UNC coach Roy Williams has preached the importance of playing with a sense of urgency. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — Been somewhat of a slow week here in Chapel Hill, what with North Carolina having its off week early. Not that it’s really been an off week. The Tar Heels practiced Monday and Tuesday, took off Wednesday, and are back at it today in preparation of their (important) game against Maryland on Saturday.
Now’s as good of a time as any to take a look at some questions facing this UNC team. So without further delay, here’s a little interview with myself on all things Tar Heels:
Andrew Carter: It’s early yet, but how are UNC’s NCAA tournament hopes shaping up?
Andrew Carter: They could be stronger. Obviously, UNC is a brand name and whether the NCAA tournament selection committee admits it or not, I think that matters somewhat on selection Sunday. But what would matter more would be some victories against good teams. UNC entered the week ranked 43rd in the RPI, and its victory against UNLV is the only one it has against a top-50 opponent. There are good opportunities ahead for UNC – two games against both Duke and N.C. State – but the Heels have to fare well against the middle of the ACC, too, and against teams like, say, Maryland.
AC: When will P.J. Hairston start starting?
AC: Doesn’t appear that he will any time soon. Hairston was the best player on the court during UNC’s 77-72 victory at Florida State on Saturday, but keep in mind that 23-point performance came after he scored 13 points combined during the Heels’ previous two games. And those two games came after Hairston scored 15 – and played terrific defense – in the win against UNLV. In other words: Hairston hasn’t been all that consistent. And even if he does become more consistent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Hairston will become a starter. During his weekly radio show earlier this week, UNC coach Roy Williams said he liked bringing Hairston off the bench.
AC: So has Desmond Hubert solidified himself as the fifth starter?
AC: Seems so. Hubert has started the past five games, though he continues to share minutes with Joel James and Brice Johnson and others, when the Tar Heels have gone small. Hubert has his limitations but he has seemed more comfortable offensively in recent weeks, and he remains a capable defensive player and rebounder. He has played double-digit minutes during the Heels’ past five games.
AC: Still, the Heels have continue to have some problems on the interior. Why?
AC: Glad you asked. UNC’s main problem on the inside is that every player is raw in his own way, and no one is all that complete of a player. At least not yet. Joel James has the physical tools to be successful, but he hasn’t appeared comfortable on the court since the first couple of games. Brice Johnson has been UNC’s best option down low on offense, but defensively he’s a liability. And while Hubert can play defense and rebound, he has a difficult time on offense. Williams wants balance and wants interior scoring, but there just aren’t a lot of reliable options.
AC: So how can the Heels best maximize their talent?
AC: Therein lies Williams’ primary challenge. His best teams at UNC have all featured dominant post players – the kind he doesn’t have this season. But what does UNC have an abundance of? Shooters and wing players. Williams has made clear he doesn’t want to rely solely on the outside shot, but against teams that have a lot of size and skill on the interior, that might be UNC’s best option.
AC: At 11-5 and 1-2 in the ACC, it’s fair to say the Tar Heels haven’t exactly been as good as many expected. What’s holding this team back? Talent? Chemistry? Something else?
AC: I’ve seen some people say it’d be absurd to think that UNC doesn’t have a talent issue, and I tend to disagree. Yes, a lot of coaches would love to have UNC’s roster. Yes, UNC has no shortage of guys who arrived in Chapel Hill with outstanding high school resumes. Looking at the individual parts, it’s difficult to understand why UNC isn’t better. But it’s about how those parts fit together. The Heels have a good number of perimeter players who are similar. They have a shortage of guys who can score in the post. And they’re reliant on freshmen who should all be good in time, but who probably aren’t quite there yet. Finally, James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock – the two guys UNC needs to play well night in and night out – rarely have played well in the same game together.
AC: But is there hope?
AC: Sure. But as Williams has said a time or two, UNC has to play with intelligence, and it has to play at or very near its potential. And that means, too, that the Heels have to play with a sense of urgency and purpose. They’re not good enough just to coast.