Sam: Time to recount an interesting, if uneventful, season in Carolina hoops. The theme of this year, for me anyway, was “meeting expectations.” The Heels seemingly did that time and time again. They never really performed below what we were expecting from them at the beginning of the year, but they also never really outperformed our expectations to pull off some resume wins. If this season were made into a movie, it would be a really boring ass movie.
Benn: Would it? Sure, now that we’re stepping back and looking at it the season didn’t quite have the highs and lows of past years, but think about it as it progressed.
We went into the year with high expectations and a lofty preseason ranking. Got exposed by a Butler team in Maui causing early season trepidation. Regained confidence in the nonconference before being blown out by a Texas team without its best player, starting the NIT train. The Heels built up some trust going into the ACC docket with a solid win vs. a UNLV team we expected would finish the season better, then immediately found themselves in an 0-2 conference hole with losses to teams who proved to be viable competitors, but at the time we didn’t realize it.
This is where Carolina fans became delusional in one of two ways. It was either the Tar Heels were not even going to make the CBI because Ol’ Roy had lost it and UNC couldn’t get the talent it was once used to, or North Carolina was going to begin in improbable run to a NCAA championship because we all remember the last time UNC was 0-2 in ACC play they won it all in 2009.
Roy and the Tar Heels would level off at this point (although you can make the argument they never peaked or dipped at all through the year) meaning you were stuck in one of your two ridiculous opinions for a couple weeks. That is until that fateful night in Cameron Indoor when small ball became a thing. Yes, Duke won, but P.J. Hairston was now starting! And Roy did something different! Now ushered in the weeks of undeserved arrogance. We all felt great and the new-look Heels seemed unstoppable — until the second Duke game.
At that point I would agree that most Carolina fans finally decided that the season was mediocre by UNC standards and that it wasn’t all that bad but it definitely could have been better. But think of all the lows and highs we did feel, as false as they ultimately were. You say this would be a boring ass movie, I say it would be one of those shallow thrillers that get re-run on TNT for eternity. You’ll always turn it on but you don’t mind walking away.
Sam: You’re right. In the moment, the season was a volatile stock market of ups and downs. After some tough losses, notably Texas, everyone was selling on UNC. UNLV happened and everyone wanted in on the action. Twice they even pulled the roller coaster act on us in the span of one game, the first Duke game and the Kansas game. In fact, those two games could almost serve as microcosms of the whole season. Unlocked potential and amazing ability paired to give us hope for something we didn’t think was possible, but ultimately the Heels fell a bit short of greatness.
Those up-and-down emotions all related to the game results, but while we’re in reflective mode, I’d also like to comment on the likeability of this team. Despite some frustrating play, I really enjoyed watching them. We were able to watch Marcus Paige get incrementally better every game. We saw P.J. go from a bench player who couldn’t hit the broad side of barn as a freshman to a dominant force and leading scorer. We saw glimpses of the future in Brice Johnson’s touch around the basket.
I have to feel a little bad for James Michael McAdoo, who was expected to be “the guy” this year. We found out that he wasn’t quite ready to be the focal point, but as P.J. emerged, even JMM improved in finding a better role and becoming much more efficient. Instead of those 9 for 21 nights, he was converting more like 7 of 10 by the end.
Benn: Funny how media and press (I’ll include us in this generalization) put these unreal expectations on a player like JMM in the preseason based off a couple games where he could play with no abandon on a stacked team and then get disappointed and feel sympathetic toward him when he doesn’t produce. We of course realized this around early in the season but by then it was too late. Luckily it seems like it hasn’t affected him much.
But I kind of wish it had.
This is a likable team, I agree with you there. But it’s likable because some of these youngin’s have been showing actual emotion on the court. Save #JMMFace it was a rare occasion when JMM looked like more than a lamb. That’s why P.J. is so fun to watch. He’s got that Rashad McCants factor about him. Marcus is vocal as well. That was my only gripe with Reggie. He’d get into the action, throw some hand signs up, but was pretty reserved. I’m still going to miss Reggie, but reservations were similar to what kept me from becoming more enamored with Harrison Barnes. The lack of emoting doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t passionate, but it takes more convincing at times.
Sam: Since the departure of Tyler Hansbrough, we’ve definitely seen a lack of emotion on the court for the Heels. I’m not quite sure how to feel about it. In the case of Hansbrough, who was the de facto leader of the team for several years, it was a great asset in how he could inspire his teammates. When Barnes was in Chapel Hill, a definite void existed when the arguably best player was more reserved. Plenty of articles were written about the very topic of “Who will emerge as a leader” for that 2012 team. Luckily for that them, Kendall Marshall’s adept facilitating ability covered up for a lack of leadership. It didn’t matter if someone was playing with emotion or not because he was going to get them the ball in the right spot.
This year, the catalyst was, without question, P.J. When he came off the bench early in the year, he provided an instant spark. Then after the much-ballyhooed move into the starting lineup he emerged as UNC’s best offensive threat. It’s exciting that he’s coming back next year. It could be a special season for him.
If Vegas took wagers on such a thing, I’d bet that P.J. will be the leader of next year’s team, regardless of whether the Heels snag Andrew Wiggins, who would likely be the best all-around player. Knowing that we have a leader already in the clubhouse is a nice feeling. We haven’t had that since the days of Psycho T. In 2010 it was supposed to be who? Marcus Ginyard? In 2011 the general consensus might have been freshman Harrison Barnes, junior Tyler Zeller or, gasp, junior Larry Drew? In both 2012 and 2013 the very question of who the leader would be was a hot topic for comment sections and bloggers alike. I want to get out in front and declare that this year, finally, we have one, and it’s P.J. Hairston.
Benn: Log that under things I would not have said in 2012. I like how that should set up the rest of the team as well.
We already mentioned that taking some of that leadership role off Marcus Paige was a good thing this year, and having P.J. still around to handle the heavy lifting scoring wise in the backcourt means Marcus can focus on facilitating for others and letting the game come to him. There’s going to be a glut of PG talent the next couple years with sophomore Marcus, frosh Nate Britt, possible 3x Mr. Basketball for the state of Florida Joel Berry in the 2014 class and the possible return of Stilman White in 2014 with three years of eligibility left, not to mention Luke Davis still chilling on the sideline. What happens this year between Britt and Marcus will be interesting. It’s crazy that I feel so confident with ball handlers even after losing the nation’s leading assist:TO guy (yeah, Dexter Strickland finished tops in the country in that category).
The 2 is PJ and Leslie McDonald. We know what PJ can do and will be leaning hard on him. Leslie was good for a couple double-digit outings last season, and we’ll need him to do that again as a spark off the bench. I mean, I guess these guys are both the “2,” right? Who’s the 3 left on the team now with Reggie gone? J.P. Tokoto seems to be the only “fit” at the role unless Roy moves PJ to the “3.” But then who does that leave as the starting 2?
I’m not ruling JP’s development out as a player yet but I’m also not comfortable handing the starting role over to him either. You could maybe argue that what Jackson Simmons did last year at times could get him into the token 3 spot as the hustle defender Roy likes to start. This is where we could do a whole schtick about how Andrew “Ender” Wiggins is the perfect fit for this UNC team for this exact reason. We’ll save that for later but seriously, everything on this team is built for an athletic wing who can score. You have an inside presence and solid backcourt. A player with a high skill set could do serious work/damage here, that player just doesn’t seem to be on the roster right now. We don’t fault Reggie for leaving, but man he could have had fun in 2013-2014.
Down in the front court the Heels are all the sudden stacked again, at least on the number of bodies, not that we’re complaining. JMM is back, so is Desmond Hubert, Joel James, Brice Johnson and Simmons. Add two McDonald’s All-Americans to that with Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy “Sean May 2.0” Meeks, who are both expected to contribute immediately, and that’s a lot of big frames. Hicks could be the answer at the 3 with his Brandan Wright/John Henson/Brice Johnson frame but if scouting reports are to be believed he needs to improve his jump shot first, although his defense is apparently already there. I’d expect a possible JMM/Meeks starting line-up which sounds just wonderful right now. Who knows who elevates himself in practice though to get that 5 spot opposite McMug.
All I know is bench squad is going to be deep this year. #BENCHSQUAD
But seriously, who’s the fifth starter after a presumed Paige/Hairston/McAdoo/Meeks line-up? Or am I just off the mark here?
Sam: Well, ideally it’s Wiggins, but he’s the longshot, so let’s work with what we know. Given Roy’s (sometimes frustrating) loyalty to upperclassmen, I think P.J. moves to the three, and Leslie McDonald starts at the two. Leslie’s game is kind of one-dimensional, but as a spot-up shooter he’s pretty good. He even had some great defensive spurts at times last year.
And say P.J. does play small forward, do we really think he would play like a small forward? P.J. was third in made 3-pointers in the ACC last year PLAYING POWER FORWARD. Dude will get his shots.
I think you’re on to something saying Meeks will get the nod. All the scouting reports say he’s a traditional back-to-the-basket center, and we know Roy loves him some traditional back-to-the-basket centers. But I’m going to throw another hat in the ring – Joel James. James is something of a project, but really, he’s one “go-to” move away from being a nice player. He’s really athletic for his size, which is considerable, and if he were a threat on offense it would open up things wonderfully for the Heels. Plus, all that stuff about Roy loving his veterans.
Given that Desmond Hubert got every chance he could have hoped for to earn a starting spot last year, I think he’s missed his opportunity and Roy will be looking for something new. My final starters go like this: 1) Paige 2) McDonald 3) Hairston 4) McMug 5) James.
First guy off the bench? Brice Johnson.
Benn: I could see Leslie getting the start, as well as Joel. At this point it is totally plausible. Brice coming off the bench with his Antawn Jamison-like quick shot would be the offensive spark that Leslie used to occupy and provides a quick sub for Joel in that scenario. It also keeps the freshman trio of Meeks, Hicks and Britt together as a second unit. For them to be practicing together as a squad and coming off the bench together could be huge for chemistry and would limit the fall-off production-wise from first to second team.
As for Desmond, I think he’s just destined to be Byron Saunders 2.0. He’s a talented big body that works hard in practice – which is obviously great for players like Meeks and James – and gets between 0-6 minutes a game as a purely defensive stopper. Of course, Byron has a ring to show for it. One can dream…
My biggest hope is that this team figures itself out earlier than 2012-2013. The constant shuffling was nerve-wracking and at times entertaining, but it did make me pine for those seasons where Roy just essentially plugged and played with the same starters and subs.
Is it too early to be talking about preseason predictions?
I’m a bit worried about those completely unnecessary preseason polls that come out the day after the NCAA Final. I will say though that this year’s preseason spots are more earned than last. ESPN’s Jason King has UNC at 11, Dickie V at 10, SI’s Luke Winn has the Heels at 9 in his power rankings and Seth Davis said they were 15 (pre McAdoo draft decision). Because you hate going into the season with too high of expectations I personally like Davis’ spot, close to where they were heading into 2012-2013 but with games to back it up.
I will say, however, that I EXPECT them to make it out of the first weekend of the 2014 tournament whereas this year I was on record saying I would have been ecstatic had they made it.
Sam: That would mean winning only one more tourney game than this season, so I think reaching the Sweet 16 is definitely a reasonable expectation. With potential big jumps coming from Paige and Hairston, and a more natural role for McAdoo, I think we can think even bigger — like Elite Eight?
To make the Elite Eight, the Heels would likely have to beat a No. 1 or No. 2 seed (or actually be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed themselves). Given that scenario, I’m not ready to declare Elite Eight yet, but depending on how the sophomores progress — namely Paige, James and Johnson — we could get our hopes up this November.
And if Wiggins signs, then it’s Jerry World or bust.
P.J. hanging 29 pts on UVA in 29 minutes with 7 boards at a critical time in the Heels’ schedule.
Keeping it real on the bench – Joel James:
Fandom – Inspired prank by UNC fan putting fight song in every hymnal in Duke Chapel:
The best game can be a loss.
Joel James and J.P. Tokoto doing what they do best.
P.J. is a bad man.
The mis-labeled “UNC Crying/Sad Fan” is really just giving the stank face. Either way, gold.
NC State came through and their fans gave us some NC State Sheeet for the ages.
Miami helps out with our last one.
BEST USE OF VINE
BEST FLOW CHART
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