It is no coincidence that North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo's recent upsurge and the Tar Heels' climb from the Atlantic Coast Conference basement has happened at the same time.
After opening conference play with a troubling 1-4 start, UNC has won each of its last six ACC games.
Over the those six victories, the 6'9" junior power forward has been dominant on both ends of the court. The Norfolk, Va., native has played like the beast that many expected him to be from the moment he arrived in Chapel Hill in 2011.
During this stretch, McAdoo has averaged 18.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
Not only has he increased his production, but he has become much more aggressive and forceful in head coach Roy Williams' attack.
McAdoo has been much more active moving around on offense lately, cutting to the basket three times as often in his last five games compared to his first 18 games.
In the first 18 games, he was averaging just 1.5 plays per game cutting to the basket, which represented 10 percent of his offensive plays and 1.3 points per game. In his last 5 games, McAdoo is averaging 4.6 cut plays per game, which represents 26 percent of his offensive plays and four points per game.
McAdoo's performance against Jamie Dixon's Panthers was his best of the season. He scored 24 points on 11-of-18 shooting and grabbed 12 boards (including seven offensive rebounds).
These were not empty numbers in an unimportant game. They reflect McAdoo's prominent performance in a critical contest that kept the Tar Heels moving forward.
One of the important features of McAdoo's emergence is that it has not come at the expense of other key players' production. His showing up in the last half-dozen games has not cut into his teammates' output.
In fact, McAdoo's confidence and determination has been infectious. ESPN's C.L. Brown says that "The Heels now feed off his energy and intensity."
In this six-game run, sophomore guard Marcus Paige has averaged 18 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. Sophomore forward Brice Johnson is putting up 10.5 points and pulling down 5.5 boards.
It's not just outsiders who have seen the difference in McAdoo. Paige told Brown that:
His approach is just different; even in practice, he goes hard every possession now. I’m not saying he didn’t before; it’s just that extra level of focus and attention that he’s bringing is kind of contagious.
Sounds like McAdoo's teammates are ready to follow his leadership.
Looking Ahead: Carolina does not have an easy finish to its regular season. The Tar Heels do not always fare well in Tallahassee against Florida State. They also play a home-and-home set of games with Duke.
Without putting too much of the load on McAdoo's shoulders, the junior forward's play will emphatically impact Carolina's final seven games, the Heels' showing in the ACC tournament and how they fare in March Madness.
Even though he is not a rah-rah vocal leader, McAdoo's example and performance will certainly influence how the Tar Heels finish up this roller-coaster season.
And, right now, that is a very good thing!
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