North Carolina Basketball: 10 Things the Heels Can Do to Get Back to No. 1
The North Carolina Tar Heels were selected as the 2011-12 preseason No. 1 team in College Basketball.
They stayed on top of the polls until they were upset on the road by UNLV in the sixth game of the season.
One week later, the Heels lost at Kentucky by one point.
Fast forward to UNC's third ACC game in mid-January at Florida State. Roy's Boys got hammered by the Seminoles, 90-57.
Now, in Week 13, North Carolina is tied for No. 6 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
Is it possible for the Tar Heels to get back to No. 1? Yes.
Will it be easy? No.
Here are 10 things the Heels can do to get back to No. 1
Stay Injury Free
Before the 2011-12 season began, the Tar Heels' roster was affected by a major injury when backup PG Leslie McDonald went down with torn ACL.
Two weeks ago, starting SG Dexter Strickland (pictured) also tore his ACL, and, like McDonald, is out for the remainder of the season.
This has left North Carolina relatively thin on the perimeter.
Tuesday night (Jan. 31) in their game against Wake Forest, Harrison Barnes rolled his ankle in the middle of the first half.
The sophomore wing played most of the second half and scored 13 points.
If the Heels are going to have a chance to get back to No. 1, they can't lose anyone else who logs regular minutes.
Continue to Crash the Boards Like Crazy
North Carolina is the best rebounding team in the nation, pulling down 46 boards per game.
The Heels grab 30 defensive boards per game (No. 1), limiting their opponents to a single opportunity on a high percentage of their possessions.
The fact that they snatch 16 RPG (No. 5) assures that Carolina gets a lot of good looks on second shots.
If the Tar Heels are going to get back to No. 1, they need to stay in control of the boards.
Keep Scoring Truck-Loads of Points
North Carolina is the top scoring team in D-I hoops, putting in 84 points per game.
The Tar Heels have scored at least 90 points in eleven of their games this season. They have not lost any of those games.
On the other hand, they have scored 80 points or less in eight games. They are 5-3 in those games.
In all three games that UNC has lost this season, they have scored less than their season average:
- UNLV - 80 points
- Kentucky - 72 points
- Florida State - 57 points
Their average points in the three losses: 70 points per game.
If the Heels are going to get back to No. 1, they need to keep scoring at a high level.
If the Tar Heels are going to get back to No. 1, they need to foul more. Sound strange?
Really what they need to do is to play more aggressively. One of the places where this shows up is in the numbers of personal fouls that the UNC starters and reserves commit.
The following is each starter's average number of personal fouls:
Harrison Barnes: 1.4
Tyler Zeller: 1.9
John Henson: 1.7
Kendall Marshall: 1.3
Reggie Bullock: 1.0
In most games, no one is even close to getting into foul trouble.
At times, the Carolina players play under control to a fault. They go through stretches of games where they lack a killer intensity.
I'm not advocating foolish fouling for no reason or careless physicality.
But, down the stretch and in the postseason, the Heels need to get a little more nasty.
Improve Their Shooting from Beyond the Arc
Over their first 22 games, the Tar Heels are shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc.
That is good for No. 91 in the nation.
Only two UNC players are making at least 40 percent of their threes: Barnes (45 percent) and Bullock (40.4 percent).
When the Heels are hitting shots from downtown, it does nothing but help loosen things up in the lane.
P.J. Hairston (pictured) is an excellent shooter. But he is currently connecting on only 32.6 percent from distance.
If North Carolina can get back to No. 1, it will be partly because they have shot the ball well from downtown.
Find Ways to Limit Kendal Marshall's Minutes
North Carolina's point guard, Kendall Marshall, is a crucial part of their success.
Currently, Marshall is second in the nation in assists.
More than just the sheer number of assists that he hands out, Marshall is all-important in running the show and setting up his teammates.
Especially with the injuries to McDonald and Strickland, Marshall is being forced into playing additional minutes.
Anything that head coach Roy Williams can do to limit his playing time will be good in the long run.
Can Stilman White, a freshmen PG who averages less than five minutes per game, effectively spell Marshall?
Evidently, Williams is not convinced that he can. In the two games since Dexter Strickland went down due to injury, White has played 11 minutes, which is about the same amount of time that he was already getting previously.
Harrison Barnes Needs to Blow Up
Harrison Barnes has elevated his game from where it was last year.
Barnes is averaging 17.5 PPG (compared to 15.7 PPG as a freshman).
After scoring 40 points in last year's ACC Tournament, he proved that he can go off.
This year, he has scored 20 or more points in eight games.
And, while the balance of scoring on Carolina is good, it will be all the better if Barnes can put in additional points for the Heels.
Win All of Their Remaining Home Games
The Tar Heels are 18-0 at the Smith Center this year.
They are the only ACC team that has not lost at least one home game this season (Florida State, Duke and Virginia have each lost only once at home).
North Carolina's four remaining games are:
- Feb. 8: Duke
- Feb. 11: Virginia
- Feb. 18: Clemson
- Feb. 29: Maryland
The only game that should be any kind of challenge will be the contest against their next-door neighbors from Durham.
Win All of Their Remaining Road Games
The Tar Heels have not been nearly as dominating on the road as they have at home.
North Carolina has played four true road games this season, and they have gone a sub-standard 2-2 (losing to Kentucky and Florida State).
Heading into February, Virginia has the best road record of all 12 teams in the ACC (5-1)
UNC has five ACC road games left:
- Feb. 4: Maryland
- Feb. 15: Miami
- Feb. 21: North Carolina State
- Feb. 25: Virginia
- Mar. 3: Duke
Just looking at their track record so far this season, the Tar Heels may come up on the short end of a game or two still this season.
Winning out on the road, even for a veteran team like UNC, would be an important milestone and would help the Heels get back to No. 1.
Get Help from a Few Other Teams
Winning their own games is not enough for the Tar Heels to get back to No. 1.
They need other teams to beat the six teams ahead of them (Kentucky, Syracuse, Ohio State, Missouri, Duke and Baylor).
Carolina only has the opportunity to take down one of the teams that is ranked ahead of them: Duke.
Part of the Tar Heels' chances of getting back to No. 1 is outside of their control, but all they can focus on is getting things done against their own opponents.