The North Carolina Tar Heels have experienced a tumultuous 2013.
In November, they lost to an unranked Belmont squad at home and then beat the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals.
December included two more huge wins for UNC, as well as two more upset losses at the hands of UAB and Texas, respectively.
North Carolina is No. 19 in the nation, according to the latest AP poll released this week. So what do the Heels have to work on to be better in 2014?
Here are five New Year's resolutions for UNC to focus on to improve as a basketball team in the coming months.
It is not OK to play favorites. Providing special treatment to some but not others is immoral and unfair. North Carolina should take this widely accepted belief and apply it to its work on the basketball court. If UNC played up to its ability in every game, it would be undefeated right now and probably ranked as No. 1 in the country.
Instead, the Heels occasionally play lackadaisically and down to their competition. They let inferior teams hang in with them, sometimes losing and occasionally winning in overtime. If coach Roy Williams could get his players to treat everyone equally (treat UAB as you would treat Michigan State), they wouldn't be having these problems with effort and execution.
Other than sophomore guard Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels are an abomination from the free-throw line. He is shooting 92.3 percent on 65 attempts thus far this season, but the team as a whole is only shooting 61.3 percent.
Out of 345 qualifying teams in the country, that figure ranks 333rd.
If you took out Paige's free throws, the team's percentage would dip to 54.5 percent, which would be by far the worst in the country.
These guys need to hit the gym more and practice their foul shots. They are called "free throws" for a reason. They are supposed to be gimmes.
The biggest black hole at the line so far, as far as shooting percentage and attempts, has been James Michael McAdoo. He has taken the most free throws on the team by a healthy margin but is only shooting 55.8 percent.
North Carolina men's basketball players are people too. They shouldn't try to be who they aren't, just to appease outsiders or conform to some preconception about how they should play or act.
J.P. Tokoto, just be yourself. Don't shoot threes. Even if you are open and in rhythm, the shot only goes in one in three times. Leave that shot to Marcus Paige or Leslie McDonald and use your athleticism to do other things.
Brice Johnson, be yourself, but calm down a bit. Don't try to play to the cameras or fans after every dunk. Just get back on defense. Celebrate wildly after the game is over—not while the ball is being in-bounded.
Paige, drive to the basket more. Your outside shot has been failing you in recent weeks, so do what you do best: Drive and get to the line. Once defenders start to drift off you a step or two, then the outside shot will open up. Until then, play in the first half like you've been playing in the second half.
Denzel Robinson, just be yourself...whoever you are.
Everyone strives to be a better person in the coming year. The UNC players should take that to heart and learn something new. The biggest adjustments can come at the guard position, where the landscape of depth has changed in the last week alone.
North Carolina must learn to use Leslie McDonald as a focal point of the offense rather than just a drive-and-kick-out receiver at the end of shot clocks. The free throws will come as his legs get underneath him. But he must be treated as a sixth starter going forward. He is the third guard.
With that in mind, the team must also learn to move forward with the knowledge that P.J. Hairston will not be walking through the door. The Heels must move on without him in terms of play on the court. They can't play as they have been—with the hope that he was going to come back and save the day by pushing them to the next level.
A new year is something of a fresh start. It is also an excuse to do something that should have been done a long time ago. There is no more reason to wait. It is time for Roy Williams to organize his rotation for conference play.
Sit Tokoto; he doesn't belong in the starting lineup. He is better served as an energy guy off the bench, to spark a second unit and grab 50-50 balls.
Bring Joel James off the bench even when he returns from his injury. The young man was adequate as the starting center but brought nothing special to the table. Kennedy Meeks is a better option and seems to possess a special passing ability for a big man, especially on outlets. Brice Johnson also brings more energy and offensive ability than James could ever generate.
Either guy would be a passable option to remain in the starting lineup when James is healthy.
Play this five-man unit more to see how good it can be:
- Marcus Paige
- Leslie McDonald
- James Michael McAdoo
- Brice Johnson
- Kennedy Meeks
Coach Williams has tinkered with playing the three forwards together before. However, he did it with Tokoto in the game. With McDonald now back, he is a prototypical 2-guard. Replacing Tokoto with him would help stretch the floor and open up the middle for the three bigs, all of whom can create a shot against one defender.
It would be interesting to see how good this unit could be offensively, even if it is a downgrade on the defensive side of the ball.