For the North Carolina Tar Heels, this next stretch of games is of paramount importance.
The win over Boston College on January 18 was the team's first in conference play. It ended a three-game slide for the Heels but also left a number of questions unanswered. This was especially true considering Roy Williams decided to alter his starting lineup. It remains to be seen whether Williams will stick with his new lineup, go back to what he had been using for most of the year or even try something else with the rotation.
According to some quotes from Williams from an Adam Smith piece in The Times News, this may have been a one-time occurrence to jolt some guys or, as Smith put it, also maybe not.
Williams: "I don’t know that Leslie had done enough to deserve it, but I wanted to do something. Jackson plays harder than everybody else, and that’s the reason he got the chance. … I just don’t want to sit back and not do anything. So we tried to change it up."
Even with that being the case, there are still things to be concerned with for each starter, new and old. No Tar Heel is playing perfect basketball right now by any means.
(All upcoming stats and figures courtesy of sports-reference.com)
Marcus Paige currently leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in free-throw percentage at 90.1 percent. In fact, he is the only player in the conference above 88 percent.
However, he ranks nowhere near the top 10 in free-throw attempts.
This is alarming because he is the only Tar Heel player who is effective from the foul line. He should be driving and drawing fouls every chance he gets, a la Olivier Hanlan of Boston College. Instead, Paige settles for a lot of shots and takes a ton of threes.
For Paige to become an elite offensive weapon in the ACC, he must cut down on his jumpers and get to the line more. This will also help his shooting numbers. Paige had been struggling from the outside for a good month prior to the BC game. He had also accumulated just five total free-throw attempts in all of Carolina's ACC games up to that point.
Part of the reason Nate Britt was benched in favor of Leslie McDonald for the Boston College game was Britt's recent struggles with the basketball.
Since conference play began, Britt has turned the ball over nine times while dishing out just five assists. Compare that to how his season began, against admittedly weaker competition at times. But Britt has also developed nothing resembling an offensive game.
He is invisible on the outside and no threat to shoot. According to offensive win shares, he has actually been a negative player on that end, worth -0.2 wins up to this point.
McDonald has not been much better. Leslie has yet to find his groove after that very first game against Texas. He is shooting an atrocious 33.8 percent from the floor on the season, and out of anyone playing significant minutes on UNC, only Britt has a worse true shooting percentage.
To say J.P. Tokoto is a worthless player is false. There are many things he does well on the basketball court. In fact, it is hard to argue that he has been anything worse than North Carolina's third or fourth-best player this season.
However, other than passing the eye test, Tokoto does not do a lot.
He is a great athlete and leaper. He can finish strong at the hoop and grab rebounds over bigger men. But Tokoto has not been a very effective player thus far on the season.
First and most obviously, he is a bad shooter, but he shares that with a number of his teammates. He is not a threat from deep and is actually even worse from the foul line than James Michael McAdoo. Although, if you remove his game against Belmont, where he went 4-of-16 from the line, he is not a train wreck.
Other than the outside shooting, Tokoto also doesn't make plays on offense as often as he should. He has the ability to be a good finisher in the paint, yet he ranks just seventh on the team in usage percentage. His offensive rating is eighth.
While his overall game has picked up considerably from his freshman year, his effectiveness in many departments really has not.
His true shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage are nearly identical to what they were a year ago. His rebounding rate is right in line, as is his usage rate.
Watching him play, it is very surprising to see what the numbers bear out. Tokoto, at this point in his development, is still not a tremendously effective basketball player.
Not everything takes digging and research to unearth. James Michael McAdoo is a good basketball player with one, unavoidable weakness that brings down the rest of this game.
McAdoo is actually second and fourth respectively in the ACC in free throw attempts and makes. The problem is obviously the disparity between how many he is attempting and how many are going in.
At 54.3 percent from the line, McAdoo has seen his rate steadily decline each season he's been at Carolina. It is really a shame that one of the team's best players cannot be relied upon to come through from the line.
This flaw is obviously not making him shy away from contact, although the argument could be made that maybe it should be.
McAdoo, after all, is a pretty good jump shooter. You never want to take away a player's aggressiveness, especially when it is resulting in free throws and fouls for the other team. However, it would be interesting to see what type of player McAdoo could be if he stayed clear of the paint a little more.
For some point of reference, he has put up four 20-point games in the 2013-14 season thus far. In two of those games, he got to the line an astounding 19 times apiece. In the other two, he took just six combined free throws. So he has shown the capability of performing while getting to the line an awful lot as well as the opposite.
Last game, against Boston College, Joel James did not start. He also barely saw the court, playing just four minutes. In his stead, coach Williams went with Jackson Simmons in the starting lineup. However, Simmons only played eight minutes himself because of an early gash to his head that required stitches.
However, the center position has been in flux all year long. Even while Joel James was starting game in and game out, he only averaged around 11 minutes per contest. Simmons would rotate in on occasion, as would Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson. But none of the four average even 20 MPG for the season.
With that being said, the concern for James (or whoever starts at center moving forward) is about efficiency. He must use his minutes and his energy in the time he is allotted.
Of the guys in the big-man rotation, Johnson and Meeks have been very good at this while James and Simmons haven't. However, in defense of Simmons, he is not as talented of a player as the rest of these guys. As coach Williams expressed in that Times News piece by Adam Smith, he loves Simmons because Jackson hustles and plays harder than anyone else on the roster.
Right now, Joel James has a 94.3 defensive rating. That is a good figure for him. James needs to be more aggressive though to reach the levels that Johnson and Meeks are playing at. He can't be afraid to foul either, as he is not often playing enough minutes to get into any foul trouble.