Balancing Act

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo represent No. 18 North Carolina's primary scoring options, the offense is most effective when other Tar Heels join the festivities.

As UNC's second-round matchup with No. 11 seed Providence on Friday approaches, the talking heads will undoubtedly highlight Paige's second-half exploits and McAdoo's steady presence in his unconventional post role. After all, Paige leads the team in scoring (17.4 ppg) and McAdoo (14.2 ppg) provides the counterbalance on the interior.

A more expansive balance, however, has bolstered the offense's efficiency and taken pressure off a defense that was inconsistent during ACC play.

In its 23 wins, UNC has averaged 79.7 points per game as five players have scored at least 9.8 points per outing.

In nine losses, however, Paige and McAdoo were the only Tar Heels to meet that threshold as the team managed just 67.6 points per game. Brice Johnson was third in scoring in those defeats with a 9.6-points-per-game average.

"Our whole team is aware that we want to have balance," Paige told reporters on Tuesday. "We've had that in some parts of this year and other times we've probably had to rely to heavily on jump shots and then myself and James Michael creating shots."

Paige and McAdoo have combined take 41.6 percent of UNC's field goal attempts in those nine losses, while taking 38.2 percent in the 23 wins.

UNC's loss at Syracuse on Jan. 11 provides an extreme example of the imbalance. Paige and McAdoo combined for 32 points on 51.9 percent shooting (14-of-27); their teammates, on the other hand, totaled 13 points on 25 percent shooting (6-of-24).

At their best – in a 105- 72 over Wake Forest on Feb. 22 – the Tar Heels not named Paige nor McAdoo scored 81 points on 67.4 percent shooting (29-of-43).

The key, according to Paige, is in UNC's ability to get out in transition. J.P. Tokoto's versatility and athleticism is lethal on the break, while Kennedy Meeks and Johnson are able to establish early position in the post.

"I think it starts with us running the ball better," Paige said. "We've done a terrible job of getting out into transition lately, and then in the halfcourt offense, usually the ball ends up in my hands or James Michael's hands and we have to create a play. So it would be nice to get into transition and get everybody going."

One area of concern entering Friday's NCAA Tournament opener is the recent play of both Leslie McDonald and Meeks.

McDonald has been inconsistent throughout his career, and that's continued in his final season in Chapel Hill. Foul trouble has been a consistent issue for UNC's secondary perimeter threat in recent games, however.

McDonald has tallied 20 fouls over his last five games and has fouled out of two of those contests. He's therefore been a nonfactor in three of UNC's last five outings, scoring a combined seven points against N.C. State, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.

"He's got to play better," Williams said of McDonald. "He's got to make some shots and be more effective for us."

Meeks's troubles, unfortunately, are less simple to correct. The freshman forward is averaging two points per game on 25 percent shooting (3-of-12) over his last four, and although illness played a role in his play at Duke, there's more involved.

When asked on Tuesday if anything was wrong with Meeks, such as the stomach bug lingering, Williams shook his head and said: "Just bad play."

For UNC to advance to New York for the Sweet 16 next weekend, Paige and McAdoo are going to need plenty of help on the offensive end.

"Everybody's got to understand now that if you don't play well, you don't get a do-over," Williams said. "If you don't play well now, you go home."

 

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