Hoopsbag: North Carolina edition

Each week, I’ll try to answer your queries, comments, raves and rants about North Carolina hoops (and other related teams/issues/topics). Send your interrogatives by visiting this page. You can also email me at bylinerp@gmail.com or contact me via Twitter at @bylinerp.

Two games into the season, there are a lot more questions than answers about the 2-0 Tar Heels. This road trip should be interesting ...

Adam from Chapel Hill, N.C., writes: Your biggest concern about UNC after its first two games?

Pickeral: Outside shooting. The Tar Heels are 7-for-27 on 3-pointers thus far, with freshman Marcus Paige 0-for-6 in that category, sophomore P.J. Hairston 1-for-7 and redshirt junior Leslie McDonald 1-for-3. UNC needs more connections out of Hairston and McDonald, in particular.

Yates from Raleigh, N.C., writes: Could UNC's game at home against Maryland [Jan. 19] possibly be a surprise struggle for the team considering their poor history on MLK weekend along with it being right after a sure-to-be tough match-up at FSU?

Pickeral: It could be a struggle -- and I’m not sure that would be such a surprise. Not only do the Terps have a potentially-breakout 7-footer in Alex Len and a talented guard in Nick Faust (a member of last season’s ACSMA’s All-Freshman team), the addition of Xavier transfer Dez Wells instantly moved Maryland into the NCAA tournament conversation.

Plus, it’s really too early to tell what we’re going to see out of UNC game-in, game-out: How will Paige hold up? How consistently will the Tar Heels hit outside shots? How will UNC’s inexperienced big guys handle bigger, more-experienced guys?

I’m not convinced that MLK weekend magically makes the Tar Heels play worse, but you do have a point about that trend. By my count, UNC is 2-7 on MLK weekend during the Roy Williams era. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 2004 -- beat Connecticut 86-83

  • 2005 -- lost at Wake Forest, 95-82

  • 2006 -- lost to Miami, 81-70

  • 2007 -- lost at Virginia Tech, 94-88

  • 2008 -- lost to Maryland, 82-80

  • 2009 -- beat Miami 82-65

  • 2010 -- lost at Georgia Tech, 73-71

  • 2011 -- lost at Georgia Tech, 78-58

  • 2012 -- lost at FSU, 90-57

Ivy from Durham, N.C., writes: I know UNC’s in the Maui Invitational next week, but do they already have a holiday tournament scheduled for next year? And the year after that?

Pickeral: Yes and yes. And the year after that. (And probably the year after that, too.)

UNC associate athletics director Larry Gallo said last year that UNC had agreements (although not necessarily signed contracts) to play in holiday tournaments through 2015. They are:

  • 2013 – The Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, which is played at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

  • 2014 – The Battle 4 Atlantis, played on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

  • 2015 – The College Basketball Experience Tournament, which will include two games at the Smith Center before two final games in Kansas City.

And then in 2016, I expect the Tar Heels will return to Maui; Williams likes to play there as often as possible, meaning every four years.

Jeff Davis from Branford, Conn., writes: Long time 'Heels fan who lived in the Triangle for years. Still shaking off last year's disappointment and just tuning in again. No mention of P.J. Hairston in G-W game but his name is on the roster. Did something happen to him? Thank you.

Pickeral: Jeff, Hairston was 1-for-6 (0-for-5 on 3-pointers) against Gardner-Webb and 2-for-8 (1-for-2) against Florida Atlantic. Not the start he was hoping for. You can find everyone’s game-by-game stats here.

J. Welch from Goldsboro, N.C., writes: I’m probably in the EXTREME minority here but I think the starting five should be Dex, P.J., Reggie, McAdoo, and Joel James. I think people are underestimating Dex because of the injury and because he's not a "true point guard," [but] people forget he was a backup during the NIT year, and he's physically strong enough to defend ACC caliber PG's, plus he has Ty Lawson type speed. Furthermore I think starting Marcus Paige is mistake, even though he is a "true point guard," he's not physically strong enough to defend ACC-caliber PGs, and much similar to Larry Drew, he is coming behind a great PG in Marshall (Ty Lawson in Larry’s case) and that pressure may break his confidence. ... I maybe wrong but I doubt it. I think Dex is prime to break out this year as a player and as a leader.

Pickeral: J, no matter who starts at point guard, both Paige and Strickland are going to have to handle the ball. My guess is that Strickland would have had a better shot at the starting PG job had he been 100 percent at the beginning of preseason practice. But remember, the team even held him out of the Blue/White scrimmage during “Late Night” as a precaution after having ACL surgery last February. Strickland’s knee obviously hasn’t bothered him; he looks as speedy as ever, he hasn’t been tentative scrapping for steals and driving to the basket. And he is starting at shooting guard,

I think we’ll see some switches in the starting lineup this year, particularly at center. (Will Williams makes the swap to James on Friday? That will be interesting to see). As for Hairston … as I mentioned above, he’s 3-for-14 so far.