Early reality checks hit UNC, ACC
Posted November 20, 2013
Since almost all college basketball teams constantly evolve as the season goes along, there’s only so much that can be read into the eventful first few days of this ACC season.
Nonetheless, we’ve already seen enough to realize that some of those bold preseason predictions for unprecedented league success aren’t likely to be on target.
- Belmont 83, UNC 80
- Indiana State 83, Notre Dame 70
- Toledo 95, Boston College 92
- Oregon State 90, Maryland 83
- Syracuse 56, St. Francis (NY) 50
- VCU 59, Virginia 56
Taking into account that Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia all began as top-25 teams with expectations for deep NCAA runs and Boston College (1-3) was seen as a lock to improve last season’s 16-17 record, November thus far has been a stinging reality check.
None of the losses spell doom, but the outcomes do amount to clear indications that the conference’s overall clout hardly is overwhelming.
Even prohibitive league favorite Duke, which lost to powerful Kansas and struggled through Tuesday’s 83-74 win over ECU in Durham, has displayed some early defensive issues.
Paige’s displacement hurting heels
Carolina’s ceiling will rise dramatically with the return of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.
But since no one is saying when (or even if) that day will arrive, upcoming games against Richmond on Saturday and Alabama-Birmingham (Dec. 1) could be troublesome. Later there are games against Michigan State (Dec. 4), Kentucky (Dec. 14) and Texas (Dec. 18).
While Hairston’s absence has been the focal point of conversation and conjecture, McDonald’s presence has done almost as much to disrupt the court chemistry. In fact, it’s led to a bona fide calamity.
Without McDonald on the wing, playmaker Marcus Paige has been forced into that role while freshman Nate Britt, who obviously isn’t ready yet, and Luke Davis have assumed Paige’s duties at the point.
Having to use your experienced point-guard at another position is never a good thing and apt to create long-range turmoil.
But without McDonald’s experience and shooting ability, Roy Williams has no choice except to put his best players on the court in patchwork patterns. After all, it’s not as though home-court losses in November are going to be dismissed in February and March.
McDonald’s absence also has resulted in more playing time for sophomore J.P. Tokoto, whose 12 missed free throws against Belmont startled many Tar Heels fans. But again, Williams no doubt understood the risk of having Tokoto on the court in close games. In 35 games last season, he made only 10 of 26 (38.5 percent), but there just are not viable options without McDonald and Hairston.
With Hairston and McDonald, the Heels should be a top-10 team. But without at least one of them in the lineup, any game against an above-average opponent is going to be an adventure.