It’s the end of the first semester and No. 14 North Carolina is still waiting for a decision from the NCAA on the eligibility status of guards P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald.
The Tar Heels have been without the duo for the first nine games of the season, and they will both likely be in street clothes for Wednesday’s game against Texas. Rick Barnes will be on the other sideline tomorrow night inside the Dean Dome, and he can understand what Roy Williams and UNC are going through.
Last season, Barnes had to wait until Dec. 21 to know whether or not he would have sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo in his lineup. Kabango was initially suspended for the season for receiving impermissible benefits. It took until late December for the NCAA to revise the suspension to 23 games.
“I imagine what Roy is going through,” Barnes told Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News on Monday. “And it’s not a lot of fun.”
Kabongo played 11 games averaging 14.6 points, 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game before going undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft. Barnes mentioned the wait weighed heavily on Kabongo.
“I don’t think any of us really can understand the emotional stress,” Barnes added. “We are dealing with kids. This is what they love to do. It’s a big part of their lives. When it’s taken away from them, the emotional stress – it weighed on him very heavily.”
Hairston and McDonaled combined for close to 22 points per game last season. Without them in the lineup, UNC has become the most puzzling team in college basketball. The Tar Heels struggled against Holy Cross and Richmond, lost at home to Belmont, but has also defeated Louisville and Kentucky with another win over top-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing.
Texas and North Carolina tip at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night.
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.