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In order to be successful No. 16 North Carolina needs more from its big men

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When his former player and longtime assistant Jerod Haase was hired as the head coach at UAB, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams threw his protege a bone by agreeing to play a game at UAB. And on Sunday night the Blazers took full advantage of the opportunity, knocking off the 16th-ranked Tar Heels 63-59 behind a 25-point effort from junior Chad Frazier.

The problem for North Carolina: they were outclassed on the glass. UAB out-rebounded North Carolina 52-37 (Fahro Alihodzic grabbed 13 of those 52 boards) with 21 of those boards coming on the offensive end, which works out to an offensive rebounding percentage of 44.7%. The Blazers may have been outscored 13-12 in second chance points, but those rebounding numbers made a major difference as UAB built a lead that reached 15 points late in the first half.

Just one week ago there was optimism regarding North Carolina’s play in a win over Louisville, with sophomore guard Marcus Paige being the biggest reason why. UAB was able to limit Paige to 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting, with 11 of those points scored in the second half. J.P. Tokoto was the biggest reason why UNC was able to remain within striking distance at the half, as he scored nine of his team-high 17 points.

If anything was learned on Sunday night it’s that regardless of who the Tar Heels have on the perimeter and how much Paige scores, the big men have to show up on a nightly basis. That includes James Michael McAdoo, who accounted for just six points (3-for-13 FG) and four rebounds against UAB. Simply put that kind of effort won’t get the job done, especially when considering the fact that he entered the game averaging 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Joel James, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks combined to contribute 19 points and 19 rebounds against UAB, and while each has shown flashes at various points in the season are any really in position to be “the man” inside right now? Most would answer “no” to that question, and with that being the case North Carolina needs a collective effort inside if they’re to be successful.

Would it be nice to know the statuses of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald? Yes, and their return would give North Carolina two more perimeter shooters to help Paige carry the offensive load. But the absence of Hairston and McDonald shouldn’t have that much of an impact on how the big men rebound, and if North Carolina is to play at or close to the level they displayed last weekend they have to receive better play from the front court.

VIDEO: Winthrop’s Keon Johnson goes coast-to-coast for buzzer-beater

Winthrop's Keon Johnson (5) shoots a layup while defended by Coastal Carolina's Warren Gillis during the first half of the Big South Conference Championship college basketball game Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Conway, S.C. Coastal Carolina won 81-70. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
(AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
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Winthop earned a Big South road win at Radford on Saturday afternoon as junior guard Keon Johnson raced coast-to-coast and buried the game-winner at the buzzer.

The 5-foot-7 Johnson erupted for 32 points in the win and he’s been one of the most potent mid-major scorers in the country this season. The win moves Winthrop to 18-7 on the season and their 10-4 mark in the Big South ties them with UNC Asheville atop the conference standings.

(H/T: LiveonASN)

After blowout of South Carolina, is No. 22 Kentucky a Final Four contender?

Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis (3) guards the ball after a rebound during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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It only took 2:26 for official Doug Sirmons to plant two technical fouls on Kentucky head coach John Calipari, and that may have been the worst thing that could have happened to South Carolina.

He poked the bear, and the result was that a ticked off No. 22 Wildcat team proceeded to run the Gamecocks out of their own gym, 89-62.

The star of the show was interim head coach Tyler Ulis, who put together as dominating of a performance as you’ll ever see out of a player that stands 5-foot-9. Ulis finished with 27 points and 12 assists, hitting 4-for-8 from three and turning the ball over just once.

Marcus Lee added 11 points and 13 boards, including six on the offensive end, and Jamal Murray had his customary 26 points on 9-for-21 shooting, but the story of this game was Ulis.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seed a player under 6-foot capable of dominating a game the way that Ulis can dominate. Murray can take over with the best of them — we saw it against Florida and Ohio State — but when it comes to the NCAA tournament, this Kentucky team will go as far as Ulis carries them.

And based on the way that he’s played in the last six weeks, that could end up being pretty far. In SEC play, Ulis is averaging 19.4 points and 7.6 assists. He’s scored at least 17 points in 12 of the last 14 games and has notched as least five assists in all 14. He just orchestrated a total mollywhopping of a Frank Martin-coached team that was tied for first place in the SEC while playing without his head coach and on the road.

The issue with Kentucky is the same today as it was a month ago. They’re a two-man team with an inconsistent supporting cast. When their two studs play like this, they can beat anyone in the country. When they don’t, they can struggle against anyone.

But here’s the thing: When Ulis is playing the way that he’s played of late, they don’t really need all that much from their supporting cast. Derek Willis needs to be able to space the floor. Lee and Skal Labissiere need to be able to hold their own against opposing big men.

And when that happens?

Kentucky is clearly the best team in the SEC and good enough to be able to win four straight in the Big Dance and get to a Final Four.