Through 12 games, the North Carolina Tar Heels sit at 9-3. With just one nonconference game remaining (Tuesday's tilt against UNC-Wilmington), Carolina is primed for Atlantic Coast Conference play.
This seems like the perfect time to address how the roster has been performing: who has been outplaying expectations and who has been failing to live up to the hype? Many players will still have drastic improvements in their game during conference play. Others will tail off as the competition becomes more formidable.
Nevertheless, the end of a team's out-of-conference slate of games is a good time to take stock in how the players are performing.
The Carolina sophomore point guard has been the team's best player. Marcus Paige is vying to be the nation's most improved player as well. After an innocuous first season, Paige has exploded onto the scene this season.
He currently leads UNC in minutes, points, field goals and assists, and has more made threes than the rest of the roster combined. Paige has been spectacular during nonconference play. No one expected him to be this good. Through the first two months of the season, he was carrying a Top 20 team all by himself.
Once ACC play commences, it is only logical to expect his numbers to come back down to earth a bit. The Tar Heels will be facing stiffer competition, and opponents will be focusing in on Paige every possession. Defenders will attempt to take away his three-point shots and crowd the paint when he drives.
Whether Paige's play declines at all or not, his numbers certainly will. Marcus is a tremendous basketball player. He's not this good, though.
Kennedy Meeks had been playing over his head for a few weeks to start the year. His numbers overall are great for a guy playing just 14.9 minutes per game.
He ranks second on the team in rebounds, trailing only Brice Johnson. He has tallied more blocks than turnovers, and Meeks throws a mean outlet pass. However, the freshman forward still has a long way to go.
Against a super-athletic front line in the Kentucky game, Meeks struggled to even compete. This will be a problem during ACC play as well. Also, whether because of conditioning or mental errors, coach Roy Williams refuses to play Meeks more than 15 or so minutes a game. He has only topped the 20-minute mark once all year.
As conference play gets underway, Meeks might see a further dip in his aggregate stats, but that won't be the end of the world. He is still farther ahead at the turn of the new year than anyone could have expected.
James Michael McAdoo
While Marcus Paige stepped up his game in the absence of a few teammates to start the season, James Michael McAdoo seemed to take a step back.
His yearly totals are still OK: 14 points, 5.6 rebounds, almost three combined steals and blocks per game. But anyone watching games constantly feels frustrated by McAdoo.
First of all, he is only shooting 41.9 percent from the floor. A bad figure for a guard who takes a lot of threes, below 42 percent is atrocious for a power forward who seemingly would be taking many shots close to the basket and in the paint.
Second, the foul shooting is so bad it must make Roy Williams want to bench him late in games. McAdoo has taken by far the most foul shots on the team. He has also made the most, but that is strictly because of volume. The junior forward is shooting a dismal 57.1 percent from the line. His motion is bad; his shot never looks like it is going in, and a large portion of the time, it does not.
The other thing that leaves Tar Heel fans and coaches upset with McAdoo is not reflected in the numbers. He simply fails the "eye test." A super-talented, athletic power forward is supposed to take over games. Someone who can grab a rebound and take the ball coast-to-coast like McAdoo should be an All-American candidate.
Instead, McAdoo is barely deserving of a starting spot on his own team.
After this many career games, it is time to temper all expectations and realize he is not going to play up to his potential in college.
Isaiah Hicks is not getting enough playing time to be a contributor on this roster. Even after Joel James went down with an injury, Hicks only saw two minutes and 12 minutes of action, respectively, in the next two games.
Again, it is hard to know why Hicks doesn't see the court since practices and coach-player discussions are not public. But whatever the case may be, the freshman forward needs to fix his mistakes in time for ACC play.
With James out a few weeks because of the knee injury, the frontcourt depth is lacking. Hicks needs to fill that void. He possesses a thin frame and different build than James, but Hicks is a capable forward and rebounder.