UNC Basketball: Why Leslie McDonald Will Be the Key to Tar Heels' Tournament Bid

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2014

USA Today

North Carolina has some work to do in its final 12 regular-season games to secure its place on Selection Sunday. 

Even after they beat Clemson convincingly at the Smith Center over the weekend, the Tar Heels (12-7, 2-4 ACC) need to get hot and stay hot.

UNC depends on leading scorers Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo to do a great deal of the heavy lifting. But head coach Roy Williams needs a third consistent contributor to put Carolina back into the upper tier of the conference race.

The best candidate to fill that bill is senior guard Leslie McDonald.

After sitting out the first nine games of the 2013-14 season, McDonald has worked hard to find his place on this unpredictable team.

In his first three seasons in Chapel Hill, he has played a reserve role on some talented Tar Heels teams. Now is his time to step up and help lead this up-and-down team back into the upper tier of the ACC and to a place in this year's NCAA tournament.

How can McDonald best help North Carolina over the next six weeks?


Upper Classman Composure

Going into this season, McDonald had logged over 1,400 minutes in 100 games.

He has been a player who can get hot and put up points in bunches. He is a strong defender who can add tenacious pressure on the perimeter.

Since he has played in lots of games that mean something, McDonald is a poised catalyst to help his younger teammates perform at a high level down the stretch of this year.

One of the strengths that he brings to this team is that he takes care of the ball. He rarely is out of control and consistently makes solid passes.

So far this season, he has less than one turnover per game.

If the Tar Heels are going to climb back into the tournament discussion, McDonald's senior leadership will be a plus.

John Bazemore/Associated Press


Beyond-the-Arc Threat

OK. Stop rolling your eyes.

McDonald is a capable shooter in a slump.

And North Carolina continues to be one of the worst three-point shooting teams in college basketball.

The Tar Heels are currently shooting 31.4 percent (No. 283 in the nation) from downtown. They attempt 11.9 three-pointers per game (No. 348), and they only score 19.8 percent of their points (No. 350) from long-rangers. 

These are slightly improved numbers since McDonald has come onto the scene this season.

So far, the 6'5" guard is not shooting as well as he has in previous years. He has knocked down 18 of 57 three-point shots (31.6 percent).

For his sophomore and junior seasons, McDonald hit 93 of 251 (37 percent).

What he does provide is another player besides Paige who will pull the trigger from beyond the arc.

Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto is the Heels' No. 3 shooter from distance. He has only launched 20 threes in 19 games. Freshman guard Nate Britt has only flung nine three-pointers and made two.

No one wants McDonald to fire away if he is not going to connect. So far, he has been more off than on.

But he still can help balance out Carolina's scoring distribution.

Really, he can.


Gritty Defender

Through Carolina's uneven season, the Tar Heels have been a decent defensive team. They are holding their opponents to 39 percent shooting (No. 18 in the nation), and they are averaging 40.6 rebounds per game (No. 11).

Before McDonald was eligible to play, Carolina was forced to mostly play an undersized backcourt of Paige and Britt, two smaller stature guards. Paired with Tokoto, McDonald gives UNC two long, athletic wings who can really get after it on the defensive end.

As the Heels make their way through their ACC slate, they will need to shut down several competent outside scorers, such as Pitt's Lamar Patterson and Maryland's Dez Wells.

McDonald is more than capable of impacting UNC's upcoming games on both ends of the court.


Looking Ahead

North Carolina has not made it easy on itself. The Tar Heels will need to win eight of their remaining 12 games just to get to 20 regular-season wins.

Even if they do, they may still need to pick up a victory or two in the ACC tournament to earn their way into this year's March Madness.

If the Heels pull it together, McDonald's performance and leadership will be critical parts to their success.