Many predicted this to be an off year for North Carolina basketball after losing the Big Four to the NBA.
The Tar Heels (18-8, 8-5 ACC) are currently sitting in fifth place in the ACC, which justifies those offseason predictions.
Somehow, they still ended up ranked No. 11 in the preseason AP Top 25. With that, expectations began to soar in Chapel Hill, only to be crushed by youth, a lack of chemistry and a laundry list of things we don't have time to go over.
Putting the ridiculous expectations of James Michael McAdoo aside, the rest of the team wasn't carrying much offseason weight on its shoulders.
Nobody on this squad had been in a star role at UNC before. Everyone was in a new role, and overall expectations were low.
But there were the assumptions that Marcus Paige would immediately be the second coming of Kendall Marshall, and James Michael McAdoo would be in the running for the Wooden Award.
Because of that, these players will only receive a pass/fail in accordance with my own expectations, rather than the lofty ones set by others. I'll be referring to my preseason statistical predictions to gauge where each player stands.
It's probably safe to say nobody was expecting a lot from Luke Davis this season. The Gardner-Webb transfer had to sit out all of last season before becoming eligible to play again this year.
Luke Davis was looked at as a safety net if Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland were complete failures running the point.
While Paige and Strickland have had their struggles, they have played well enough to keep Davis on the pine. He is only averaging 5.3 minutes per game and has only seen action in 14 of the 26 games played.
Davis doesn't have a lot of upside, but he has been solid for the Tar Heels when his name has been called. He has 23 assists with just six turnovers (3.8:1 A:T), along with eight points on 2-of-2 shooting from three and 2-of-2 shooting from the charity stripe.
He may not be a big-time producer, but Davis is certainly efficient.
41.3% FG, 56.8% FT, 1.2 AST, 0.1 STL, 0.1 REB, 2.1 PTS
100% FG, 100% FT, 1.6 AST, 0.2 STL, 0.2 REB, 0.6 PTS
Anyone watching Jackson Simmons last season realized he is a consistent hustler, but with James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson in front of him, nobody expected him to get off the bench much this season.
Of course, nobody was assuming Roy Williams would rotate players as often as he has this season either.
Then the Florida State game happened.
Simmons put up eight points, four rebounds, one block and one steal in 15 minutes of action. Roy was looking for effort, and that's what Simmons gave the coach.
He was rewarded with double-figure minutes in five of the next seven games.
Simmons won't blow anyone away with his athleticism, but he hustles, knows where he needs to be at all times and is extremely efficient. It's an easy "pass" for the sophomore.
42.1% FG, 31.3% FT, 0.5 REB, 0.1 BLK, 0.6 PTS
68.6% FG, 80.0% FT, 2.0 REB, 0.2 BLK, 2.4 PTS
In limited minutes last season, Desmond Hubert was sub-par on defense and non-existent on offense.
He did put on 25 pounds in the offseason and worked on his post game with Tar Heel legend Rasheed Wallace.
Even with that, my expectations were not high for Hubert. On paper those things sound good, but I have to see it on the court first.
Hubert played good enough defense to earn the starting center spot for most of this season and really broke out when Maryland came to town. He had a block and two steals in the first 1:13 of the game to help Carolina jump out to an 8-0 lead.
Hubert is long, quick and uses great angles to fly in for shot-blocks. Even though he has been a non-factor on the offensive end, he has still played above my expectations.
41.2% FG, 39.9% FT, 0.2 AST, 2.4 REB, 0.4 BLK, 1.3 PTS
51.7% FG, 21.4% FT, 0.1 AST, 1.8 REB, 0.9 BLK, 1.3 PTS
Joel James is one case where I had much higher expectations than most.
For that, I am sorry big fella.
In my defense, I thought Roy would insert him into the starting lineup and let him work out his freshman struggles.
However, one can only blame the coach so much with James' propensity to travel and pick up unnecessary fouls.
James' performance on the court has been just as mixed as his expectations. He positions himself well on defense, standing tall and forcing tough shots over his 6'10", 270-pound frame. He has also shown great touch on his shots, giving us a glimpse of his great potential as Carolina's anchor.
But mental errors have plagued this young, beast of a man.
Overall, his performance has been satisfactory for a player in his fourth season of organized basketball. Coupling that with mixed expectations and limited minutes, James has earns an "incomplete."
By far, this was my worst prediction, and James would have to play over 40 minutes per game to reach these numbers.
61.2% FG, 70.1% FT, 0.5 AST, 0.6 STL, 12.3 REB, 2.2 BLK, 10.2 PTS
49.1% FG, 56.3% FT, 0.3 AST, 0.3 STL, 2.9 REB, 0.4 BLK, 2.7 PTS
With the overwhelming depth at the wing positions, freshman small forward J.P. Tokoto didn't have a lot of expectations weighing on him.
Tokoto hit the Chapel Hill campus with a reputation for defense, rebounding, monster dunks and very little range on his jumpers.
It's tough to argue that he hasn't lived up to his reputation.
With his quick hands and feet, Tokoto has proven to be one of the top defenders—especially off the bench. He has also made a handful of impact plays, most commonly flying in out of nowhere for a put-back jam.
As expected, he has struggled with his range. Tokoto has been pretty efficient from about 15 to 18-feet out, but he has pretty much given up on the three ball.
He is shooting 1-of-11 beyond the arc this season, and has only attempted four of them over the last 18 games. That's probably a wise choice.
Aside from his threes, Tokoto has been very impressive in his limited minutes and has earned himself a "pass."
41.7% FG, 69.8% FT, 0.3 AST, 0.2 STL, 2.2 REB, 0.4 BLK, 2.1 PTS
52.7% FG, 38.5% FT, 1.0 AST, 0.6 STL, 2.0 REB, 0.2 BLK, 3.4 PTS
Much like J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson had other players standing in the way of his minutes. It was a given that McAdoo would suck up most of the minutes at power forward, and the lanky Johnson would have to fight Hubert and James for playing time at center.
As a result, expectations for Johnson were fairly low.
Even though his production has trailed off since the start of ACC play, he has been impressive. And many around Tar Heel Nation are very pleased with the potential this freshman has shown.
Despite his 6'9", 187-pound frame, Johnson plays tough. He isn't afraid to back a bigger defender down in the post and drop a turnaround jumper or hook in his face.
Johnson has also displayed great spring in his feet and has become the most efficient rebounder on the squad. He averages one rebound every 3.1 minutes.
McAdoo is the next-best, averaging one rebound every 3.6 minutes.
Factor in Johnson's 54.6 percent shooting, and it's hard not to be pleased with his performance this season.
49.3% FG, 73.1% FT, 0.5 AST, 0.3 STL, 4.1 REB, 0.9 BLK, 5.8 PTS
54.6% FG, 61.1% FT, 0.4 AST, 0.5 STL, 4.0 REB, 0.6 BLK, 6.8 PTS
Depending upon who you talk to, Leslie McDonald's expectations were extremely high or somewhat low. Some folks put a lot of value into his performances at the NC Pro-Am the last two years.
Coming off an ACL tear that kept him off the floor for the entire 2011-12 season, nothing he had previously shown on the collegiate hardwood gave any indication he would excel this season.
McDonald was able to sure up his dribble and become a more capable defender over that span of time. However, Hairston, Bullock and Strickland would still be standing in the way of his playing time. He had to be off-the-charts good to steal playing time from those three.
While he has been good—and more versatile than previous seasons—he has mostly been stuck in the role of "shooter." But he has performed well in that role, burying 40.5 percent of his threes.
That's good enough to earn a "pass" by my expectations.
48.6% FG, 41.3% 3PT, 83.4% FT, 0.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.8 REB, 0.1 BLK, 5.5 PTS
39.6% FG, 40.5% 3PT, 72.7% FT, 1.6 AST, 0.6 STL, 2.0 REB, 0.2 BLK, 8.2 PTS
Following a very poor freshman season, many folks were expecting another epic failure from P.J. Hairston.
It's tough to blame anyone for that after he was only able to knock down 27.3 percent of his threes and 30.8 percent overall last year.
But his preseason hype did get cranked up a notch, following his MVP performance in the NC Pro-Am.
Even with his rising prospects, Hairston has met the challenge with his intensity, physicality and will to score points. His defense has been pretty impressive too.
For most of the season, Hairston has appeared to be the most efficient player on the floor, when factoring both his offensive and defensive performances.
That left many fans mystified by Roy Williams' decision to keep him on the bench.
Coach Williams refused to pull senior Dexter Strickland in favor of the much more potent offensive machine that is P.J. Hairston.
That is, until Ol' Roy found another way.
Starting with the Duke game, Williams shifted to a smaller lineup, putting four guards on the floor with McAdoo, giving Hairston the opportunity to slide into the starting five, and he has proven that is where he belongs.
He has scored 62 points in that three-game span, including a career-high 29 points against the ACC's best defense in UVA.
I think it's safe to give Hairston a "pass."
51.8% FG, 40.1% 3PT, 86.7% FT, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 2.8 REB, 0.5 BLK, 9.1 PTS
41.9% FG, 37.6% 3PT, 79.5% FT, 1.5 AST, 1.0 STL, 4.0 REB, 0.5 BLK, 13.3 PTS
When Marcus Paige was recruited to North Carolina, he was planning on learning from Kendall Marshall for at least one season, but his role would soon change with the early departure of the nation's top assist man, changing what would the expectations of Paige this season.
Fair or not, Paige was expected to lead this team as the floor general and produce points that would at least be reminiscent of Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton.
For most of the season, however, Paige has struggled to find his way running the offense, and his shooting has been more reminiscent of Hairston's freshman season.
That isn't to say he has been horrible.
It took Roy Williams awhile to finally feel comfortable enough to hand the reins over to Paige. He was mostly just another player in the ball rotation and rarely was expected to fully conduct the offense.
Over the last few weeks, Paige has become a much more solid floor general, penetrating the defense and dishing off some sweet dimes, but he is still lacking the dominance we are accustomed to witnessing from Carolina point guards.
"Fail" is such a harsh word, and I'm very hesitant to use it for Paige. The fact is, neither his point play nor his shooting have been on par.
His defense has really stepped up, but the rest of his game leaves a lot of room for improvement.
He is slowly working his way to a passing grade though.
47.1% FG, 37.9% 3PT, 81.2% FT, 6.1 AST, 1.4 STL, 2.1 REB, 9.7 PTS
31.5% FG, 29.8% 3PT, 87.2% FT, 4.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 2.9 REB, 7.4 PTS
Entering his senior season, Dexter Strickland was assumed to compete for the starting point guard position.
However, Coach Williams opted to go with a freshman instead.
But that didn't cost Strickland his starting job, starting every game at the 2 this season, while also playing a backup role at the point.
Nobody expected too much from Strickland, but fans were at least hoping for the player they saw for 19 games in 2011-12 before going down with an ACL tear.
He simply hasn't been that, and the blame doesn't just fall on his recovering knee.
His shot selection has been extremely poor through most of the games this season. In 2011-12, his sole focus was to slash to the rim. This season, he has attempted to add deep jump shots to his repertoire, and that hasn't been a strong point for Strickland.
Through the 19 games last season, Strickland only attempted one three-pointer, and his shooting percentage was a team-leading 57 percent. This year, he is shooting 4-of-20 from that range.
Couple that with fall-away 17-footers, and you get a field-goal percentage of just 42.2.
To make matters worse, he is only shooting 63.8 percent from the charity stripe, and his defense hasn't been top-notch. The latter can certainly be blamed on his knee, as he has lost some lateral quickness.
However, injury can't be used as an excuse for his shooting woes.
Again, I hate to use the word "fail," but he simply hasn't earned a passing grade with his questionable decisions and defensive play below his standards.
Strickland has come along lately and is making much better choices on the floor. If he can ever get past the fall-away jumpers and threes, he will be well on his way to a passing grade.
56.1% FG, 23.9% 3PT, 71.3% FT, 3.9 AST, 1.8 STL, 1.4 REB, 0.2 BLK, 8.7 PTS
42.2% FG, 20.0% 3PT, 63.8% FT, 4.0 AST, 1.3 STL, 2.6 REB. 0.0 BLK, 7.7 PTS
Even with his increased offensive role, few people were talking up Reggie Bullock in the offseason because, throughout his career at Carolina, he has simply been a shooter.
He did step up his defensive game after Strickland went down last season, making a name for himself as the best defender in Carolina blue. That has continued this season, and he has upped his offensive impact at small forward.
He hasn't been the penetrator UNC has been in desperate need of, but that is the only area he has fallen short for this squad.
Bullock has been drilling treys all season long and will occasionally get in the lane to finish at the bucket. He leads the team in three-pointers and three-point percentage and is also second in free-throw percentage, scoring, rebounds and steals.
He is third in assists too, behind only Paige and Strickland.
That's a pretty complete game for the junior—especially considering this is his first season playing small forward.
More penetration is the only thing you could possibly ask for from Bullock and is hardly enough to warrant a "fail."
It's been a great season for Bullock.
49.3% FG, 39.8% 3PT, 78.7% FT, 1.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 5.2 REB, 0.6 BLK, 15.9 PTS
47.3% FG, 44.0% 3PT, 80.0% FT, 2.8 AST, 1.3 STL, 5.7 REB, 0.4 BLK, 13.8 PTS
I can almost see the shock on some of your faces, after seeing that James Michael McAdoo received a "pass" from me.
Before you go ballistic in the comment section, hear me out.
The expectations of the mainstream media were simply not warranted.
As well as he performed filling in for the injured John Henson, there was simply no way he was going from what we saw on the court last season to a POY candidate.
McAdoo was certainly a spark the Tar Heels needed, but he wasn't very skilled in the post and wasn't even close to being the focal point of the opposing defense.
With the bullseye placed squarely on his back, I attempted to lower those expectations to a more reasonable level in the offseason.
Apparently, my words didn't stick with the mainstream folk.
McAdoo has had some pretty frustrating performances this season, especially when matched up against top-tier competition. When the Tar Heels are in desperate need of points, he tends to play out of control, forces bad shots, gets blocked or loses his handle.
He also leads the team in free-throws made, points, steals and rebounds. His 1.3 assists per game have been a welcome surprise too. He is very good at finding the open man when he isn't playing at a blazing pace.
It's a little disappointing that he didn't work on more post moves this summer rather than his go-to turnaround fade, but it isn't his fault expectations were sky-high, and he shouldn't be punished for it.
And giving a player a "fail" when he leads that many categories, doesn't make much sense either.
However, gauging his performance against the mainstream media's expectations, one would have to say this season has been a failure for McAdoo. I can hardly blame anyone for thinking otherwise.
Even with my lowered expectations, McAdoo is doing a balancing act on the line of "pass" or "fail."
44.8% FG, 69.9% FT, 0.4 AST, 2.4 STL, 7.8 REB, 0.9 BLK, 15.1 PTS
44.9% FG, 56.7% FT, 1.3 AST, 1.5 STL, 8.3 REB, 0.3 BLK, 14.7 PTS