North Carolina has had one of the most interesting seasons so far of any team in the ACC. They beat Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan State early in the season but the Tar Heels also lost games to UAB and Belmont and then started off the ACC season with a 1-4 record. They lost games to Wake Forest and Miami in their first two and then Syracuse and Virginia. It looked like they would be in contention for last place in the conference.
But Roy Williams didn’t give up hope on his team and the Tar Heels are currently on a six game winning streak including quality wins against Clemson, North Carolina State, Maryland, and the big one Saturday over Pittsburgh. It took a while for Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo to get started this ACC season, but both have been playing much better basketball over the last several weeks. Paige in particular has taken over, scoring at least 15 points in eight of their last nine games. He is averaging 17 points and 4.5 assists on the season. With their win over Pittsburgh, North Carolina took over fourth place in the ACC, something that three weeks into the ACC season would have seemed completely impossible.
McAdoo took over the Pittsburgh game as he played some of his best basketball in his UNC career with 24 points and 12 rebounds. That was his fifth double-double of the season and it couldn’t have come in a more important game for North Carolina. Now that the Heels are in fourth place, they have control of their destiny. With a 17-7 overall record and 7-4 in the ACC and the win over Pittsburgh, North Carolina is picking up steam and have more momentum on their side.
Sophomore Brice Johnson and senior Leslie McDonald have also been incredibly important for North Carolina with both are averaging over 10 points per game. McDonald missed the nine games of the season due to the NCAA’s investigation of him receiving benefits. But since his return he has helped McAdoo be a leader of the team. Forward Brice Johnson has been a big factor in the paint during the current six game winning streak. He shoots the ball at 53 percent and has been a go to player late in games.
J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, and Nate Britt have all given Roy Williams quality minutes that have helped the Tar Heels. Meeks and Tokoto have been huge on the glass averaging 6.1 and 5.8 rebounds respectively. This is a very young team that keeps maturing more and more each game. They will continue to do so with the coaching of Williams.
This past week snow canceled the first meeting of the Battle for Tobacco Road. The cancellation gave North Carolina a chance to continue to build up that momentum and with a win tonight at Florida State heading into the home game against Duke, North Carolina will have the advantage. They also will get Duke in the midst of four games in eight days giving them an advantage in stamina. The two Duke games are North Carolina’s two toughest remaining games. If they can take one of those and win the rest of the games that they should be able to win, they will gain a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. Because of the wins over Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky, and Pittsburgh, I would say that they are shoe-ins for the tournament unless they collapse throughout the remainder of their schedule. A friendly reminder that all of this has been done this season without their best player PJ Hairston.