Roy Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels were scheduled to play just two games in the Bahamas this weekend, and the quick trip from Chapel Hill did not get off to the best of starts. With missed free throws down the stretch and poor perimeter shooting being the culprits, the Tar Heels dropped an 84-83 decision to the Providence Storm Friday night.
North Carolina had no such issues against the Bahamas All-Stars, as they dominated from start to finish in the 109-52 victory. As a team the Tar Heels shot nearly 63 percent from the field, and they finished the game shooting 7-for-13 from three after making just three of their twenty-five attempts on Friday.
Isaiah Hicks leading three UNC players in double figures with 19 points, with freshman Justin Jackson (16 points) and senior Desmond Hubert (12) joining Hicks, and in total eight players scoring at least seven points against their overmatched opponents.
Free throw and perimeter shooting were issues for North Carolina for most of the 2013-14 season, as they finished the year ranked dead last in the ACC in the former and ninth in the conference in the latter category. So those will be areas they’ll look to improve upon heading into 2014-15, and the improved perimeter depth should help matters.
After dealing with the P.J. Hairston fiasco at the beginning last season, Marcus Paige and company ultimately won 24 games and fell just short of reaching the Sweet 16. With Paige leading the many returnees and a freshman class heavy on perimeter talent (Jackson, Joel Berry and Theo Pinson), the expectation heading into 2014-15 is that North Carolina will field a far more formidable team. North Carolina was able to bounce back from Friday’s disappointing performance Saturday, finishing their short trip to the Bahamas on a positive note.
“Our guys knew we played poorly yesterday and they came out with much better focus,” Williams said in the school’s recap of the game. “We didn’t finish last night the way we wanted to, but today we were much more in tune with what we wanted to do.
“We were much better defending on the ball, were more unselfish with the ball and our shots went in the basket, which was also a product of better passing.”
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.