Opinion: UNC's tumultuous early-season run mirrors offseason
Will the real North Carolina please stand up?
In the course of seven days, head coach Roy Williams has endured a stretch of games almost as tumultuous as the offseason he just came through. He likely has a few more gray hairs for his trouble, but on Sunday, he finally had something to celebrate.
The breath of life came in the form of a 93-84 win over No. 3 Louisville, a team that cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome just seven months ago, in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game. Still reeling from last week's loss to Belmont, a few members of the Tar Heels' fan base were already unreasonably calling for the firing of a man who has won three national championships.
Suddenly, all of that seems like a distant memory.
It is hard to say how it all transpired, but there are a few clues as to how Carolina could fall to a school that has never busted a bracket to beating one who won it all.
Certain matchups in college basketball lend themselves as difficult ones for various reasons. Under Hall-of-Fame coach Rick Pitino, the Cardinals run his patented full-court press at warp speed. Williams' full-court offense always borders on reckless as the Tar Heels try to outscore the opponent by running up and down the court with, well, warp speed. The result was a perfect storm for Carolina, which badly needed the win.
Guard Marcus Paige, who finished with a career-high 32 points, was one of the beneficiaries of the game's pace and the indisputable player of the game. The sophomore is maturing into his role this season with remarkable results. Without the team's returning leading scorer P.J. Hairston, who is suspended indefinitely as the program awaits the punishment handed down by the NCAA, Paige is averaging more than 20 points per game and is starting to show why he was among the jewels of Williams' recruiting class in 2012.
The Tar Heels continue to rely heavily on James Michael McAdoo, who has yet to dominate a noteworthy opponent, but his length and athleticism has long been misused at the center position due to the absence of a legitimate big man to patrol the paint.
Enter freshman Kennedy Meeks, who burst onto the scene Sunday with 13 points, 12 boards and seven assists. All of this came from a blue-chip recruit many were already fearing could be a bust. If continual production makes him a bankable asset, McAdoo will presumably be a force at the 4.
Among the many positive results the win against Louisville provides Carolina, one undesirable consequence will be expectations that are sure to soar in light of beating a preseason favorite to reach the Final Four. More than likely, as the season plays out, Williams' squad will once more prove itself an enigma that belongs neither among the heights of legit contenders like Louisville, nor the depths of mid-major Belmont.
Fortunately for Williams, baby blue-clad fans -- some of whom are probably ready to erect an on-campus statue today -- will not determine the fate of tomorrow. His team's performance will.
Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or firstname.lastname@example.org.