For UNC to have a chance at Miami, James Michael McAdoo needs to continue his upward trajectory. ROBERT WILLETT
SOUTH FLORIDA — And welcome to sunny south Florida, folks, where it’s a balmy 70-some degrees. Getting ready to head down to Coral Gables in a bit for North Carolina at Miami.
Before we get going with the preview, here are a couple things of interest you might want to read. First, a story about P.J. Hairston, and his rededication to basketball. His struggles weren’t limited to on the court a season ago. Second, I used my usual ACC notes column today to dole out dole out some midseason awards. Enjoy.
And now, some thoughts on Tar Heels vs. Hurricanes:
North Carolina (16-6, 6-3) at Miami (18-3, 9-0)
When: 2 p.m.
Where: BankUnited Center, Coral Gables, Fla.
Projected starting lineups
F Julian Gamble 6.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg
F Kenny Kadji 13.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg
G Trey McKinney-Jones 9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Durand Scott 13.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg
G Shane Larkin 12.8 ppg, 4.1 apg
F Desmond Hubert 1.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg
F James Michael McAdoo 15.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg
G Reggie Bullock 14 ppg, 5.6 rpg
G Dexter Strickland 7.7 ppg, 4 rpg
G Marcus Paige 7.4 ppg, 4.5 apg
Player to watch
James Michael McAdoo, sophomore North Carolina
Matching up with Miami is difficult across all positions, but it’s especially difficult in the frontcourt. Hurricanes forward Kenny Kadji is one of the most versatile big men in the country, and center Reggie Johnson, who comes off the bench, is as physically challenging a player as there is in the ACC. The onus, then, will be on McAdoo to be productive on both ends of the floor for UNC. McAdoo seems to have turned a corner recently, and he’s been at his best during UNC’s past two games – the first all season in which he’s scored at least 20 points in back-to-back games. For the Tar Heels to have a shot at the upset today, McAdoo again must be sharp.
Observations: Since losing to Miami in Chapel Hill on Jan. 10, UNC has won six of its past seven games. But the Hurricanes are better than they were a month ago, too. They’ve since welcomed the return of Reggie Johnson, who missed Miami’s first game against UNC with a hand injury. Johnson is averaging 9.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. … UNC coach Roy Williams on Friday emphasized the importance of UNC properly playing Miami’s screens. Two of them left Hurricanes’ shooters wide open late in the first game in Chapel Hill, and Miami made both 3-pointers. … Miami has no shortage of players who can score, but the Hurricanes have won with defense. They’re holding opponents to just 37.8 percent shooting, which ranks third in the ACC and 16th nationally.
--The Hurricanes are not in invincible and will lose a game or two that no one expects them to lose. That’s the nature of college basketball these days. It wouldn’t surprise me if one of those losses comes today. As poorly as UNC started the conference season, the Tar Heels have won six of seven, and they’re better now than when they first played Miami in the Smith Center about a month ago. How much better? This game will tell us a lot.
--Miami is one of the most difficult teams to guard in the league for a couple of reasons. For one, Kenny Kadji, the Hurricanes’ forward, is a matchup nightmare. He has the body of a center, but the game of a small forward. Few bigger guys can guard him properly on the perimeter. Second, Miami uses an array of screens to get open its shooters, and they have a couple of good ones in Trey McKinney Jones and Durand Scott. Down low, Reggie Johnson is back from a hand injury, and Julian Gamble, from Durham, is solid. There are no weaknesses. I’m interested to see how UNC defends these guys.
--One reason I like the Heels’ chances today: James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock have been playing better of late. Especially McAdoo. He’s coming off back-to-back 20-point games for the first time this season. Bullock went through a bit of a lull for a few games, but he snapped out of it with 23 points on Tuesday in that dominant victory against Wake Forest. UNC needs both of them to be at the top of their games today. And for Marcus Paige, the freshman point guard, to play like he has been during the past two games.
Miami has been the better shooting team, better at taking care of the ball, and better at generating scoring chances at the free throw line. North Carolina holds the edge in offensive rebounding percentage, which means the Heels generate more second-chance opportunities.
See you in a few …