UNC Basketball: Is Swagger the Tar Heels' Missing Link?

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

EAST LANSING, MI - DECEMBER 04:  Brice Johnson #11 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts, as teammates look on, to beating the Michigan State Spartans 79-65 at the Jack T. Breslin Student Events Center on December 4, 2013 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Sitting at 9-3 with just one nonconference game left on the schedule, the North Carolina Tar Heels are in search of an answer to their frustrating inconsistencies. Whether the game results in a win or a loss for UNC, it always seems to get ugly against the lesser opponents.

Carolina has averaged 84 points per game against Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky and Texas. Against Oakland, Holy Cross, Belmont, Richmond, UAB, UNC Greensboro, Davidson and Northern Kentucky, the Tar Heels averaged just 78 points in comparison.

And that's with 97 points in an overtime win against Davidson.

Some credit should be given to the underdogs who never give up. Some blame should be placed on the inexperience of this Tar Heel squad, but there is one contributing factor that may be greater than the rest: the team's lack of swagger.

What I like the most about this group may be its greatest downfall. The Heels are fun-loving, personable guys with high character. Unfortunately, that might mean these kids are incapable of developing swagger on a consistent basis, which is necessary to put them over the top. 

Think about James Michael McAdoo. What has been one of the biggest knocks on the junior since earning the starting role last fall?

Simply put, he's a soft-spoken, nice guy who seems unable to unleash the nasty in him. The "Psycho T" in him, if you will. He will occasionally get fired up after a big dunk, but those moments are extremely rare.

Jan 10, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) and forward James Michael McAdoo (43) react in the first half. The Hurricanes defeated the Tar Heels 68-59 at the Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TO

Marcus Paige will get amped up after dropping a clutch shot, but where is that emotion in the first half?

P.J. Hairston is no longer on the bench, so he certainly isn't coming in to save the day. Paige is the next-best player at creating his own shot. Now that Leslie McDonald is back, the sophomore should find more room to work with on the perimeter.

Paige is a smart, calculated and respectful college athlete. You have to love that. But it would be nice if he would leave that persona off the court. It'd be great to see him carry himself like a guy who is scoring 18.7 points per contest with five 20-point games to his name this season.

That includes a career-high 32 points against Louisville earlier this season.

But that just isn't his character, nor the character of J.P. Tokoto, Nate Britt or Joel James. And that's fine. But there needs to be an emotional leader who can lift these guys up—have them play with some swagger.

You can go right down the line, and you'll find only one guy who has shown the ability to fill the void Hairston left.

Mar 16, 2013; Greensboro, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard P.J. Hairston (15) reacts in the second half. The Tar Heels defeated the Terrapins 79-76 during the semifinals of the ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Enter Brice Johnson.

Sadly, the Brice Johnson that the Tar Heels need has been MIA the last few games. He's been in a shooting slump since the Kentucky game and fouled out against Davidson with just three field-goal attempts and two points.

What we now see is a Johnson who hangs his head and often looks apathetic.

The Tar Heels need the guy who wears his emotion on his sleeve: the guy who pumps his fist and screams on every big dunk or block. The guy who looks for his shot because he knows without a doubt he can score at will.

When he does score, he's bobbing his head and skipping down the floor with the confidence of a legend.

Nov 24, 2013; Uncasville, CT, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) celebrates against the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at Mohegan Sun Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Some may say those things are showboating and do not belong in the game. Not me.

Showboating slows the team down because the player is too preoccupied with himself to do his job. Many times it leads to penalties.

What I'm talking about is swagger.

Some of the best players in any sport have an air of confidence. Their greatness is defined by their play but seen through their body language.

Michael Jordan and Tyler Hansbrough weren't on the floor to make friends. They were hungry, blood-thirsty animals; they only cared about winning once they stepped onto the hardwood.

And it wasn't enough to just get a win. They wanted to crush their opponents mercilessly. There was no dial on these guys to "turn it down a notch."

That's the Brice Johnson the Tar Heels need. I'm not sure anyone else on this squad is capable of being that guy. The emotion guys like Johnson and Hairston play with is contagious. It wasn't just Hairston's scoring ability that made the Tar Heels dangerous last season.

It was his swagger that engulfed the team faster than a blazing forest fire. When he wasn't on the floor last season, the team was emotionless.

He was the missing piece that made everything click. His emotion is what this current team is lacking, beyond the talent he would have brought to the floor.

There is a chance that this emotional void can be filled, depending on which Brice Johnson steps on the floor.

Without at least a little swagger, the Tar Heels won't have a shot to win the ACC or the national title.

With it? Well, you saw what they did to Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky.


Rollin Yeatts is the lead columnist for North Carolina Tar Heels basketball on Bleacher Report. He also hosts a weekly all-sports video podcast at TSB Sports. Visit his B/R profile for more.