With Miami looming, UNC not looking ahead to Syracuse

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 7, 2014 

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UNC's Isaiah Hicks (22) harnesses a rebound in the second half against Wake Forest on Sunday January 5, 2014 at Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem.

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    UNC vs. Miami

    When: 9 p.m.

    Where: Smith Center, Chapel Hill

    TV/Radio: ESPN2/101.5-WRAL

    Projected starting lineups

    UNC (10-4, 0-1 ACC)

    G Nate Britt 6.2 ppg, 2.9 apg

    G Marcus Paige 17.6 ppg, 4.1 apg

    F J.P. Tokoto 10.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg

    F James Michael McAdoo 14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg

    F Kennedy Meeks 7.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg

    Miami (8-6, 0-2)

    G Rion Brown 13.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg

    G Davon Reed 8.5 ppg, 2.1 apg

    F Garrius Adams 10.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg

    F Donnavan Kirk 9.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg

    F James Kelly 9.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg

    Player to watch

    Marcus Paige, guard, North Carolina

    Paige is coming off his least productive scoring game of the season, an eight-point performance in the Tar Heels’ 73-67 loss at Wake Forest on Sunday night. It wasn’t a matter of the Demon Deacons doing anything special to limit Paige, he said after that game. He said he just missed open shots. It was the first time this season that he didn’t score in double figures. Given his relative struggles at Wake Forest, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Paige attempt to establish himself early against Miami.

    Observations: Joel James, UNC’s sophomore forward, is expected to play after missing the Tar Heels’ previous four games with a knee injury. James started UNC’s first 10 games of the season, but it’s unclear if he’ll reenter the starting lineup. … Expect Miami to attempt to slow the pace. The Hurricanes are averaging 62.3 possessions per game, which ranks 348th nationally. … Miami and UNC last met last March in Greensboro, where the Hurricanes defeated the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament championship game. This is hardly the same Miami team, though. The Hurricanes lost their top six players and didn’t return a single regular starter. Rion Brown, the senior guard, is the only Miami player who started any games for the Hurricanes last season.

    -Andrew Carter

— Roy Williams, the North Carolina coach, made a joke. Maybe his team should have looked ahead, he said, given how poorly the Tar Heels played at times on Sunday during their loss at Wake Forest.

“Looking back on it, yeah, I should have worked on Syracuse zone the whole time since what we worked on for Wake Forest didn’t work worth a darn,” Williams said earlier this week.

UNC plays at No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday. It will be a difficult test, going up against the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense, but it’s a test that Williams hasn’t wanted his players focusing on.

UNC has a game Wednesday night at the Smith Center against Miami. And, besides, if the Tar Heels could take one thing from their ACC opener, it was that they’re still searching for consistency – the lack of which has troubled Williams and his players.

“That’s going to be our goal,” Williams said of becoming more consistent. “That’s what we’re going to talk about, and have talked about, for the last three weeks. We haven’t shown it yet. Definitely didn’t show it (at Wake Forest).”

UNC did some things well at Wake. Like rebounding. The Tar Heels, though, often failed to convert their numerous second chances into points. They scored just 17 points off 24 offensive rebounds.

UNC also attempted 11 free throws, tied for a season-low. (It also attempted 11 in a loss at UAB.) UNC’s inability to get to the free throw line, combined with its failure to score after offensive rebounds, were the two factors most responsible for its defeat.

Some players suggested there was something else, too: a lack of toughness and effort. Marcus Paige, the sophomore point guard, described the Wake Forest loss as a “wake-up” call that the intensity rises in ACC play.

“They were attacking us,” sophomore forward Brice Johnson said Sunday. “They were hitting us and they weren’t getting fouls called. We’re not going to blame it on that. But we were getting in there and trying to put it back up, they were hitting us. And we were trying to finish, but we couldn’t. They were just a lot more physical.”

The Tar Heels didn’t match Wake’s intensity and didn’t generate opportunities for points at the foul line. Offensively, they also didn’t have a way of overcoming an off night from Paige, who scored a season-low eight points.

The Tar Heels’ 67 points were their third-fewest this season, and their fewest since the 63-59 loss at UAB.

“We know people are going to key in on him, after he had a couple of great games early in the non-conference season,” Johnson said. “Some nights he’s not going to be able to score.”

There will be no erasing UNC’s poor performance at Wake Forest. Yet, in some ways, the game against a rebuilt Miami team – which doesn’t resemble the Hurricanes who won the ACC tournament last March – offers a chance at a do-over.

The Tar Heels have another opportunity to become more consistent, and to finish their second chances. They have another chance to build the kind of toughness they hope will serve them well.

Either way, Williams said, there will be no looking ahead to the weekend until after Wednesday night. Some of his UNC teams, he said, might have been good enough to work ahead. Those teams might have been able to handle preparing for two teams at once. This one, he said, isn’t.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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