Tag Archives: North Carolina Basketball

March Madness – From Pistol Pete to a Magic Carpet Ride

I didn’t begin to grow my hair, longer than the crew cut I sported at the time, because of the influence of rock groups I listened to, like Steppenwolf and Cream, who were popular at the time. It was due to a basketball player who was my idol, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. I loved the way Pistol Pete’s shaggy brown hair flopped as he brought the ball up the court for his team, the LSU Tigers.

Freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity back in 1966, so Pete’s first year as a starter for the Bayou Bengals was the fall of 1967. And there were very few games that were televised back then, but when there was a game on television I was watching. I couldn’t wait for Saturday afternoons and the SEC game of the week.

I was also a sophomore on our high school’s team in ’67 (we didn’t have a varsity and junior varsity). We had an “A” team and a “B” team and I was on the “B” team.

The problem was, we had to cut our hair to play sports at Wilcox County High School in Camden, AL. I began to let mine grow in 1968 which was my second year on the “B” team (that team went 17-0 by the way). But come November and basketball practice, whack, we had to get that hair cut. Mine wasn’t trimmed short enough so I had to go back and get it snipped again. And friends, it wasn’t very long to begin with.

The fall of 1968 was also when I had my first kiss, my first taste of whiskey, and my first cigarette. I’ve since given up the cigarettes.

So those were heady days. And as the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band go, “Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”

It has now been 50 years since Pistol Pete Maravich was in his first varsity season down in Baton Rouge. I was fortunate to witness him play the first game in what became Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn on January 11, 1969. The home team Tigers won that game, 90-71. Sorry Pete.

And, it is noteworthy that LSU never made the NCAA Tournament during Maravich’s playing days. They did receive an invitation to the NIT his senior year.

March wasn’t exactly bursting with madness back in those days. In fact, there were only 23 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But, the UCLA Bruins were in the middle of a three-year title run under the tutelage of John Wooden and the leadership of their star center, Lew Alcindor, who was later to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yes, it’s a long way from those 23 teams, from 50 years ago, to the field of 68 that we grapple with today, and there are 10 of the usual suspects (North Carolina, Princeton, West Virginia, Dayton, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, New Mexico State, SMU, and UCLA) in both sets of brackets.

But interest is at a fever pitch, in the year 2017, and we are all caught in the throes of what is now termed “March Madness.”

The “Sweet 16” will have begun play by the time you read this, and here is the way I see it shaking down.

In chronological order:

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon

Gonzaga over West Virginia

Kansas over Purdue

Arizona over Xavier

North Carolina over Butler

South Carolina (Welcome Cinderella!) over Baylor

UCLA over Kentucky

Wisconsin over Florida

 

Elite Eight

South Carolina over Wisconsin

Gonzaga over Arizona

Kansas over Michigan

UCLA over North Carolina

 

That leaves us with a Final Four of:

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

Kansas vs. UCLA

 

So let’s fasten our seat belts as we approach the final turn on that magic carpet ride… ”March Madness.”

 

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

NCAA Tournament: East Region Notebook

As usual, there have been some crazy upsets in the NCAA Tournament this year. Nothing that has come out of the East Region has been too surprising. The most surprising game was that Stephen F. Austin beat West Virginia, but Brad Underwood would have his guys ready. Saturday kicks off another round of exciting games.

Indiana vs. Kentucky

This game starts at 4 p.m. today. This is going to be one of the top three games of the weekend. Two of the nation’s top point guards will face off.  It will be a battle of Indiana’s offense who shot 65 percent their first game of the tournament and hit 10 3-pointers. Against the Wildcat defense, who had an NCAA Tournament single game to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised if Indiana won.

http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/preview?gameId=400872166

North Carolina vs. Providence

North Carolina will face Providence at 8:30 today. This will be a great matchup, but UNC has length on offense and defense to beat the two best offensive players on the Providence team. Johnson is big inside and they do not have an answer for him. I see UNC winning this game.

http://campusinsiders.com/news/north-carolina-vs-providence-prediction-03-17-2016

Notre Dame vs. Stephen F.  Austin

Notre Dame and Stephen F. Austin will face off tomorrow at 1:40 p.m. Notre Dame surprised people when if came back to beat Michigan in the second half. Stephen F. Austin beat West Virginia pretty big on Friday night. If Thomas Walkup has the same night he did on Friday, The Lumberjacks will win the game.

http://campusinsiders.com/news/notre-dame-vs-stephen-f-austin-picks-03-18-2016

Wisconsin vs. Xavier

Wisconsin will take on Xavier tomorrow night at 7:40. The Badgers first game was very low scoring. In order to beat Xavier they need to have a better offensive game. Xavier had a very high scoring game against Weber State. This matchup isn’t a very good one for Wisconsin because Wisconsin struggles against the three and Xavier can hit threes. Xavier should easily win this game.

http://winnersandwhiners.com/games/ncaab/3-20-2016/wisconsin-vs-xavier-32016-prediction/

Tar Heels have the look of a Title Contender

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.

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.

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

North Carolina Tar Heels: 2015-16 Season Preview

Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels had another disappointing end to their season a year ago losing in the Sweet 16 to Wisconsin.

After beating Harvard and a very respectable Arkansas team to reach he Sweet 16, the Tar Heels had to get through Frank Kaminsky and the #1 seeded Wisconsin Badgers to reach the Elite 8. For North Carolina, a win would have sent them to their sixth regional final since 2007.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 26 Div I Men's Championship - Sweet Sixteen - North Carolina v Wisconsin
J.P. Tokoto, (13) is the only Tar Heel starter not returning this season after deciding to leave early for the NBA draft.

The #4 seed Tar Heels couldn’t have asked for anything more in the first half of play. Both teams struggled on offense and the game remained close (33-31 at the half) with National Player of Year Frank Kaminsky struggling to get going.

The second half was a different ball game. The play picked up on the offense end, as both teams were more efficient scoring the ball. The Tar Heels had a lead early in the second half, but the Badgers turned it on and took control of the game for much of the second half.

Junior guard Marcus Paige got scorching hot from three-point range late to cut the Badger lead to one with 54 seconds to play. However UNC couldn’t get the stop it needed at the end and Wisconsin sealed the game at the free throw line. It was a 79-72 defeat for UNC in a game they feel they could have easily came away victorious.

This season, the Tar Heels return nine of their top ten scorers’ from that Sweet 16 squad. They are tied atop the preseason USA Today Coaches poll with Kentucky as the #1 team in the country.

With so much experience returning from last year’s team, there are very high expectations for a team that is used to having them. Sanctions cloud over the program from a pending investigation of an academic scandal, so this could be the last chance for this group of players to win a national championship after never advancing past the Sweet 16.

marcuspaige-duke
UNC guard Marcus Paige, (5) is one of the top returning players in college basketball. 

For Roy Williams’, this is his most talented Tar Heel squad since the 2011-12 team led by first round picks, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller. Williams has two national championships as the head coach at North Carolina, but none since the 2009 season. There is pressure on Roy this year to at least get his team to a final four.

North Carolina is led by senior combo guard Marcus Paige, and as he goes so will the Tar Heels. Paige is coming off of a season when he was plagued by injuries almost the entire season. After averaging 17.5 points on 44% shooting in his sophomore season, plantar fasciitis, as well as an ankle injury slowed him in his junior campaign to the tune of just 14.1 points on 41% shooting.

Paige has the ability to create for himself as well as others, also leading the Tar Heels in assist with 4.5 assists per game last season. He can score off the dribble, as well as make it rain from long range. If Paige can stay healthy, he has ACC, and even national player of the year capability.

However, bad news has recently come to light regarding Paige and the Tar Heels. Paige, (who was selected as Co-Preseason Player of the year in the ACC by the Sports Media Association) broke a bone in his non-shooting hand at practice on Tues., Nov. 3rd. Paige will be out for three-to-four weeks as he recovers from the injury. This is a huge blow for the Tar Heels as Paige is the most experienced playmaker, as well as best shooter on the UNC roster.

With Paige out, UNC will look more to Brice Johnson, a 6’9 senior is also a very good player for the Tar Heels. Manning the power forward spot, Johnson averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds a season ago. Expect both those numbers to rise this season with another full season of experience under his belt. Johnson and Paige are the engines that make the Tar Heel’s go, and Johnson will be looked at to do even more with Paige on the shelf to start the season.

Johnson has a good post up game with a fade-away jumper and jump hook. He uses both of these shots to perfection when Carolina needs a score down low. The combination of Johnson and Meeks down low makes for one of the most formidable duos in the country.

justinjackson-unc
North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, (44) is a candidate for a breakout season as a sophomore. 

The Tar Heels return four starters in Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson, and Kennedy Meeks. All four players return averaging at least double digits in scoring. With the versatile J.P. Tokoto unexpectedly bolting for the NBA draft, Carolina will have a couple options as to how to replace him.

Former McDonald’s All-American Justin Jackson emerged as a potential star towards the end of last season as a true freshman. At 6’8, Jackson has range from the three-point line, and also a silky smooth floater. Jackson will be one of the most important players for Carolina this season.

Another former high school All-American, Joel Berry possesses all the skills of a traditional Roy Williams point guard. He is very poise running the show, can pass the ball, as well as shoot from the outside. A starting line-up consisting of Berry, Paige, Jackson, Johnson, and Meeks would be one of the best five in the country. We’ll have to wait to see this potential line-up as Paige is out for the first couple weeks.

With Paige out, UNC will almost surely start Berry at point guard. Doing this would mean keeping Justin Jackson at the shooting guard, and inserting another former McDonald’s All-American in sophomore forward Theo Pinson into a starting role. After being injured for much of last season, Pinson has a lot to prove as far as what he can bring to this Tar Heels team this season.

Juniors Nate Britt, (who is another option to start at point guard with Paige out) and Isaiah Hicks will be huge contributors off the bench. Hicks is a player that could make a huge leap this season, and there are rumbling he could even crack the starting five. As a former top recruit nationally, Hicks is a traditional Roy Williams type big man. Running the floor, crashing the offensive glass, and playing rock solid defense are all qualities Hicks possesses. Look for those qualities to earn him a bigger role this season.

Regardless of who’s in the starting line-up, this season’s North Carolina Tar Heels will have the ability to play in waves. With up to five or six solid contributors off of the bench, Williams will have the opportunity to bring five in and five out at a time. This is something that he is known for doing, but not having as much quality depth the past couple seasons has kept him from using this strategy.

North Carolina opens their season in Annapolis, MD., at the Veterans Day Classic on Nov. 13 against Temple. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.

The Paige injury isn’t a good start to the season for the Tar Heels. But once healthy, look for this veteran North Carolina team to be in the thick of things come March.