Three Things: NC State 91, UNC 83
1. Roy Williams said early in the preseason, and often during the season, that this Carolina team has the chance to be a very good defensive club. His reasoning is obvious: look at the pieces involved. Dexter Strickland has been a consistently good defender during his Tar Heel career. The Tar Heels have athleticism and versatility in the post (although it’s spread across a quartet of players, rather than in just one player). There is length and quickness on the wings.
So, on paper, it makes sense. But to really become the kind of defensive team Williams thinks his squad can be, they have to eliminate some of the mental lapses that don’t show up on paper. There’s no better illustration than the highlight reel play from Saturday’s loss, when C.J. Leslie threw down a one-hand dunk on Jackson Simmons. It was a spectacular play…and it wasn’t Simmons’s fault. James Michael McAdoo was actually supposed to be guarding Leslie. But with State in transition, McAdoo let Leslie run freely to the basket, either miscommunicating with Strickland or not communicating at all about a switch. The result? Leslie had a clear path to the basket, Simmons had to help, and Simmons got dunked on.
2. Let’s preface this with the usual “no must wins in January,” “every team can play its way in during the ACC Tournament,” etc. That being said: Carolina needs to win the next three games. Tomorrow’s trip to Boston College, plus home dates with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, are winnable games.
That would take the Tar Heels to 6-3 in the ACC in advance of a two-game road stretch at Miami and at Duke. It would also mean Carolina would need to win just four of its final nine league games in order to have a 10-8 conference record, which seems like a reasonable goal for legitimate NCAA Tournament candidacy. Dropping even one of the three next games would mean the Tar Heels would need a home sweep over Duke, FSU, NC State and Virginia (two of those teams already own wins over the Tar Heels), plus a road win at either Miami, Duke, Georgia Tech, Clemson or Maryland just to get to 10 wins.
3. It was a minor storyline from Saturday’s loss, but has anyone noticed how well J.P. Tokoto has played lately? The freshman played 17 minutes against State. In addition to the intangibles, where he didn’t look scared in a hostile environment, he also had a great stat line: he shot 5-of-7 from the field, handed out three assists, and grabbed two rebounds. In 35 minutes over the past two games, he’s 9-of-16, with six rebounds and five assists. Over his last 11 games, he’s shooting 24-of-38 (63.2%).
Tokoto’s solid play brings up an interesting question. Leslie McDonald is due to return from a three-game suspension this weekend against the Hokies. There aren’t enough minutes to go around for McDonald and Tokoto to both be major players in the Carolina rotation. It could be that they’ll be deployed based on need; if the Tar Heels need perimeter scoring, that’s probably a call for McDonald, but if they need defense and slashing, that’s more likely to be Tokoto.
Regardless, the Wisconsin rookie has shown himself to be a player with the potential to be a major contributor, both this year and certainly over the remainder of his Tar Heel career.