North Carolina Basketball: 5 Biggest Reasons to Buy 'Heels as a 2014 Contender
Could 2014 be the year Roy Williams puts himself atop the North Carolina Tar Heels' record books? No other UNC coach has three titles to his name.
Right now, his two titles in 10 seasons at Chapel Hill matches the legendary Dean Smith's output over 36 years. That's a true testament of his consistency.
But it hasn't been easy for Williams since his last title in 2009. Transfers, injuries and early draftees had a crippling effect on the program. Not to mention the academic scandal and Roy's own health concerns that undoubtedly hurt his recruiting efforts.
That all appears to be behind him now.
P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo decided to stay for another season instead of taking their chances in the NBA draft. He also has an experienced point guard for the first time since Kendall Marshall went down in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Development will be a key factor in making this 2014 squad a title contender. But it would appear all the components are there to make a run.
And I have five reasons why you shouldn't overlook these Tar Heels.
There's a New Triangle Trio in the Works
With Reggie Bullock heading to the NBA, someone must step up to continue the three-pronged attack that was deemed the "Triangle Trio." If anyone is capable of filling those shoes, it has to be Marcus Paige.
As he progressed through his freshman season, Paige became more confident with his game. In turn, he became much more aggressive, and shots began to fall for the young point guard.
He was 20-of-45 behind the arc in his final 12 games of the season.
He also became one of the peskiest defenders on the team, poking the ball loose on help defense and in transition. Paige was rewarded for his efforts with the George Lynch Award, which is given to the top defender on the squad.
Paige will be matched with the two returners, P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo, who combined to average 29 points per game as sophomores. And Hairston didn't even start for most of the season.
The scariest part for opposing teams is that these guys are working to become more versatile in the offseason. McAdoo will be looking to add a post game and slow his tempo, while Hairston will be working on his mid-range game.
If they develop the way rising junior stars usually do, the Triangle Trio of 2014 will be one of the most lethal forces in the nation.
And this is without even considering senior shooting guard Leslie McDonald. He could force me to come up with a four-player moniker if he comes close to the production of Bullock.
Chapel Hill Transition Will Be in Full Force
Paige also improved his transition game as the season progressed. He was a little shy to pull the trigger early on, and that just doesn't work with the speed of Roy Williams' Tar Heels.
The ball has to beat the defense. He gets that now.
Paige will have a nice array of athletes to work with, too. J.P. Tokoto, James Michael McAdoo, P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald can all get up the floor in a hurry. They have also proven to be excellent finishers on the break and are capable of taking it coast-to-coast without Paige's assistance.
That could be pretty scary for opposing teams, considering all of the aforementioned players are capable of jacking at least one steal per contest.
On top of those guys, Coach Williams will also have explosive freshmen in Isaiah Hicks and the speedy Nate Britt. And though Kennedy Meeks doesn't have the speed to keep up in transition, he can dish off outlet passes that would make point guards jealous.
When Coach Williams really wants to push the throttle, we will probably even see Britt and Paige working a dual-point system. That strategy could be a little shaky in the half court, but devastating on fast breaks.
A successful transition game relies on playmaking defense, rebounding, passing and athleticism. Carolina has improved in all of those areas, so we should be in for quite the show in Chapel Hill.
UNC Will Have a Dual-Post Threat Once Again
We can only guess who will end up the starting center in 2013-14. But one thing is for sure: Roy Williams will have plenty of options at the position.
Rising sophomore Joel James and junior Desmond Hubert are the front-runners for the job right now, given their size and experience. But it will depend on their development through the offseason.
James needs to work on his hands and fundamentals, while Hubert has to become more of a weapon on the offensive side of the floor.
If they don't improve their games, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks will be right on their heels. According to Inside Carolina, Williams has already admitted admitted all five will be in contention.
"Somebody with size has got to step forward," Williams said, during his Tar Heel Tour. "Whether it's Joel [James], whether it's Desmond, whether it's Isaiah [Hicks] or Kennedy Meeks or Brice Johnson."
Someone will step up.
The best news is none of them need to be primary scorers like Tyler Zeller was. But whoever takes the starting spot will at least have to be a threat.
Some of McAdoo's struggles last season were his own fault. He tried to play too fast and was a bit of a loose cannon in the paint. But there also wasn't another quality post to take some of the defensive heat off of him.
McAdoo was consistently double- and triple-teamed. That will happen less frequently if the defense actually has to worry about the center.
With the exception of last season, Coach Williams has always been able to find great post players for his dual-post scheme. It's hard to imagine he would whiff on this many recruits.
The Tar Heels Will Be Back to Their Rebounding Ways
North Carolina was actually leading the ACC in rebounding through most of last season. Then McAdoo started having back problems, and also had to shift to center with the small lineup Roy was putting on the floor.
From there, McAdoo's production dropped. He went from 7.7 rebounds per game over his first 23, to just 5.8 per game over his last 13.
Now he will be back to his old position, where he was much more efficient on the glass. If he becomes more physical blocking out, he could end up in the range of nine per game.
And whoever Coach Williams chooses at center will be a solid rebounder. It's a must in this system. He likes players to shoot freely, knowing someone will be there to haul in any misses. And on the defensive end, it also starts fast breaks.
Beyond the posts, Hairston, Paige and McDonald are all excellent rebounders for their positions. And Williams will have even more coming off the bench with Tokoto, Johnson, Hicks and Meeks.
Put it this way: If North Carolina was able to muster 39 rebounds per game with its jumbled roster in 2012-13, you better believe the Tar Heels will be back to their 40-plus ways in 2013-14.
UNC Finally Has a Combination of Star Talent, Experience and Depth
For the Tar Heels to finish 25-11 last season, one can only imagine what that team would have been capable of with the talent and experience of Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Harrison Barnes. Unfortunately, they chose to bounce Chapel Hill early, leaving Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland as the only 'Heels with starting experience.
Even worse, freshmen were forced into roles they weren't quite ready for, due to the lack of depth.
In 2013-14, Roy Williams gets three starters back in Paige, Hairston and McAdoo. He also has enough depth on his roster to limit the minutes of the incoming freshmen.
Britt, Hicks and Meeks will all end up on the floor. But it's a different situation when a coach has to put them on the floor.
Don't let the today's recruiting hype fool you. Experience does matter when it comes to chasing titles.
Now the Tar Heels have all the proper components to end up in the race once again.
Are they virtual locks for contention, like the 2013 squad would have been with a full cast of characters? Hardly. There are simply too many questions about the development of these players.
But anyone overlooking the 2014 Tar Heels will be in for a rude awakening.
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