Before tonight's Terps-Tar Heels game in Chapel Hill, we caught up with the Tar Heel Blog's Brian Barbour:
TT: Like Maryland, North Carolina's had a somewhat ugly season so far. Realizing there might be more than one answer: What's gone wrong?
THB: The simple and all-encompassing answer is that P.J. Hairston is in the D-League putting up 40-point games and not playing for UNC. In the context of the team as it stands, the offense does not have enough consistency at times and it gets them in trouble. A lot has been made of a recent surge in effort and intensity. In fact you could argue there was a stretch from the Texas game until the Virginia game where this team looked a little like one whose dog got run over. Two things happened around the time of the Texas game. One was Leslie McDonald coming back, and the other was Hairston's case being fully resolved with him no longer being with the team when they came back from Christmas. This is pure speculation, but it feels like there was a period of real adjustment to McDonald coming back and from an emotional standpoint of Hairston being gone.
TT: Is this ultimately a middling ACC team, or do you expect a charge forward in the standings over the next month? The Heels' schedule doesn't look brutal other than two more games against Duke.
THB: KenPom has them at 10-8 with losses to Duke twice, Pitt and FSU. That sounds perfectly reasonable though the game at NC State will be tough regardless of the records. Assuming UNC takes care of the winnable games then those three games in mid-February will dictate whether they sit in the middle or make a move into that top four.
TT: Sophomore point guard Marcus Paige (averaging 16-4-4 per night) looks like a star. What has keyed his step forward this season?
THB: His confidence is probably the biggest reason. Paige was a scorer in high school and last season showed signs of being the kind of player who could be productive offensively. He took the opportunity afforded to him by Hairston and McDonald's absence to seize the scoring role and it has worked out rather well. The biggest knock is he doesn't seem to put full games together very often. Many times he can be awful in the first half and take a game over in the second. On Saturday versus NC State, he scored 11 in the first half but wasn't as much as an offensive factor in the second half. Now that he is back playing more point guard, he will need to balance his offense and facilitating the team offense.
TT: Conversely, James Michael McAdoo hasn't taken a step forward this season. Do you anticipate him lighting up Maryland the same way he did -- repeatedly -- last year?
THB: After being a bit up and down prior to ACC play, McAdoo has seeming hit his stride averaging 15.4 ppg and shooting 51% from the floor. He is also using his quickness to get to the basket and draw fouls. The downside there is McAdoo continues to shoot poorly at the free throw hitting only 45 percent of his attempts in league play. The free throw shooting is really what stands between McAdoo being just a good player to being a nearly dominant one.
TT: What's your game prediction?
THB: I'll take UNC, 81-71.