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.
Jul 28, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Don’t jump, kid!!!!!!
Jul 28, 2015, 1:34 PM EDT
Abrams was projected as the starting point guard for Illinois.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:03 PM EDT
The Bulldogs aren’t guaranteed to play a top 25 team until SEC play.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:49 AM EDT
He is talented, just don’t call him the next Kevin Durant.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:12 AM EDT
Will Wade will have a beautiful facility to recruit to.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:28 PM EDT
First career 3-pointer for Jones?
Jul 27, 2015, 8:12 PM EDT
Potentially four top-25 teams will be in the 2015 field.
Jul 27, 2015, 5:51 PM EDT
Scott averaged 15.7 points per game for Grambling during the 2013-14 season.
Jul 27, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
The former Big Ten Player of the Year (inaccurately) trolls Ohio State fans
Jul 27, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
It’s pretty obvious why people like Porter.
Jul 27, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT
Gabriel was the biggest stock riser for the month.
Jul 27, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT
Denzel Valentine and Taurean Waller-Prince also played well in stretches.
Jul 27, 2015, 12:26 PM EDT
Stefan Moody was the leading scorer last season for Ole Miss.
Jul 27, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT
Dick Tarrant also led Richmond to the 1988 Sweet 16.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:39 AM EDT
The hype surrounding Murray as a prospect has never been higher.
Jul 26, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT
Rashard Kelly averaged just 2.9 points per game last season. With Darius Carter and Tekele Cotton gone, he’ll need to do more in 2015-16.
Jul 26, 2015, 6:35 PM EDT
Villanova had been Jalen’s favorite for a long time according to his father Rick.
Jul 26, 2015, 2:10 PM EDT
Nichols picked Memphis over Virginia the first time around, and once the Tigers dropped their transfer restrictions many expected him to land in Charlottesville.
Jul 26, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Norvell hit a staggering 14 three-pointers…in one game.
Four-star Class of 2016 guard Zach Norvell scores 53 points, drops 14 3-pointers in Las Vegas (VIDEO)
Jul 26, 2015, 10:22 AM EDT
Chicago native Zach Norvell had one of the best games of the July live evaluation period on Saturday night by scoring 53 points and knocking down 14 3-pointers.
- Former Memphis forward Austin Nichols transferring to Virginia 3
- Saturday Las Vegas Recap: Zach Norvell goes off, Josh Jackson makes it look easy 0
- Thursday Las Vegas Recap: Dennis Smith and Frank Jackson battle; Lonzo Ball quiets critics; Wendell Carter talks visit 0
- Wednesday Las Vegas Recap: Dennis Smith vs Lonzo Ball; Frank Jackson faces Kobi Simmons 0
- Kentucky-commit Jamal Murray scores 20 to headline Wednesday’s Pan-Am Games 0
- July Live Period Preview: Four story lines to follow from Las Vegas 0
- July Live Period Preview: The events to keep an eye on in Vegas this week 0
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- List for potential nicknames for North Dakota down to five (8)
- Nik Stauskas trolls Ohio State fans, claims Thad Matta didn’t know who he was (PHOTO) (6)
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