CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Regardless of records, streaks or personnel, chances are that something odd, intriguing or exciting is going to happen when North Carolina (10-5, 0-2 ACC) plays at Florida State (10-5, 2-0) on Saturday.
During the Roy Williams era, it has tended to.
Remember when the Tar Heels blew a 24-point lead and lost in overtime in 2004? Or when they needed six 3-pointers from Wes Miller to win 81-80 two years later? Then there were the game-winners by Ty Lawson and Harrison Barnes in 2009 and 2011.
And who can forget just a year ago, when the Seminoles handed the Tar Heels the most lopsided loss of the Williams era (90-57), when FSU guard Deividas Dulkys scored a career-high 32 points? UNC made further headlines that day when Williams led most of his team off the court early, leaving a group of walk-ons and reserves to play the final 14 seconds before Seminoles fans stormed the court.
Williams insisted earlier this week that he does not regret the decision to leave early, because he wanted to protect his team from the crowd. He re-terated that he did not realize he had left any of his players, and he does regret that.
“Most people criticize me for that, and I’ve got no problem [with that],’’ he said. “But those blankety-blank-blanks that say I should have known they were out there, I say, ‘Yeah, but sometimes you don’t.’ I thought we were all leaving the floor, and getting the dickens out of town. I was trying to take care of my team.”
Whether the Tar Heels will want to leave the court early again this year remains to be seen. UNC, off to an 0-2 ACC start for only the fourth time in the program’s history, collapsed down the stretch in its first two conference games, and will need to curb its defensive lapses in order to halt its three-game road losing streak.
Meanwhile, Florida State, after another round of early nonconference struggles, is off to a 2-0 ACC start.
A few things to watch during Saturday’s game, which tips off at 2 p.m. ET:
One reason it was hard to give up on FSU was clutch shooter Michael Snaer. After all, he led the Seminoles to an ACC tournament title after the Seminoles struggled during last season’s nonconference slate, as well.
One big reason for FSU’s strong league start is another strong veteran: White, a junior forward. At Clemson, he stole an inbounds pass with 17 seconds left to secure the victory. At Maryland, he scored 15 straight points to fuel a second-half comeback.
He’s averaging 17.5 points and eight rebounds in league play, and will test UNC’s young frontcourt.
UNC’S defensive communication
UNC reserve P.J. Hairston had an interesting (and disturbing) answer to why UNC’s defense worsened during the second halves of its past three games (a win over UNLV, and losses at Virginia and to Miami). According to Inside Carolina:
There is one common dominator in those three games – UNC’s bench is always on the defensive end of the floor for the first half. According to Hairston, that helps explain why UNC has had better communication during the opening 20 minutes.
“I feel like that was with the coaches being right there on the defensive end while we were in the first half,” Hairston said. “In the second half, that’s when the communication kind of dropped because the coaches were farther away and we didn’t know our rotations as well and we were late to some rotations. I feel like that was the key to the game.”
Fifteen games into the season, it's surprising that this team is counting on its coaches and not each other to remember the correct rotations. (Not to mention that players forget rotations so often to begin with.) Communication must improve.
James Michael McAdoo
UNC’s leading scorer (14.5 points per game) is shooting worse than 40 percent over UNC's past five games (three of which were losses). And as Williams has pointed out several times, the sophomore forward still needs to slow down a half-second or so rather than rushing when he gets the ball.
McAdoo’s halfcourt steal-and-dunks are always fun to watch, but the Tar Heels need more consistency from him in other areas, too.