UNC Basketball: Report Card for Tar Heels Midway Through ACC Play
After the first of February, with 10 games remaining on the North Carolina Tar Heels' season schedule, they currently sit at 14-7 overall and 4-4 in the ACC. A .500 record places UNC right in the middle of a crowded conference standings.
Three straight wins has followed up a 1-4 beginning to conference play. Carolina has been playing better recently, exerting more effort on a daily basis and no longer playing down to its competition.
However, not everyone is playing at an A level right now. With that, it is time to take a look at a report card for the Tar Heels to see where the strengths and weaknesses of this team lie.
For a freshman point guard, it is impressive enough to be counted on as a team's starter from Game 1 of the season. However, for Nate Britt, things have gone a bit downhill since early in the year. On offense especially, he has not made any improvements since the turn of the new year and has displayed a general sloppy disposition on the court.
Part of the expectations for freshmen include improvements as their first season goes on. That should be balanced with the assumption that, once conference play begins, competition will be a bit harder.
If Britt had continued his play, mainly in terms of assists to turnovers, his defense would push him to a better grade thus far. The slight decline means he has been better than a basic C, but not by much.
There has technically been nothing disappointing about Joel James' season thus far. He has been adequate.
As a starter, perhaps more should have been expected. However, James was a starter for most of the year in name only. He is averaging just 10.6 minutes per game.
Not having used his limited minutes as efficiently as teammates Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks had been early on, James was useful, but that's all.
He is a big-bodied center who can defend a bit and grab some rebounds. Only if he starts making more of his shot attempts will his grade improve.
A slight dip in recent games not withstanding, Brice Johnson has been one of North Carolina's most useful players this season.
With multiple scoring moves in the post and a jump shot that must be respected, Johnson is probably the team's best frontcourt scorer after James Michael McAdoo.
Defense and effort are holding him back. Johnson has shown the ability to change games at the rim. He leads the team in blocks. But coach Roy Williams does not feel comfortable playing him more than 20 minutes in a game because of lapses in judgement and effort.
Pushing past the mental block that is holding him back, Johnson will develop into one of Carolina's top players rather quickly.
James Michael McAdoo
After a tumultuous start to the year, junior James Michael McAdoo has proven himself as a reliable second scorer behind Marcus Paige.
While the free-throw shooting is still, and will always be, an issue, the rest of McAdoo's game has been stellar.
At 15.0 points per game, he is actually scoring more points on average than he did last season, on two fewer attempts from the floor. His field-goal percentage is also up, as are his blocks.
Although McAdoo no longer possesses the NBA draft-lottery upside many expected in years past, he is still an effective college player on both ends of the floor.
When Leslie McDonald returned to this team in late December, he was named as the savior for Carolina's outside shooting. The sad fact is that he has not been shooting well this season from anywhere on the court.
At 37.3 percent from the floor, McDonald has been the team's worst shooter out of anyone who's taken at least 10 field goal attempts.
At 64.1 percent from the foul line, he has also done nothing to help Carolina's debilitating problem with free throws.
And at 31.0 percent from three, McDonald has actually been statistically worse from deep than even J.P. Tokoto, with 50 more attempts to his name.
The threat of an outside shot that McDonald still possesses is valuable to this team, but his actual production has been barely better than a decoy.
On a per-minute basis, Kennedy Meeks has been the Heels' best player this season.
Because of this strong play, coach Williams has finally rewarded him in recent games with the starting center spot. In Meeks' last five contests, he's accumulated 53 points and 43 rebounds.
On a per-40-minute basis, Meeks has put up the following averages: 18.7 points, 15.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.1 blocks.
With more playing time and more experience, Meeks can be a special all-around center. He is already on his way after just two-thirds of his freshman year.
Unlike James Michael McAdoo, Marcus Paige has been shooting rather poorly these past two months. Despite that, Paige is this team's best player and go-to scorer. He has shown the ability to shake off awful first halves to finish games incredibly strong.
Paige can also play point or 2-guard and leads this team in assists by a healthy margin. All of that underscores his greatest benefit to this team. And that is as a shooter.
The free-throw figures have been well documented by this point. In summary, Paige shoots 91.3 percent from the line, leading the ACC, while the team as a whole shoots 62.6 percent. In addition, Paige's 45 made threes are well over half the team's entire total for the season.
It is safe to say that, without Paige, UNC would be nowhere near the middle of the conference.
In 27.7 minutes per game, J.P. Tokoto does a little bit of everything for UNC. He's fifth on the team in points, fourth in rebounds, second in assists and first in steals. He's shooting 47 percent from the floor.
With a 94.2 defensive rating, Tokoto is third on the Heels out of players who get regular minutes. The two ahead of him, Meeks and Johnson, are both frontcourt players. Tokoto is the best defensive wing on the team.
The reason Tokoto is not rated higher, though, is his offensive repertoire. His counting numbers are better than he's actually been. His outside shooting is bad (33.3 percent), and his free-throw shooting is horrendous (48.3 percent).
With an offensive rating of 99.8, Tokoto is one of the worst regulars on the squad in terms of points produced per 100 possessions.
The rest of the seven players on the roster all average under 10 minutes per game. Between Isaiah Hicks, Jackson Simmons, Luke Davis and the rest, these guys have played very little and contributed even less.
While Hicks is super-talented, coach Williams has been afraid to use him for long stretches as he is still learning.
Simmons is an under-appreciated hustle and energy guy. Williams loves his effort, but he is not talented enough to make a real impact on this roster.
While Davis serves his purpose as a fourth guard, and the others occasionally see game action, no one contributes more than sparingly. However, it is rare to find a team that gets much from its players nine through 15 of the rotation.
The coaching job done by Roy Williams with this team has been highly underrated.
They have three huge victories over out-of-conference powerhouses. They have also dealt with and rebounded from one of the biggest roster subtractions anywhere in the country. When P.J. Hairston was removed from the team, it took a while for the rest of the team to adapt. There was no more safety net coming to save them from the malaise of midseason.
After scuffling for a few games, the confidence and effort seems to have returned.
It is never easy to recoup a rudderless team, but that is exactly what Williams has done.
He has also gotten a great deal out of a limited roster. There is a considerable lack of shooting talent here. There are also a number of talented yet limited big men. Williams has seemingly worked his rotation well in order to get the most out of all of them.
With a different recruiter, perhaps this roster would be better. It is hard to know. However, with a different coaching mind, it seems likely they would lack the high-quality wins this team has and may have trailed off into obscurity after that start to conference play.
Although Williams can be criticized for failing to get the most out of highly recruited freshmen, his desire to push tempo and adapt to a roster filled with brick-throwers is impressive in and of itself.