UNC’s Marcus Paige is no Lorenzo Brown.
He’s also no Kendall Marshall, the NBA draft pick who made passing an art form during his time in Chapel Hill. Then again, neither is he Larry Drew II, Marshall’s predecessor, who mis-handled the UNC offense and sulked away to join UCLA when he was benched.
Paige is a freshman with a good head on his shoulders, he knows what Roy Williams’ team needs, but he’s just not experienced enough to provide it yet. As a result, the Tar Heels are reeling badly, joining the Kentucky Wildcats on the list of once-powerful blue blood teams that might end up in the NIT for want of a floor leader.
UNC lost badly against No. 18 N.C. State, 91-83 in Raleigh, and the spectacular play of ACC player of the year candidate Lorenzo Brown had the effect of rubbing the Heels’ collective faces in their deficiencies. Brown had 20 points and eleven sometimes spectacular assists as he sliced and diced the Carolina defense.
To be fair, there’s a bit of a chicken/egg conundrum going on here. Are the Heels struggling because Paige is inexperienced, or is Paige’s inexperience more easily exposed because his teammates aren’t up to snuff? It’s a little bit of both. The Wolfpack, for instance, have a nice balance of shooters and slashers, backed up by dirty work specialist Richard Howell. The whole is orchestrated by Brown, who was tabbed from day one of the season as one of the league’s stars. If they ever get that defensive discipline thing figured out, the sky’s the limit.
This year’s Heels don’t know who will take the big shots. That’s pretty tough to overcome. Worse yet, if they do find that reliable shooter, they won’t know how to get him open and who can make the pass that leads to the bucket. That may be a little too much for one team to overcome in a league like the ACC, with just twelve games left before the postseason begins.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.