Having played over half their regular season schedule, this year’s North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team looks to have the makings of a team who can win it all come March.
Through 17 games, the Tar Heels sit at a very respectable 15-2. The Heels improved to 4-0 in the ACC, which is the first time in Roy Williams 13 years as head coach at UNC that his team has reached that mark.
This is a pretty crazy stat seeing as how Williams’ 2005 and 2009 national championship teams lost just four games a piece in those respective seasons.
— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) January 10, 2016
UNC improved to 15-2 on Saturday night after a victory at Syracuse in Jim Boeheim’s first game back on the sideline for the Orange after serving his nine-game suspension.
Although the team has been plagued by injuries to a couple key starters for multiple game stints, the Tar Heels have managed to persevere and become a better team because of it.
Starting guard Marcus Paige missed the first six games of the season due to a broken non-shooting hand. Starting center Kennedy Meeks missed the seven games prior to the game against Syracuse with a bone bruise in his left knee.
All in all, the starting lineup Roy Williams expected to have at the start of the season have started just two games together so far this season.
With Meeks finally working back from injury playing limited minutes against Syracuse but not starting, the Tar Heels are finally looking to gel with all of their players out on the court.
UNC ended the week number six in the AP top-25. But with loses by Oklahoma and Virginia ahead of them, they Tar Heels look to enter this week ranked in the top five.
How have the Tar Heels done so well this season despite not being completely healthy?
UNC is a very balanced team on offense, and as usual boast one of the best offences in the country. On the season, Carolina has six different players that average double digits in scoring.
The entire Carolina starting five is averaging at least 10 PPG. But a big help this season has been junior forward Isaiah Hicks off the bench.
Although he hasn’t started a game all season, Hicks is the sixth Tar Heel averaging double figures and has scored at least 10 off of the bench in eight of the last nine games.
In his most recent game against Syracuse, Hicks had his best game as a Tar Heel scoring 21 points to go along with eight rebounds off the bench.
Hicks is a 6’9”, 235 pound former McDonald’s All-American and North Carolina high school player of the year, and has all the ability to be a superstar. With the injury to Kennedy Meeks, Hicks has taken full advantage of more playing time and his improvement has help take his team to another level.
Not many teams possess this many players who can put the ball in the basket, this gives Roy Williams a number of options when drawing up plays this season.
Having this number of options has allowed for Carolina to shoot a very good percentage as a team on the season averaging .50% shooting on the season.
The past two seasons, senior Marcus Paige has led the Tar Heels in scoring. He has been relied on heavily the past two seasons to score the ball. The past two years, if Paige had a bad game, UNC didn’t have a very good chance of wining.
This season things have been much different as Paige is the second leading scorer for Carolina to this point in the season averaging 15.1 PPG.
The leading scorer so far this season is none other than Senior forward Brice Johnson, who is finally playing up to the level people thought he could last season. In 17 games this season, Johnson is averaging a staggering 16.7 PPG to go along with 10.2 rebounds.
Johnson is making the most of the attempts he gets to score the ball, shooting an outstanding .64.4% from the field.
With three games with at least 25 points this season, Johnson’s work down low for UNC this season has been exactly what the doctor ordered. With his front court mate Kennedy Meeks missing time due to injury his play has been that much more important.
In a game on Jan. 4 at Florida St., Johnson put forth a performance for the ages. Scoring a career high 39 points and another career high 23 rebounds on 14-16 shooting, the 6’9” senior led the Tar Heels to victory with one of the most dominant performances college basketball has ever seen.
D-1 basketball players w/ 35+ Pts, 23+ Reb in a game (last 20 seasons):
Kevin Durant pic.twitter.com/HLEFY5Z292
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 5, 2016
The crazy part of that monster performance from Johnson in UNC’s 106-90 win over FSU, Marcus Paige had a stat line consisting of 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in the quietest 30-point performance you’ll ever see.
The play of these two experienced seniors gives Carolina a huge advantage come tourney time. They have done just about everything in their time at UNC except make a deep tourney run, but expect that to change this season as the Tar Heels have the talent and experience to win a national title.
Photo: Gregor Smith/Flickr