UNC Basketball: Brice Johnson Emerging as Tar Heels' Biggest X-Factor

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 22: Brice Johnson #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrates a 3-point basket in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March 22, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri. North Carolina won 78-71. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

North Carolina's Brice Johnson is currently the most dynamic sixth man in college basketball.

He is the Tar Heels' leading rebounder (7 RPG), their leading shot-blocker (1.6 BPG) and their No. 2 scorer (13.6 PPG).

He is shooting a blistering 62.5 percent from the field and is No. 24 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy's Offensive Rating (subscription required).

Not bad for a sophomore who is only playing 20.1 minutes per game.

On an unpredictable UNC squad that has beaten then-No. 3 Louisville and, this week, No. 1 Michigan State and also lost to Belmont and UAB, the 6'9" power forward is an exciting spark who will be hard to keep out of the starting lineup for long.

Johnson has scored in double figures in all but one of Carolina's first seven games. To compare, starting power forward James Michael McAdoo has only put up double figures in three of those same seven games. McAdoo has scored no more than nine points since the Heels' home loss to Belmont in the third game of the season.

Only shooting guard Marcus Paige has put up at least 10 points in every game this season.

When Johnson has entered games this year, he has both subbed for McAdoo and played alongside the Heels starter. UNC coach Roy Williams has even experimented with "going big," moving McAdoo to the 3, playing Johnson at the 4 and usually leaving Joel James or inserting freshman Kennedy Meeks at the 5.

In their victory over Louisville, Johnson and Meeks combined for 26 points and 17 rebounds. Against Michigan State, they came together for 29 points and 13 rebounds.

Regardless of the combinations, having Johnson on the floor creates Carolina's best scoring potential.

It is clear, though, that the way for Johnson to increase his playing time is not by scoring more points. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is frustrated with his offensive production. The place Johnson must prove himself is on the defensive end.

Because Johnson played mostly zone defense at his 2-A South Carolina high school (Edisto), he still has a long way to go before he consistently plays the quality and intensity of man-to-man defense that Williams demands.


Looking Ahead

When it all clicks for Johnson, he will be a star.

If he ever gets "starter's minutes," he could become a 20-10 double-double guy, even if he is still coming off the bench.

In the meantime, Brice Johnson is the Tar Heels' biggest X-factor, producing points and grabbing boards in bunches.