Miami v North Carolina

Can North Carolina turn things around before it’s too late?

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There was no doubt that North Carolina would go through an adjustment period given how much talent left Chapel Hill after last season. Losing Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller from last season’s Elite 8 team isn’t something that a program can simply get over, regardless of how well it recruits.

But after their 78-69 home loss to Miami last night, dropping Roy Williams’ team to 10-5 overall and 0-2 in ACC play, how much trouble is North Carolina in with a trip to Tallahassee next on the slate?

The last time North Carolina began ACC play 0-2 was during the 2008-09 season, a run that ended with a national championship. Two of the differences between that team and this one: a true star in Tyler Hansbrough and an experienced point guard in Ty Lawson.

Unless Barnes were to stun the masses and return to school this group was destined to be without a star player, regardless of the preseason hype bestowed upon sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo. Having an experienced hand at the point can help alleviate some of those issues, and upon first glance Marshall was to be that guy.

But when you’re a projected lottery pick (Marshall was picked 13th by the Phoenix Suns) it’s tough to return to school, and few (if any) will blame Marshall for making that decision. A glimpse of what North Carolina was without Marshall was seen during the NCAA tournament when he suffered a broken wrist in the Tar Heels’ win over Creighton, as one of the nation’s best offensive teams had a tougher time scoring.

Without Marshall a team capable of winning a national title ultimately fell to Kansas in the Elite 8, and that was with players like Barnes, Henson and Zeller at coach Williams’ disposal. With Kendall Marshall gone UNC handed the reins of the offense to freshman Marcus Paige, and while the scoring hasn’t dropped off much the Tar Heels are turning the ball over at a higher rate (18.6% turnover percentage; 16.4% in 2011-12 per statsheet.com).

Although McAdoo might be the only star-level player on the squad, players such as Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston do have significant ability and likely would have flourished with an elite playmaker such as Marshall running the attack.

Players such as McAdoo, Paige, Hairston and Bullock certainly don’t lack for talent, but which of the players in the rotation have the ability to step up and be the feature option for North Carolina? Which player (or players) has the ability to step up and be the leader this young group needs?

Bullock attempted to take that step, calling a players-only meeting after their loss at Virginia, and as one of their most consistent players it makes some sense that Bullock would be the one to do so. Another player UNC needs to step up and lead is senior guard Dexter Strickland, who has scored just four points (2-of-8 FG) over the last two games.

By January most teams that become factors in March have their roles well-defined and that’s yet to happen with North Carolina. The Tar Heels need to solve that issue before its too late.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

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AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org