Tag Archives: Tar Heels

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.

Commentary: Rashad McCants

2004 NCAA 2st Round: Texas v North Carolina

Today ESPN brought Rashad McCants’ story of University of North Carolina’s academic fraud to the forefront of the media. In case you haven’t heard, this morning McCants blew the whistle on UNC’s basketball program, saying that tutors wrote papers for him, and that he only needed to turn in one class to produce a passing grade — classes that were aptly named, “paper classes.”

Obviously the news caused a lot of backlash on both sides. I’ve read comments ranging from the 6th grade responses of, “Why would you tell on us?” to the prototypical, “It happens everywhere,” and also the Blue Devil troll saying “Go Duke!” If what McCants is saying rings true, it could easily mean another NCAA investigation of a school that hasn’t exactly held the highest standard of rule-following the past few years. A bigger issue is if the precedent was set by Butch Davis losing his job over similar circumstances, than Roy Williams might be facing a circumstance akin to Ned Stark: The hero everyone thought was off limits until George RR Martin flipped the proverbial bird, and put his head on the chopping block.

The issue I have is how in the world people are so daft as to think this doesn’t happen on gigantic platform across all of major division I sports. Before I get into the real meat and potatoes of this whole story, I’d like to give a brief description of my pre-college and collegiate life: Before I went to college I graduated from a prestigious private school, in an affluent neighborhood in the Midwest. I then went on to attend Miami University where I graduated with barely above a 3.0, getting at least two C’s on my way to a fifth year. And I did this all without playing a collegiate sport. Pretty impressive resume? I didn’t think so.

I often spent nights rigorously studying only to get a C on an exam. I would spend two weeks writing 60 pages of well-researched, anthropology papers, only to receive a B on half of them. I’m talking late nights, early mornings, and little-to-no sunlight. Again, I did this all while not playing a sport.

I saw friends in college stay in their rooms for days, studying for econ and accounting exams. Teachers waking up at 4 am to get to their student-teaching locations by 7. Again, this was all done without playing a sport.

I don’t consider myself a slouch by any means, and I also don’t think I was academically gifted. I probably worked about as hard as the average  student, and I was supposedly made for college (26 on my ACT and a 3.5 high school GPA) So how is it that people are expecting student-athletes — some of whom have 2.0 GPA’s and scoring 18’s on their ACT — to excel in college? I know if I got those scores and got into any college it would be no less than a miracle.

Almost every season there’s a story about a kid not able to attend a school because they’re “waiting on him to retake his ACT,” because he got a 14 his first go round and has to get past the prerequisite, “18” to be eligible to play (it might even be 16 for some schools). Can you imagine being told that you only needed to get an 18 on your ACT to attend a reputable collegiate institution? I’ll tell you one thing, I would not have tried so hard in my high school Latin courses. An 18 should never be a prerequisite for anything related to college. An 18 should be the prereq for you to be allowed to live by yourself, as you’ve just showcased you can write your name, DOB, and demonstrated a little competency in the English language.

Then there are the people who argue that by giving scholarships to athletes — who are often underprivileged —  colleges are giving them the tools to succeed. The reality is that colleges are putting student-athletes on the highest platform to fail. Imagine getting a D in a class and not only having to tell your parents, but then being constantly bombarded by reporters and coaches about why you can’t play football/basketball. Instead of replying and saying, “Oh I’m sorry have you taken immunology? Cause that course is like learning how to play a flute with your toes.” they have to bare the full weight of disappointment from parents, coaches, and the community at large, not to mention seething reporters who are trying to break a story at their expense. These are kids anywhere from 19-23 years old (sometimes 27 — I’m looking at you Brandon Weeden) and theyhave the accountability of a corporate CEO, as if it’s somehow remarkable that they screwed up in college, a place where, according to some, you’re supposed to screw up.

The system though, is irrevocably broken. How can kids coming from underprivileged backgrounds, who are essentially working full-time jobs in college, be expected to work as hard as someone who’s only job is to study? The argument has been revisited so many times that it’s become stale. Most regular college students go to middle school to prep for high school, they attempt to get good grades and test scores in high school to be eligible for college. “Student-athletes” perform in their given sport as it’s their ticket in, they need not worry about GPA’s or test scores because, inevitably, they will be taken care of. Then as a society we act shocked when they can’t perform academically at a university. I know I’m not the only person who saw this Chris Johnson interview and thought that the guy might have trouble reading, or listened to Jamarcus Russel and thought that there’s no way that guy ever wrote a paper above a 5th grade level. They were recruited to play sports, not to write papers.

Put it this way: if I’m applying for a job and I have horrible credentials, but I tell them I also happened to be the MVP of my high school football team, I would get laughed at and shown the door. Similarly, if I was auditioning to be an actor in a movie and I could act about as well as Bill Belichik, but I told them I was a 4.0 student, I would similarly be told to stop wasting their time. So why, oh why, do we allow academically underachieving individuals into academic centers based on athletic merit? The answer is as simple as we love our sports. So instead of throwing these kids into indentured servitude, let’s hide behind scholarships. That way we can say they get a free education, but instead of teaching them how to be responsible, and contributing members of society, we show them exactly how to backdoor everything, and show them that they’re above the law. One only needs to look at the long list of felonious and bankrupt athletes in the NFL to realize that education has failed.

Rashad’s not the first, and he’s certainly not the last to whistle blow on a major university. And while some universities are doing the right way, the system is still broken, but we get our games and, and student’s can still hyphen an “athlete” to their name and we can keep kidding ourselves that the whole thing is a win-win.