5 Things UNC Basketball Must Do to Compete in the ACC Next Season
Roy Williams saw his North Carolina basketball team end its 2012-13 season by giving away a halftime lead to the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks.
Since then, the Tar Heels have seen their team MVP Reggie Bullock declare for the NBA draft, a huge loss since he adds good perimeter shooting and excellent on-ball defense.
Even with that loss, the Heels are probably going to be ranked in the preseason top-25 yet again with most of their starters returning and a top recruiting class coming in.
In the last few years, Williams’ teams have been ranked high at the beginning, but have shown to be overrated once the games start.
Here are a couple things that the five-time national champions have to do if they want to become legitimate contenders next season.
Keep Turnovers to a Minimum
Losing an elite point guard like Kendall Marshall to the draft last year was a huge blow for the Tar Heels.
In Roy Williams’ system, the point guard has to be able to take care of the ball while creating a fast-paced flow for the game.
Marcus Paige was supposed to immediately be the next great North Carolina point guard after Marshall in 2012, Ty Lawson in 2009 and Raymond Felton in 2005.
Paige, however, didn’t live up to expectations in his freshman year in a Tar Heel uniform. While averaging 4.6 assists, he also averaged over two turnovers a game, leading to a less-than-stellar 1.9 assist/turnover ratio.
I understand that last year was his first year as the Tar Heels' starting point guard, but not everyone can handle the pressure of running this high-octane system.
In 2010, Larry Drew II took over for the reigning national champions after Lawson left and he played so poorly that the team lost in the NIT that year. Drew lost his starting position to Marshall next season, then left the team and transferred to UCLA where he started his senior season last year.
Paige has shown he has what it takes to keep the turnovers down, meaning UNC has more opportunities to score next season.
P.J. Hairston Needs to Emerge as the Team Leader
After struggling in his freshman year, P.J. Hairston improved his game in his second season as a Tar Heel.
In his first season, Hairston couldn’t really find a place playing behind Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland and Harrison Barnes. After Barnes went to the NBA and Roy Williams decided to play a smaller lineup, Hairston saw his minutes rise and with that, his numbers as well.
Hairston emerged as a three-point shooting specialist and became the team’s leading scorer at 14.6 points per game.
Now that the aforementioned Bullock is going to the NBA, Hairston has a chance to become the team’s go-to perimeter shooter as well as the only player on the Tar Heels who can create his own shot.
Need of a Big Man
Roy Williams knows better than anybody that a dominant inside game can do wonders for your team’s national championship aspirations.
In 2005, Sean May controlled the glass and ate up opposing centers down low as North Carolina went on to win the national championship.
In 2009, Tyler Hansbrough, Ed Davis and Deon Thompson all contributed as the Michigan State Spartans were harassed all over the court, especially inside.
However, after losing starters Tyler Zeller and Jon Henson to the pros last year, Williams’ cupboard was suddenly bare, only having one returning forward with enough experience.
James Michael McAdoo played sporadically for the Heels in his freshman year, getting significant minutes off the bench only after Henson went down with an injury late in the year.
After assuming the starting role at center last year, McAdoo, normally a power forward, looked like a child when having to go up against the likes of James Whithey of Kansas and other true centers in the NCAA.
Hopefully, Williams has found the big man he needs to switch McAdoo back to his natural position with the upcoming recruiting class.
Kennedy Meeks, No. 41 on the ESPN Top 100, may be small, but he can be the next Sean May with his 275-pound frame. He has the big body to withstand bigger and taller centers, along with a great eye for outlet passing, a perfect fit for Roy Williams’ system.
Meeks can generate fast breaks early and often, allowing North Carolina to return to form next season.
Add a Third Legitimate Scorer
With the loss of Reggie Bullock, the Tar Heels lost a key part of their team.
Bullock was first on the team in minutes (31.4), field goal percentage (.483 percent) and 3 point accuracy (43.6 percent), and was also third on the team in scoring (13.9 PPG), according to ESPN.
Without their MVP, North Carolina has to find a replacement soon if they want to compete for the top spot in the ACC.
Marcus Paige has the potential to be that third scorer behind Hairston and McAdoo. He has shown he has the ability to score the basketball at times this past season, scoring 19 point at home against Virginia Tech and 17 points on two different occasions during the season.
Paige just needs to stop relying on his jumper.
Last year, the freshman All-American took 7.6 shots per game, with 3.7 of those being from beyond the arc, according to ESPN. He needs to channel his inner-Ty Lawson and learn to become more of a scoring threat.
If he can become accustomed to driving to the basket and getting consistent good looks at the rim, he not only improves his shot selection, but Paige can also have more chances from the charity stripe after only averaging two free throws per game last season.
If he can successfully drive to the basket, teams will collapse to the rim, leaving wide-open shooters like Hairston to knock down critical threes.
McAdoo Must Improve
Here lies the biggest key to the Tar Heels' success next season.
James Michael McAdoo certainly fell short of the preseason All-America and All-ACC selections he was given from his freshman season.
McAdoo was one of the most underrated low-post defenders last season and looked to transition that, along with his great rebounding, into a starting role during his sophomore campaign.
After experienced big men Jon Henson and Tyler Zeller decided to turn pro, it became McAdoo’s responsibility to control the glass and give the Tar Heels the inside scoring they needed to rack up wins.
Instead, the undersized center was dominated by bigger, stronger players and gave inconsistent efforts throughout the season, including three straight single-digit scoring outputs against Miami, Duke and Virginia.
Although next season should be better when he moves to his natural position of power forward, McAdoo still has to improve his footwork and his decision-making while his team is on offense. He turned the ball over too many times, leading the Tar Heels with 2.7 per game as the starting center. He looked confused when he had the ball in the post, like he didn’t know whether to go right or left.
If McAdoo can develop a more-seasoned post-game on offense, not only will his Tar Heels be a force in the ACC next season, but McAdoo will also return to being a potential lottery pick as well.