NCAA countdown: No. 11 North Carolina
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: After a slow start in the first half of conference play last season, North Carolina found its groove once coach Roy Williams inserted P.J. Hairston as a starter and finally turned to a smaller lineup.
Hairston helped the team regroup with his explosive offensive play —scoring 29 points vs. Virginia and 28 points vs. Miami — and the Tar Heels finished the season with a 9-3 stretch.
Heading into 2013-14, the momentum seemed to be in UNC’s favor.
Ironically, it’s Hairston that has all but halted that momentum. At the start of the season, the Tar Heels will be playing without Reggie Bullock (who left for the NBA) and Hairston, whose status is in jeopardy after twice being cited by authorities in May and June while driving a rental car linked to a felon, raising the possibility of an NCAA rules violation for receiving improper benefits.
That means North Carolina will be playing without its top two perimeter threats from last season with a tough non-conference slate ahead that features NCAA tournament participants Belmont and Davidson along with December matchups against Michigan State and Kentucky.
Williams, who suspended Hairston this summer but allowed him to start practice with the team, said the sophomore guard will sit “games” and he expects a decision before UNC’s season-opener.
“Well crap, the NCAA made a decision on (Texas A&M quarterback) Johnny Manziel in frickin’ two days,” Williams said via the Associated Press. “It’s not all my choice kind of thing. I really don’t believe I’ll suspend him for half a game either.”
This means Williams could surely scrap the smaller lineup recipe from last season and get back to his traditional style dictated by tall, athletic front lines. This means the offense will run through James Michael McAdoo (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, who didn’t quite have the All-American season many basketball minds projected last season but made great strides as a sophomore. Toss in top newcomers Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks and the Tar Heels have ample interior options.
Pressure will be high on the guard tandem of point guard Marcus Paige and senior … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 11 North Carolina, click here.]