Looking for consistency
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina is looking for a little stability.
After a year marked by extreme swings on the court — and by outside-the-lines issues involving past players — the Tar Heels want to get back to being their customarily consistent selves.
Coach Roy Williams said Wednesday that this year’s team has more balance than the previous group but “now we’ve got to play like it.”
Those Tar Heels had an abnormal amount of ups and downs, beating the top four teams in last year’s preseason Top 25 but also losing to UAB and Belmont.
Williams says his last truly steady team was the 2011-12 edition that reached a regional final because it had “the consistency and the balance of inside-outside scoring.” That’s what he wants this year’s group to grow into.
All-Atlantic Coast Conference guard Marcus Paige calls this the most balanced team of his three seasons in Chapel Hill and wasn’t shy about stating a goal of making it to the Final Four. North Carolina hasn’t been there since the 2008-09 team won the school’s last NCAA tournament title.
The offense during his freshman season ran through 3-point shooters Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. But last year, the opposite was true: No team made fewer 3s per game than the Tar Heels (4.2). Instead, the offense came from either Paige — the ACC’s fifth-leading scorer — or from the rotation of big men.
“This year, I think we have a little bit of everything,” Paige said. “And I think we’re going to run more, which should help that balance because guys get running, then we’ve got the big guys running (and) that opens up the perimeter as well.”
Paige said he doesn’t feel quite as much pressure to carry the Tar Heels this year, as he did during a 12-game winning streak that helped carry them back to the NCAA tournament.
“We have to be able to take the best shot for this team and be able to help him out, because we all know he can score,” forward Brice Johnson said. “Some of us can really score. We have to all be able to contribute to it.”
There’s plenty of new sights these days at the Smith Center.
Not-as-big man Kennedy Meeks has a new physique. The sophomore power forward heard weight-related taunts on the road throughout his freshman season — so he dropped about 45 pounds and now weighs around 270.
Sophomore guard Nate Britt has a new shooting hand — previously a lefty, he switched to his right over the summer after shooting 37 percent from the field as a freshman.
And the three-man recruiting class of wing players Theo Pinson, Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson — ranked by Rivals.com as third-best in the nation — gives Williams plenty more options on the perimeter.
Williams said Pinson reminds him of “a more athletic Jackie Manuel” and praised Jackson for having “the knack.
“Ball bounces around, bounces around — all of a sudden, it bounces to him and he lays it up,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “Pretty efficient trait.”
Virtually all the attention Wednesday was focused on the court, and there wasn’t much chatter about the off-court issues that lingered over the program over the past few years.
Rashad McCants, the second-leading scorer on the 2005 national championship team, in June levied allegations of academic wrongdoing that drew harsh denials from Williams and the other players from that team. That came after the saga involving Hairston and questions about his eligibility hung over the program for months in 2013 before the school decided not to ask the NCAA to reinstate him.
Williams said that during the past two seasons, “there’s been more junk than I wanted to deal with.”