North Carolina Basketball: 10 Things We Learned from the Loss to Miami
If the game against the Miami Hurricanes was an indicator for the state of North Carolina basketball, it isn't looking good for Roy Williams' crew.
As the team traveled to Coral Gables, Fla., I wasn't sure how the game would play out. The Tar Heels could have the shooting day of their lives, or they could fold under the pressure of facing the No. 8 team on its home court.
But as UNC stepped out on the floor, I knew nothing could possibly top the ugliness of its alternate Nike Hyper Elite uniforms.
I was wrong.
Carolina received an 87-61 beatdown on Saturday, and nothing about its play was pretty. The Hurricanes exposed a myriad of lingering problems the Tar Heels are having—both individually and as a group.
These are the 10 things we learned from the loss in Miami.
Joel James' Biggest Mistake Is the Most Perplexing
Joel James is a talent in the making. There is no question about that. He has the size and the shooting touch to eventually become a monster at this level.
James is only in his fourth season of organized basketball. He doesn't have all the fundamentals down, and mistakes are going to be made.
But the one he makes most often is baffling.
When Carolina gets in its half-court set, James will sometimes receive the first pass on the perimeter. Then he is supposed to dish it off and move to the low post. This should be the easiest play of the game for the freshman center.
Somehow, he keeps getting whistled for the travel before he can even get off the pass.
All he has to do is catch the ball, turn and pass. When he turns, he seems to lose his balance a little and slide his pivot foot.
That should never happen.
But it did. And it has happened multiple times throughout the season.
It's perplexing, to say the least.
Jackson Simmons May Be the Best Option at Center
At 6'7", Jackson Simmons may be an undersized "preferred walk-on," but Carolina needs to cut back on mistakes. And Simmons doesn't make them very often.
While the sophomore is a power forward by trade, Roy Williams has played him at both positions. No matter where he plays, Simmons always gives his best effort, and he is rarely in the wrong place.
He actually has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. That's what happens when you play with your head.
And Simmons has to, because he won't dominate many players with his size or athleticism.
In his 13 minutes against Miami, Simmons had four points, five rebounds and two assists. In the 21 minutes Desmond Hubert and James played, they combined for two points, no assists and one rebound.
Hubert had one block, but he also gave up a pair of threes to Kenny Kadji because he gave the man 15 feet of space.
At this point, it won't hurt to give Simmons a try.
Marcus Paige Hasn't Found His Shot
Freshman point guard Marcus Paige was 9-of-20 in his last two games, and it looked like he was on his way to finding his stroke. After his 1-of-9 performance in Miami, it's clear he isn't there yet.
He doesn't really take many bad shots, either. Most of his looks on Saturday were wide open, but he couldn't find the bottom of the net.
It may be wise for him to back off the threes a little bit and start finding a closer shot. Paige was 0-for-5 against the 'Canes, marking the seventh time he has missed every one of his treys.
He is shooting a commendable 31.3 percent from that range, but the cold knob gets stuck more often than not. And even though Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald are more accurate from that range, only Paige has shot 10 threes in one game.
It would behoove Paige to find easier shots to get going early. Then when he's feeling it, he can drop back for three.
James Michael McAdoo Needs Another Season
James Michael McAdoo is becoming more aggressive, which is definitely a plus. But his play is still too sloppy at times for the next level.
McAdoo rushes too much, which leads to low-percentage shots, blocks and turnovers. On Saturday, the sophomore scored only six points on 3-of-12 shooting—his worst scoring performance of the season.
He also had three turnovers, which is right at his season average of 2.7 per game.
It would certainly help to have another guy down low to take some attention off McAdoo, and he would probably have that in the NBA. But he'd also be coming into the league with his only post move being a turnaround fade.
That just won't cut it.
The NBA will still take its chances with the budding star. But McAdoo would be much better off with another year of fine tuning at Chapel Hill.
P.J. Hairston Won't Start This Season
If there was any game to start P.J. Hairston, it would have been this one. The team desperately needed to make a showing before taking on Duke at Cameron Indoor this coming Wednesday. Miami has proved to be a beast, and the Tar Heels needed every ounce of firepower from the jump.
Instead, Hairston didn't hit the floor until UNC was already in a 9-2 hole.
In Roy's defense, Hairston came in to miss a three and commit two turnovers before he was pulled three minutes later. He finished with just 11 points in 19 minutes, on 4-of-11 shooting.
It wasn't his day, but that could be said of most of the Tar Heels on Saturday afternoon.
No one player is the answer to UNC's woes, but it wouldn't hurt to have the third-leading scorer on the floor at the start of the game. Obviously, Roy Williams has his own reasons for not starting Hairston, and it doesn't look like that will happen this season.
The Tar Heels Defense Still Isn't There
Lately, Carolina's defense has looked like a much-improved unit. At least until it had to face Miami.
The Tar Heels' greatest weakness was on full display, as the Hurricanes tortured them with ball screens. They would get caught up in the screen, knocked around or take a bad shortcut.
The result was 54.4 percent shooting by Miami and a barrage of threes. The team managed to shoot 15-of-26 from downtown.
Roy Williams even implemented a 2-3 zone to try to stop Miami. That's usually not the best choice for defending the three, but it does help avoid screens, which I assume was the intent.
That didn't work either.
The Tar Heels defense is still a work in progress, and it will be tested again when it matches up with Duke. The Blue Devils are shooting 41.1 percent from three, so there is plenty of reason to worry.
Free Throws Will Always Be a Problem
The Tar Heels may have been put on the floor throughout the game, but the team didn't shoot a free throw until the 6:48 mark of the second half. UNC averages only 18.9 free-throw attempts per game, which ranks 218th in the country.
On Saturday, the Tar Heels were just 5-of-6 shooting from the free-throw line.
That's much more efficient shooting than their season percentage of 64.6. However, six free throws isn't going to do much of anything for a team.
If this squad is making free throws, it isn't shooting enough. If it's shooting enough, the players aren't making them.
It's a never-ending problem with Carolina this season.
UNC Is Simply Too Soft
UNC's softness goes beyond just a lack of physicality. It's one thing to get pushed around. It's another to hang your head when you get down.
The fight just doesn't seem to be there. Five minutes into the game, the Tar Heels looked like a deflated balloon.
In a couple games, they have managed to fight back in the second half to make it a contest. But more often than not, the players start dragging their feet and missing shots they usually make.
Shooting is all about confidence. Once a player loses that, there is little hope of him shooting out of a slump.
It's tough to say if the issue comes from a lack of passion and killer instinct. But the Tar Heels continue to play small in the biggest moments.
The Tar Heels Can't Play on the Road
The Tar Heels' road issues may stem from being too soft. Or they could just be from all the inexperienced players on the squad.
The crowds are much larger than the freshmen were used to in prep play. There are very few fans to cheer them on when they get down. Instead, they have thousands of fans rooting against them and mocking every mistake they make.
Whatever the problem, UNC has trouble winning away from the Dean Dome. Six of its seven losses have come on the road, with an average deficit of 16 points.
The only other loss was at home to Miami, and UNC only lost that one by nine.
The ACC Race Is Over for UNC
UNC is currently four games behind Miami and has lost both games to the ACC leader. There is little chance the 'Canes will lose five of their last eight games.
It's even more unlikely for the Tar Heels to go 8-0 in that final stretch. They still have UVA, NC State, FSU and two games with Duke left on the schedule.
There is always hope until a team is mathematically eliminated, but it looks like the Tar Heels will just have to focus on getting in the tourney.
That will take winning some big games over the next few weeks, or finding a way to pull out a title in the ACC tournament. Neither of which is easy to imagine after a game like this.