The Wildcats (20-14) almost did, keeping it close until the waning minutes, when some timely 3-point shooting by Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and Marcus Paige helped North Carolina to victory. The Tar Heels closed out the win by making their last seven field goal attempts.

“There were a few moments, to say the least, when we were really ugly,” Williams said. “I loved the mental toughness of our team in the last eight or nine minutes.”

Williams deserves credit for developing that toughness. Hairston, Bullock and James Michael McAdoo are NBA-caliber players, but certainly not at the level -- at least not yet -- of some of the lottery picks of UNC’s past. This team has needed more molding and grooming and coaching than recent Tar Heel squads.

That’s why, in some ways, win No. 25 (against 10 losses) felt just as fulfilling to Williams as victory No. 700.

“I’m human,” Williams said. “I wanted to get 700. I’d like to get 800, 900, 1,000, 1,500 ... but I know that’s not going to happen.

“My focus was not on that, it really wasn’t. I was trying to get No. 25 and have this team stay and play in another game.”

GREENSBORO, N.C. – P.J. Hairston's hand hurt after North Carolina’s 79-76 ACC tournament semifinal victory over Maryland on Saturday. But the Tar Heels sophomore, who needed eight stitches Friday to close a bloody laceration between two fingers, said he would have hurt more if he didn’t play.

And so, frankly, might have his team.

The wing-turned-power forward wasn’t the Tar Heels’ highest scorer; both Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland finished two points ahead of him, with 15 apiece. And Hairston didn’t make the most noteworthy plays down the stretch, when the Terps cut a double-figures lead back to within upset distance. Those moments came from forward James Michael McAdoo, who converted two clutch free throws; point guard Marcus Paige, who scored a couple of key buckets; and Terrapins guard Logan Aronhalt, who opted to throw up long, desperation 3 that found nothing but air with time left on the clock.

Still, Hairston’s ability to start despite a heavily bandaged left hand -- and finish with 13 points and four rebounds -- allowed the Tar Heels (24-9) to stick with their four-guard starting lineup.

And to continue competing the way they’ve grown most comfortable.

“I think it was huge just for him to be able to be out there,’’ McAdoo, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, said of Hairston. “We didn’t know if he was going to be able to contribute, but just to have him out there on the floor gave our team a lot of confidence … because having him there is what we’ve grown used to.”

And been successful with. The Tar Heels now are 8-2 since coach Roy Williams opted to insert the 6-foot-5 Hairston for 6-11 Desmond Hubert, and no one really wanted to mess with that faster, more confident, better-shooting mojo, if possible.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina's P.J. Hairston
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDespite playing with a bandaged left hand, North Carolina's P.J. Hairston scored 13 points in an ACC semifinal against Maryland.
“I wanted to help my team, and I wanted to make sure we won and advanced,’’ Hairston said.

There was some doubt, though, about how much help he could be after he left Friday’s win over Florida State with about four minutes left, blood dripping all over the court. Hairston sustained the cut between the middle and ring fingers on his non-shooting hand when a Seminole was trying to make a steal, and he didn’t immediately know the extent of his injury.

“When it happened, I didn’t know it happened,’’ Hairston said. “I was running back … and I wiped my face, and I happened to look at my hand, and I was dripping blood all over the floor. I’m like, ‘OK,’ and when I got to the bench, no one knew where the blood was coming from. But as soon as we wiped the blood off, I saw that it was split straight down the middle of my hand [between the fingers]. It was weird.”

And a little bit scary.

“Last night I thought I was going to die,’’ he said. “I was in the training room with my mom holding my hand. They told me, ‘OK, we’re going to clean it out and stitch on it,’ … and as soon as the alcohol and soap hit my hand I screamed for my life.”

Thus, Williams didn’t know if he was going to be able to play Hairston until just before the game, when the player was able to dribble, catch and pass without any problem. But even then, he told Hairston his playing time would be dependent on how effective he could be.

So the scorer hit his first 3-point try just 73 seconds into the game.

And he played 36 minutes.

“He was one tough sucker today,’’ Williams said. “I think the hand bothered him a little bit … he was 3-for-10, he had some good looks, but at the same time, I think what he helped us do out on the court was extremely important."

And will continue to be important Sunday, when the third-seeded Tar Heels face top seed Miami in the tournament championship game.

UNC lost to the Hurricanes twice during the regular season -- the second time, in mid-February, leading to Williams’ decision to make the switch to go smaller with his opening five. Since that move, the Tar Heels have become more cohesive than the crew that started ACC play 0-2.

And they say they were even more inspired Saturday, watching Hairston play well despite the stitches and cushioned bandage and post-game soreness.

“Right now it hurts pretty bad,” he said, “but I’ll be fine. On the court, when my adrenaline gets going, it feels like a regular hand.”

GREENSBORO, N.C. –- With Friday's night 83-62 ACC quarterfinal victory over Florida State, North Carolina appeared to heal the wounds of last weekend’s blowout loss to Duke -- shooting sharp, sharing the ball, aggressively running the court.

Until someone got hurt.

Sophomore P.J. Hairston, the catalyst for the four-guard starting lineup that now has gone 7-2 since it was instituted, sustained a blood-dripping cut to his left hand late in the blowout. It’s unknown whether he’ll be able to play in Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Maryland.

“We’re extremely concerned right now,” coach Roy Williams said after the game. “His hand is torn up. … We have no idea, I have no idea, won’t have any idea [if he’s going to play]. I’ve told you everything I know. It doesn’t look good.”

The wing-turned-power-forward left the game -- blood dripping on the Greensboro Coliseum court -- with 4:14 remaining, after he sustained a cut between the middle and ring fingers on his left (non-shooting) hand. The Greensboro native, who left the game (briefly) earlier in the half with a stinger to his left shoulder, was not available for comment after the game. But the school said he needed eight stitches between those fingers.

Williams said the injury occurred when an FSU player was trying to steal the ball.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsFreshman point guard Marcus Paige recorded a career-best 10 assists in UNC's victory.
“He [Hairston] had the ball and said the guy slammed into the ball and he felt like the ball jammed between his fingers right there,” Williams said.

The injury could hurt the Tar Heels in more ways than one.

If Hairston can’t play for a stretch, UNC would certainly miss the aggressive scorer who recorded 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting during Friday's victory (and who helped UNC shoot 10-for-22 from 3-point land as a team, after its awful 1-for-14 effort against the Blue Devils last weekend).

But the team would also miss the spacing and speed that this four-guard lineup provides. Since the switch, point guard Marcus Paige (career-high 10 assists Friday) and shooting guard Dexter Strickland (10 points) have had clearer lanes to the basket, forward James Michael McAdoo (12 points in a foul-plagued 14 minutes) has enjoyed more room down low and junior wing Reggie Bullock (17 points, nine rebounds) has been racking up more stats in more categories.

Williams said after the game he hasn’t had a chance to think about what he might do if Hairston can’t play. But he likely would return to a more traditional two-post approach.

“We could play Marcus at power forward, possibly,’’ he said, kidding about the possibility of moving his starting ballhandler to the 4-spot, “but the conventional wisdom would say you have to go big because you can’t teach Reggie the out-of-bounds plays from the 4-spot between now and tomorrow at 3:00. It’s already so ridiculous that it’s midnight and we have to be back at 3. The 9 o’clock game started at 9:40 again.”

No matter the hour, the timing isn’t good to lose Hairston, who has posted four games with 20 or more points since he was inserted into the starting lineup. It could be a similar situation to last March, when now-NBA-rookie John Henson injured his wrist in the league quarterfinals.

“Last year James Michael stepped up for John and played great in the ACC tournament,’’ Williams said. “So if we can’t have P.J., we’ve got to have somebody step up and play great.”

Or things could start hurting, again.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- North Carolina has bounced back before this season -- the latest example being a smaller-lineup spurred six-victory streak after its February 13 loss at Duke.

The question now, after losing to the then-third ranked Blue Devils by 16 points last weekend: Can the Tar Heels (22-9) bounce back again, beginning with Friday night’s ACC tournament quarterfinal matchup against Florida State?

“I think we were playing pretty well [before the latest Duke loss],” UNC coach Roy Williams said during his radio show earlier this week. “And I don’t think you can let one game crush you and lead to another one and another one. That does happen with some teams that struggle quite a bit -- but we had been playing pretty well, so hopefully we’ll handle it that way.”

The Tar Heels believe their lackluster performance against the Blue Devils (when Duke got off to a double-figures lead, and UNC never got on track) was just a blip. They point to their four-guard-lineup-spurred speed, aggression and scoring prior to that loss, and believe they can get it all back.

“We know who we are,’’ sophomore P.J. Hairston said earlier this week. “We know what we did wrong. We know where it went wrong, and we know how to fix it, because we’ve fixed it before. And it’s something that can be fixed, and we can turn it around.”

A few things to watch when the third-seeded Tar Heels face the sixth-seeded Seminoles at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET:


You can’t write anything about the Seminoles without first mentioning Snaer, the senior guard who hit four game-winning shots during the ACC regular season (and has buried six over the past two seasons).

He’s averaging 14.4 PPG. And although he didn’t need a game winner to beat Clemson during Thursday’s ACC first-round game, “Mr. Clutch” did convert four free throws in the final 23 seconds to seal the victory.

The Seminoles (18-14) have won four of their past five games.


The Tar Heels made only 1 of their 14 3-point attempts against the Blue Devils, as starting wing Reggie Bullock went 0-for-4 from long distance, Hairston went 1-for-6 and reserve Leslie McDonald was 0-for-3. The team had converted roughly 42 percents of its 3s during its six-game winning streak.

UNC needs to take smarter shots -- and make them.


Seminoles forward Okaro White scored a career-high 24 points against Clemson in Thursday’s victory. … UNC swept FSU in the season series this year, winning 77-72 and 79-58. … The Tar Heels are 11-7 all time as the third seed in this tournament. … FSU entered the tourney as the ACC leader in both free throw shooting percentage and blocked shots.
North Carolina junior wing Reggie Bullock and sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo were named to the All-ACC second team on Monday. Sophomore P.J. Hairston earned honorable mention honors, and Tar Heels point guard Marcus Paige was named to the All-Freshman team.

These awards are voted on by the Atlantic Coast Conference Sports Media Association; individual awards will be announced later this week.

The full list:


Rapid Reaction: Duke 69, UNC 53

March, 9, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Seth Curry scored 20 points. Mason Plumlee had 23.

It was a memorable Senior Night at the Dean Smith Center -- for Duke.

The third-ranked Blue Devils decimated their in-state rivals 69-53 Saturday, snapping the Tar Heels’ smaller-lineup-led six-game winning streak while winning their third straight since the return of their other starting senior, Ryan Kelly. It marked the regular-season finale for both teams.

A quick look at the blowout:

Turning point: Ummm … tipoff? Duke, paced first by Curry, got off to a 14-0 run before UNC scored (on a James Michael McAdoo free throw). McAdoo scored five consecutive points before the Blue Devils took off again. Curry was 7-for-7 with 15 points before he recorded his first miss and had 18 points by halftime.

With his team leading 42-24 at the break, it was Plumlee’s turn to take off, scoring the Devils’ first 10 points of that half.

How lopsided was the disparity? With about nine minutes left, Curry and Plumlee had combined to outscore UNC’s entire team 41-36.

The Tar Heels tried to rally, putting together a 13-2 run that included their first 3-pointer of the game (from P.J. Hairston), with 5:01 left. But that only cut Duke’s lead to 63-49, and Blue Devils guard Quinn Cook quickly re-padded his team’s cushion with back-to-back buckets.

Player(s) of the game: Curry reached the 2,000-career-points mark in the first half, and finished 8-for-13. Plumlee was 10-for-15 and had 13 rebounds.

McAdoo led the Tar Heels with 15 points.

Number(s) to know: Hairston, Reggie Bullock and Marcus Paige were a combined 0-for-11 for UNC in the first half, when the Tar Heels shot 27.3 percent and Duke shot 69.2.

Etc.: Kelly, averaging 27 points in two games since his return from a foot injury, was plagued by foul trouble in the first half and finished with eight points. … As per Senior Game tradition at UNC, senior walk-on Frank Tanner started. He played 41 seconds before usual starter Paige checked back in. UNC trailed 7-0 by then. … Saturday marked the first time a Roy Williams-coached UNC team has lost on Senior Night.

Up next: Duke will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s ACC tournament. The Blue Devils will have a first-round bye Thursday and play the winner of Thursday’s No. 7-No. 10 game on Friday at 7 p.m. in Greensboro. North Carolina will be the No. 3 seed, also have a first-round bye and will play the winner of Thursday's No. 6-No. 11 (Florida State-Clemson) game at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Friday in Greensboro.
P.J. HairstonCal Sport Media/AP ImagesNorth Carolina has won six straight games with P.J. Hairston in the starting lineup.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- With about 2 seconds left at Cameron Indoor Stadium last month, newly installed North Carolina starter P.J. Hairston briefly cut through the roar of the crazy, celebrating crowd with a driving, rim-rattling jam.

The emphatic bucket, itself, didn’t mean anything to the final outcome of the rivalry game: Duke 73, UNC 68. But it was a sign -- and a statement -- of what was to come.

“I wanted to show that we weren’t going to stop being aggressive, we weren’t going to stop trying,” the sophomore said recently. “And we haven’t.”

Indeed, since that game, UNC’s first with a four-guard starting lineup, the Tar Heels have reeled off six straight wins; secured a first-day bye in next week’s ACC tournament; seemingly played themselves off the NCAA tournament bubble; and are just a few votes short of being back in the AP top 25.

The change hasn’t always been seamless, but it has so far been successful.

In the rematch with No. 3 Duke at the Smith Center on Saturday, the Tar Heels are out to prove that their smaller lineup will be a big force to be reckoned with in the postseason.

“Even though we lost that first game [against the Blue Devils], I felt like that was a turning point for us,” senior Dexter Strickland said. “We saw what type of team we could be if we continued to play like that. ... And we have.”


When the 6-foot-5 Hairston was announced as part of the opening five instead of 6-9 sophomore Desmond Hubert on Feb. 13, it was somewhat of a surprise. Fans had been clamoring for the sophomore to start; he was, after all, the most productive player off the bench, and an offensive spark on a team whose starting five had lacked consistent scoring punch.

But coach Roy Williams -- trying to build freshman point guard Marcus Paige's experience, and keep his only scholarship senior, Strickland, confident at shooting guard -- was hesitant to make any switches to his starting backcourt. The Tar Heels had used smaller, four-guard lineups during some games. But Williams, whose offenses have always gone through the post, preferred to keep a traditional big man in the mix.

That is, until Feb. 9, when the Tar Heels were embarrassed by 26 points at Miami.

After watching his team yet again fall behind early; get only 10 points out of its center-by-committee trio of Hubert, Brice Johnson and Joel James; and show a lack of cohesiveness, the frustrated Hall of Famer knew something had to change. So he gathered his assistants in the bowels of BankUnited Center and asked for their input on how to jump-start a season that seemed in danger of free-falling in the wrong direction.

“We were sitting in the locker room and I said, ‘Guys I’m going to do something,’” said Williams, whose squad also had previously trailed big in losses to Butler, at Indiana, at Texas and at NC State. “We talked about it at that time, that neither Marcus or Dexter were shooting a great percentage. Our fifth starter, one of the big guys, wasn’t giving us a lot offensively, and James Michael [McAdoo] wasn’t shooting the percentage we wanted him to either.”

The coaches traded ideas and were given the night to ponder. Then the following day, they met back in Chapel Hill and solidified the decision to move Hairston into the starting five for Hubert -- hoping a smaller lineup would result in a bigger offensive assault.

The players learned about it the next day, when the name of the wing-turned-power forward was written on a board in the locker room as part of the opening five.

“I’m not sure there really was that big of a reaction,” McAdoo said. “It was more like, ‘OK, let’s play.’”

The move was an experiment, Williams would say later, one that made his team instantly look more comfortable -- but took him out of his comfort zone. But even in the loss at Duke, he saw the potential when Hairston scored 23 and helped get the team off to a more energetic start.

And he saw results against Virginia and at Georgia Tech, both 12-point victories.

“I’m still uncomfortable with part of it, there’s no question,” Williams said of his lineup the following week, after those wins. “But I think it gives us the best chance to be successful.”


That success continued with wins against NC State, at Clemson, versus Florida State and at Maryland. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called Hairston one of the best players in the ACC over the past few weeks, but it isn’t just the sophomore’s 17.6 PPG since he entered the starting lineup that has fed the streak -- but also what his presence does for the team as a whole.

Because defenses must guard another 3-point shooter, he has opened up more driving lanes for Paige and Strickland. McAdoo, too, has more room to move.

Rebounding has had to become more of a concern and an emphasis, but junior wing Reggie Bullock, in particular, has helped on that front, recording three double-doubles in his past four games. And Williams has credited Hubert, who has averaged about four minutes per game off the bench since the switch, with having a team-first attitude that has carried over to the rest of the squad.

The result is a faster, more confident, more offensive Tar Heels team that is averaging 10.1 more points per game since the switch. And a team that has taken on Hairston’s swagger.

“When you put those five guys on the court, they can play with anybody and they can score with anybody,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re very good -- they’re very good.”

In Saturday’s rematch with Duke (26-4, 13-4), the Tar Heels (22-8, 12-5) face an also-very-good Blue Devils team that has changed since last month’s game, too. Starting forward Ryan Kelly, out for two months with an injured foot, has returned with a flourish, averaging 27 points over his past two games. At 6-11 and 6-10, respectively, he and Mason Plumlee make for another tall test for the shorter Tar Heels.

But it’s a challenge UNC players say they’ve looked forward to since Hairston’s statement dunk at the end of the last matchup.

“Of course we wanted that game bad, and losing by, like, five [hurt],” Hairston said. “But now, we’re more team-oriented ... we’ve got this confidence now where we feel like we can’t be beat. Right now, we just have this intensity that we bring to the game, a different focus than what people have seen from the beginning of the season.”

Ballots for the All-ACC teams have been sent out, and there likely will be a lot of hand-wringing among voters as to which players fall where. Among the lingering questions:

  • Do Virginia Tech’s Erick Green (the nation’s leading scorer) or Virginia’s Joe Harris (making a late push) have a chance to beat out Duke’s Mason Plumlee or Miami’s Shane Larkin for player of the year?
  • Will NC State senior Richard Howell (the team’s glue guy who has averaged a double-double) edge out preseason first-team teammates C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown in votes?
  • [+] EnlargeReggie Bullock
    Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesReggie Bullock is worthy of consideration for first-team All-ACC.
  • Who gets the fifth slot on the first team? Howell? Duke’s Seth Curry? Miami’s Kenny Kadji? A Tar Heel?
  • And just where does North Carolina fit into the mix?

The Tar Heels, who have won six in a row and are currently third in the league standings, pose an interesting conundrum all on their own because they boast three players deserving of votes -- but for different reasons: consistency vs. potential vs. impact.

Junior wing Reggie Bullock has been the Tar Heels’ most steady player, scoring in double figures in all but two games in ACC play, making 45.2 percent of his 3-point shots, serving as the team’s top defensive stopper, and picking up his rebounding when the team went to a four-guard lineup. (He’s posted three double-doubles in his past four games, and is averaging 14.4 points and 6.4 rebounds for the season.) How much will voters appreciate all he contributes?

Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo was a first-team preseason selection, is the team’s leading scorer (14.6 PPG) and rebounder (7.8 RPG) and is considered a future first-round NBA draft pick (should he choose to leave early). But he hasn’t been the dominating star everyone expected him to be. How much will that push voter perception?

And then there’s sophomore P.J. Hairston, whose insertion into the starting lineup has resulted in UNC’s late-season push. Playing the ‘4’ position, Hairston has done a bit of everything -- hitting 3-pointers, driving to the basket, defending bigger post players. At times, he has looked like the best player on the floor, and is averaging 13.6 points and 4.1 rebounds a game. But will his reserve role early affect his votes late?

The likelihood of votes being divided up among the trio could keep a Tar Heel off the first team, but it will be interesting to see which, and how many, UNC players make the second and third teams.

Point guard Marcus Paige also has a strong shot at the ACC All-Freshman team, and Bullock is a candidate for All-Defense.

Thoughts? Predictions?

On Wednesday, North Carolina earned a first-day bye in next week’s ACC tournament.

Maryland, meanwhile, took another step closer to saying bye-bye to its NCAA tournament hopes.

Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston combined for 41 points, 20 rebounds and 6 steals to help push UNC’s winning streak to six.

A quick closer look at the Tar Heels’ 79-68 win over the Terps at Comcast Center:

Turning point: Trailing 27-24, UNC ended the first half with a 10-0 run of five different scorers, while the Terrapins went zero for six and committed two turnovers. UNC then extended that breakaway to 15-2 to open the second half, taking a 39-29 advantage on a Bullock 3-pointer.

The Tar Heels led by as many as 16 points, but Maryland cut it to 63-57 with less than six minutes left, at which point it pressed UNC into back-to-back turnovers. Tar Heels point guard Marcus Paige buried a 3-pointer, however, to help his team get its cushion back, and the Terps got no closer.

Player(s) of the game: Hairston finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, and Bullock added 19 points and 12 rebounds, marking his third double-double in his past four games.

Dez Wells led Maryland with 18 points, and Nick Faust added 16, but the Terps shot just three for 23 from the 3-point line and outrebounded UNC by only one despite their size advantage.

What it means for the Tar Heels: More momentum. More confidence. UNC is now 6-1 since it went to a four-guard starting lineup, and although it finished just outside of the Associated Press Top 25 this week, it’s looking more and more like a top-20 team. Because of various possible tiebreakers, the victory secured a top-four finish in the ACC standings -- and thus, an off-day during the league tournament’s first day. That’s important, because no team has ever won four games in four days at the ACC tourney.

What it means for the Terps: Another bounce downward in their yo-yo late season. Maryland looked NCAA tournament-bound not too long ago -- Feb. 16 -- when it upset then-second-ranked Duke. But since then, the Terps are 2-3, with road losses to Boston College and Georgia Tech. With a No. 68 RPI entering this game and now a 2-4 record against teams with a top-25 RPI, Maryland needed this win as a résumé booster. Now, it may have to win the ACC tournament’s automatic bid to become NCAA-bound.

Etc.: UNC got a couple of injury scares early in the second half. With 18:41 left, Hairston’s right leg slid out from under him on a drive to the wing, and he left the game briefly with a strained groin. He returned a couple of minutes later, only to have teammate James Michael McAdoo slip under the basket and land hard on his already-sore back. McAdoo returned shortly thereafter, too, and finished with 10 points.

Next up: The Tar Heels host No. 3 Duke on Saturday in the regular-season finale; the Terps play at Virginia on Sunday.

UNC at Maryland: What to watch

March, 6, 2013
North Carolina, which is on a five-game winning streak, wants to wrap up a top-four seed in the upcoming ACC tournament. Maryland, 2-2 since upsetting then-No. 2 Duke last month, wants to re-ignite its NCAA tournament hopes.

It should make for an even more emotional Senior Night in College Park, Md., on Wednesday.

“We try not to think about where we are just because people think we're on the bubble,’’ Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said earlier this week. “We might not be. You don't know what the committee's thinking, where they have us.

“We're fired up to play North Carolina because it's North Carolina. They're one of the hottest teams in the country.”

Indeed, the Tar Heels -- who finished just out of the Associated Press rankings this week -- have been on a roll since going to a four-guard starting lineup last month. Currently in third place in the ACC standings, they not only want to wrap up a first-day bye in next week’s league tournament, they want to keep building momentum.

“You want to keep winning, and you want to have your team more confident,’’ UNC coach Roy Williams said. “And they gain confidence from winning.”

UNC (21-8), at 11-5 in the ACC, currently stands in third place, behind first-place Miami (14-2) and second-place Duke (13-4). NC State and Virginia are tied for fourth, at 10-6, and also play Wednesday night.

On paper, the Tar Heels appear to face the toughest final week of the lower trio, with the game at Maryland on Wednesday and a Saturday finale versus third-ranked Duke. NC State, meanwhile, faces Wake Forest and a game at Florida State; while Virginia also travels to Florida State and hosts Maryland.

No team has ever won four games in four days at the ACC tournament, so the ability to skip the opening Thursday is key.

“I think you’re at a greater advantage, if you want to win the tournament, and that’s what we want to do is to win it,’’ Williams said. “It’s easier to win it if you only have to win three games as opposed to four. We’d like to do that.”

Maryland (20-9), meanwhile, is 8-8 in the league and may need to win the conference tournament if it wants to play in the NCAAs. It’s been an odd turnaround since Feb. 16, when the Terps’ home win over the Blue Devils seemed to secure their NCAA hopes. But since then, they have lost road games at Boston College and Georgia Tech, two teams in the bottom half of the league standings.

If Maryland still is on the bubble, it is in danger of slipping completely off.

“We put ourselves behind the eight ball, lost a few games we shouldn't have lost maybe on paper,’’ Turgeon said. "We did, so we are where we are. We got 20 wins with this young team; [we are] headed in the right direction. Proud of this group.

“[We] haven't been as consistent as we'd like, but hopefully we can get some wins down the stretch.”

A few things to watch during Wednesday’s 7 p.m. tipoff:


The UNC junior has been on a roll of late, averaging 18 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists over UNC’s last three victories. And the Terps well know the wing’s scoring ability; Bullock scored a season-high 24 points when UNC beat Maryland in January. He needs to stay aggressive.


With the Tar Heels going small, now would be a good time for Len, the Terps' 7-foot-1 center, to come up big. He had 10 points the last time these two teams played, and is averaging 12 for the season. But he has only posted double-digit points twice in the Terps’ past six games. He needs to stay focused.


The Terps are 16-2 at home this season, including 6-2 in ACC play; the Tar Heels are 4-4 on the road in conference play this season. … UNC ranks ninth in ACC games in free throw shooting, connecting on 66.1 percent; Maryland is last in the league at 62.4 percent. … Turgeon said he expects an entirely different game than the last time these two teams played, “because they're in a smaller lineup now, it’s at our place, much further along. It will be interesting. But they are one of the hottest teams in the country -- I really believe that -- right now.”

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- James Michael McAdoo, the catalyst of North Carolina’s 79-58 victory over Florida State on Sunday, has a body language problem.

He occasionally projects a demeanor of indifference.

When his team seized a 69-48 edge following Reggie Bullock's layup with 5:08 to play, most of the Tar Heels gathered near the sideline and celebrated.

McAdoo walked across the floor the way one might stroll through the shopping mall on a quiet Sunday afternoon. But body language lies sometimes.

At times, McAdoo lacked the outward enthusiasm that his teammates demonstrated as they punched the Seminoles in the mouth for 40 minutes. But he led them with his aggressiveness.

His offensive outburst in the first half turned a close game into a thumping. McAdoo’s 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting before the break fueled the Tar Heels’ 29-11 run in the final 8:14 of the first half.

At halftime, the Tar Heels led 46-27. McAdoo started that drive and finished with 21 points.

“I really just felt really confident coming into this game. Just felt a good vibe just even during warm-ups,” McAdoo said after the game. “Just coming off that game at Clemson where I felt like I didn’t play very good. God is good. My shots were able to fall early. Everyone else played phenomenal.”

It was a fluid performance void of the theatrics some players employ in similar performances. No chest-beating, no hand signals, no 3-point goggles after big shots or scowls after his fierce dunks. Just good basketball by a young star.

“He’s not the type of person that if he dunks on somebody he’s going to yell at the top of his lungs,” said Dexter Strickland. “But he shows it through his play. And I think it was big for us tonight to come out that aggressive. It motivates everybody to have the same energy.”

McAdoo’s energy, teammates and coaches agreed, was a critical element in North Carolina’s fast start. Sure, the Tar Heels played one of their best games of the year against a struggling Florida State squad (55.4 percent from the field). But Roy Williams’ team is still adjusting to a smaller lineup that features a 6-7 guard playing forward (Reggie Bullock) next to the 6-9 McAdoo. The starting lineup also includes three guards -- P.J. Hairston, Marcus Paige and Strickland.

In a league with a 7-1 NBA prospect at Maryland (Alex Len), a pair of 6-11 forwards at Duke (Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly) and a 6-10, 300-pound wall named Reggie Johnson at Miami, North Carolina’s rotation is built for problems.

But the Tar Heels are also quicker and more versatile on offense compared to the bulk of their ACC foes. Still, McAdoo has been forced to adjust to his role in the team’s new undersized lineup.

“I’m still just getting used to matching up against a guy that’s a lot bigger than me,” he said.

The Tar Heels, however, demonstrated the lineup’s strengths against the Seminoles. McAdoo’s combination of size and athleticism frustrated Leonard Hamilton’s program. As McAdoo excelled in the post, Bullock (20 points, 4-for-7 from the 3-point line) and Hairston (16 points, 4-for-6 from beyond the arc) torched the Seminoles from the perimeter. Both Hairston and Bullock said McAdoo’s early intensity changed the entire team’s vibe.

“10-for-15 -- I want him to do that every game,” said Roy Williams. “The bottom line is he knows I want him to be aggressive, but you’ve got to make shots. And 10-for-15, to do that when the defense is aimed to stop you is pretty doggone impressive.”

In early February, McAdoo was not aggressive. He scored just 24 points combined in a rough three-game stretch. Since then, he’s recorded 14 or more in three of the team’s past four games.

The Tar Heels won’t thrive if McAdoo regresses.

As the postseason approaches, the McAdoo that led North Carolina to a win over Florida State on Sunday is the player they’ll need in the coming weeks.

“We never have energy to burn,” McAdoo said. “We’re out there trying to play as hard as we can.”

And as long as he continues to produce, McAdoo should be judged by his numbers and not his body language.