Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Tar Heels’ bench. As I wrote here in this story in the paper this morning, depth was the least of Roy Williams’ concerns earlier this season. Now the bench is among the biggest question marks for UNC with six games to play in the regular season.
Dexter Strickland’s season-ending injury at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19, of course, forced former sixth-man Reggie Bullock into the starting lineup. Since then no one has emerged to take over that role of dependable sixth-man, though freshman James Michael McAdoo has made strides.
Fellow freshman P.J. Hairston, meanwhile, is questionable for the game tonight. He sat out the Heels’ 70-52 victory against Virginia on Saturday while he rested his sore left foot. Hairston has been limited in practice this week, though he did practice more on Tuesday than he did on Wednesday. Whether he plays tonight will depend a lot on how he feels going through warm-ups.
Bottom line, though, is this: The Tar Heels need more production from their bench. That production doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of points, Williams said earlier this week, but UNC’s reserves have to provide something when they’re out there. McAdoo, Justin Watts and Stilman White were solid against Virginia, and they’ll need to continue that upward trend.
UNC’s perimeter defense against Miami’s shooters. The Hurricanes made just 3 of their 16 3-point attempts the first time these teams played, but Miami remains one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the ACC. They rank fourth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (35.6 percent) and third in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made.
The three Miami players who have attempted the most 3-pointers on the team are all shooting at least 34.2 percent from 3-point range. And that doesn’t include 6-foot-11 forward Kenny Kadji, who has made 45.2 percent of his 3’s (19-for-42).
The Hurricanes’ shooting ability wasn’t a factor the first time these teams played, but Miami will need it to be tonight to have a chance of pulling off the upset. In fact, that loss earlier this season against the Heels represented Miami’s lowest point-per-possession output of the season.
The Hurricanes scored a season-low .79 points per possession, and they also turned it over on 23.9 percent of their possessions – also a season-worst.
The battle in the middle. One could make a sound argument that no one in the ACC has played as well as North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller has during conference play. He is averaging 19 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in league games, and he has been UNC’s most consistently dominant player since the start of conference play.
But Zeller will be challenged by Miami’s Reggie Johnson, who’s a different player than the one who came through the Smith Center earlier this season. At that point, Johnson was still recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of Miami’s first nine games.
It was clear during the first meeting between UNC and Miami that Johnson was still working his way back into shape, and even then he finished with a respectable 12 points and nine rebounds. Since then, though, Johnson’s stamina has improved, as has his production.
Johnson scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds in the Hurricanes’ surprising victory against Duke, and he’s a physical challenge for anyone who steps in his way. Zeller has gone a long way recently toward shedding the perception that he’s soft, but he’ll face a difficult test tonight.
Posted by Charlotte Observer at 2:00 PM