Nov 24, 2013, 3:18 PM EDT
From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.
UNCASVILLE, CT — North Carolina was done. This wasn’t a top 25 team. This was a group that would have to fight and scrap just to get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, especially now that every source for every writer seems to think that P.J. Hairston’s career as a Tar Heel may be over.
That’s what happens when you barely hang on against teams like Holy Cross or Richmond. It’s what happens when you lose to Belmont at home.
It’s also now inaccurate.
Seven days after getting dropped by the Bruins in the Dean Dome, North Carolina put together one of the most impressive performances that we’ve seen from any team this season, as they ran No. 3 Louisville off the court, 93-84, to win the Hall of Fame Tip-Off at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Marcus Paige led the way with a career-high 32 points, giving him 58 points on the weekend. More impressive, however, is the fact that the Heels beat the Cardinals by nine while getting next to nothing from James Michael McAdoo. He finished with nine points and three boards on 3-for-11 shooting, but those numbers vastly overestimate his impact on this game. Two of those buckets were wide-open dunks that came off of a press break. McAdoo was a non-factor.
And it didn’t matter.
So what was the difference?
North Carolina’s front court. All those young guys that everyone has called overrated and under-talented and not-good-enough-for-UNC? They dominated Louisville. There’s no two ways about it. Kennedy Meeks was sensational, finishing with 13 points, 12 boards and seven assists, single-handily shredding Louisville’s press with his ability to pass over the defense. Crazier still is that this came one night after Meeks finished with one point and three boards in five minutes against Richmond, a performance that Roy Williams was not impressed with.
“College basketball is what Kennedy Meeks did,” Williams said after the game. “Yesterday he was one of the worst players on the planet. Today he was unbelievable. I told him last night he wasn’t ready to play, he didn’t have any intensity. This is big time college basketball.”
“I don’t know what was wrong with me, honestly,” Meeks said, ” But I do know that last night, Coach told me I was playing like the worst player on the planet. That’s enough to boost me up right there.”
And what’d he say after this afternoon?
Meeks wasn’t alone, either. Brice Johnson added 13 points, six boards and three blocks, Joel James chipped in with five points and six boards, and even Jackson Simmons played key minutes down the stretch, scoring a couple baskets and picking up the charge that fouled out Montrezl Harrell.
That’s huge for North Carolina for a couple of reasons.
First, the obvious: the Tar Heels perimeter depth has been gutted by the suspensions of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston. Their depth is non-existent, forcing guys to play out of position. We’ve been over this time and again. It’s not exactly classified information.
More importantly, North Carolina’s offense relies on having quality big men, and the lack of their starting wings is only going to increase how much the Tar Heels rely on their big guys.
“It makes a huge difference. Having an inside presence is the biggest part of Coach Williams’ offense,” Paige said. “Having a couple of different guys that can be that guy for the night is huge for us. We kind of went away from our throw-it-inside mentality last year.”
No one is going to confuse Meeks or James or Johnson with the likes of Tyler Zeller, Tyler Hansbrough or Sean May, at least not yet, but no one is expecting them to be. They don’t even need those three to be all-conference players. they just need them to be productive, to be a threat to score when they get the ball on the block and to be able to hold position, whether it’s on the glass or defensively.
And they proved themselves more than capable of doing that tonight, but the bigs weren’t the only players with something to prove.
Paige was supposed to be this team’s starting point guard, but he’s been forced into playing primarily off the ball thanks to UNC lacking wings. That means that freshman Nate Britt has been forced into the role, something he has not looked ready for. In four games entering Sunday, Britt had 12 points and six assists, total. On Sunday, he had nine points and five assists, playing with an aggressiveness and a confidence that we’ve yet to see from him.
“I’m starting to figure it out, playing at this level,” Britt said. “There’s been a lot of new things to learn for me, and I just feel like at the start of the season, we just want to incorporate all the things we learn in practice. It’s been hard for me to just think about relaxing and playing. Over time, it’s starting to come to me a little more.”
The bottom-line is this: Marcus Paige isn’t always going to play this well and James Michael McAdoo isn’t always going to play this poorly. And at some point, the Heels will get Leslie McDonald back, maybe Hairston as well. In a worst-case scenario, the Heels will have a group of wings that are better than most teams across the country.
But the key to this group competing and contending in the ACC was at the point and in the paint.
At that, more than anything, is why North Carolina’s win was so important.
Aug 28, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Friday was photo day in Lawrence.
Aug 28, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
The Spartans are now 1-1 on the trip.
Aug 28, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
It’s Joey van Zegeren’s first year with the Northwestern program.
Aug 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Stanford falls to 1-1 on the foreign tour.
Aug 28, 2015, 5:19 PM EDT
The ex-Oklahoma commit decides to state in-state.
Aug 28, 2015, 4:22 PM EDT
Last week, 24 of the best high school basketball players participated in the 10th annual event.
Aug 28, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT
Three of Jordan Bohannon’s older brothers have played Division I college basketball, but he’s the first to pick their father’s alma mater.
Aug 28, 2015, 1:49 PM EDT
During his first bout with the disease Smith suffered cardiac arrest and lapsed into a coma that lasted for three days.
Aug 28, 2015, 12:54 PM EDT
The team many expect to be a national title contender has a new court to play on this season.
Aug 28, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Crean addressed the recent off-court issues at a school event in Indianapolis.
Aug 28, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
And the toss was a solid one as well.
Aug 28, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Herard has scheduled official visits to three of the five remaining schools on his list.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:45 PM EDT
The 6-foot-6 Canadian averaged 9.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game last season.
Aug 27, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT
Georgetown, Georgia Tech and Saint Joseph’s failed to make the cut for the New Jersey native.
Aug 27, 2015, 7:43 PM EDT
Early favorite Maryland and reigning champion Wisconsin both open league play at home.
Aug 27, 2015, 4:44 PM EDT
Williams’ arraignment on first degree suspicion of forgery charges was postponed until September 2.
Aug 27, 2015, 3:35 PM EDT
Gabriel is a five-star prospect with offers from Kentucky and Duke.
Aug 27, 2015, 2:04 PM EDT
Dambrot is the head coach at Akron.
Aug 27, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Westbrook wasn’t a top 25 prospect in high school. He was a top three player in the NBA last year.
Aug 27, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT
It’s the first preseason all-american team that we’ve seen this summer.
- Cody Zeller, Indiana president speak out against recent athlete legal issues 0
- Five-star 2016 combo guard cuts list to four 0
- Xavier, Mount St. Joseph to launch the ‘Lauren Hill Tip-Off Classic’ 0
- Tai Wynyard: ‘I will be coming to UK in December’ 0
- Tom Izzo, 30 second shot clocks, and why zone presses will be more popular this year 1
- Kentucky lands a commitment from four-star 2016 forward 0
- Everything you need to know about the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon 0
- Bill Self says Cheick Diallo could wait ‘at least another month’ for eligibility ruling (12)
- Winona State coach Mike Leaf resigned after player accused him of making drunken sexual advances (6)
- Blue Ribbon announces their preseason all-american team (3)
- Tulsa gets 2016 commitment from former Wichita State guard (2)
- Nike and Under Armour host showcase events as the Shoe Wars continue to heat up (2)