NCAA OPENER: Tar Heels focused on task at hand: Providence
Marcus Paige was at the mall last weekend when he saw Duke playing in the ACC Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on TV.
“I was like, ‘Why am I at the mall right now? We should be in Greensboro,’” Paige said. “It was tough.”
The 19th-ranked Tar Heels (23-9) were eliminated in their opening ACC Tournament quarterfinal game. Whether UNC has a similarly short stay in the NCAA Tournament depends on if it can get past Providence (23-11) in its opener today at the AT&T Center (7:20 p.m. TNT) — and perhaps the biggest factor in that will be the matchup between Paige and fellow first-team all-conference point guard Bryce Cotton.
Paige is in the top five in the ACC in points (17.4) and assists (4.3) and won the UNC coaches’ defensive player of the game award a team-high 10 times while averaging 35.6 minutes, the most of any Tar Heel in the Roy Williams era.
But those impressive numbers are overshadowed by PC’s Cotton, who is on pace to become the fourth major-conference player since Duke’s Jason Williams in 2002 to average 20 points and five assists in a season. The 6-1, 165-pound senior is ninth in the country in scoring (21.4) and leads the Big East in assists (5.8) while averaging a nation’s-best 39.9 minutes — which went up to 41.9 minutes in conference play thanks to the Friars’ three double-overtime games.
“I thought I played a lot of minutes until I started looking at his stats and seeing how many minutes he played this season, and how he’s able to still be effective the entire game despite playing that many minutes,” Paige said.
Still, the Tar Heels think they can take advantage of Cotton’s minutes, and those of his teammates — Providence plays a six-man rotation in which all five starters averaged 32 minutes in conference play.
UNC watched clips from their recent 12-game winning streak this week in which the Tar Heels pushed the pace. Getting the tempo in their favor will help create easy baskets on offense while also affecting the short-handed Friars.
“The tempo will be an interesting to follow,” Paige said. “If we can get it higher, it will definitely be in our favor.”
That wasn’t the only film UNC watched — Williams also showed his team the tape from when the Tar Heels were dominated on the glass during their current two-game losing streak, when Duke and Pittsburgh outrebounded UNC by 22 and had a 41-16 edge in second-chance points.
“Rebounding and running have been the point of emphasis, by far,” point guard Luke Davis said. “We’ve talked about those two things more than we have all year.”
The Tar Heels said increased energy would help them win the rebounding battle. Before Thursday’s shootaround at the AT&T Center, UNC watched No. 12 Harvard’s upset of No. 5 Cincinnati Thursday on the team bus, which J.P. Tokoto said added even more to the team’s focus.
“It’s basically, anything can happen. You have to go out there and give it your all,” Tokoto said. “That’s something that everyone’s been thinking about it — you can go out and slip on one play and that could be it.”
Paige’s improved health should help. Though he said he would likely wear a pad around his sore quad, which was injured in the second half of UNC’s ACC Tournament loss to Pittsburgh, the sophomore said the injury has loosened up a lot in the past few days and “shouldn’t be too much of a concern.”
Paige has had his share of 1-on-1 battles before — his scoring duel with N.C. State’s T.J. Warren, who scored 36 points when Paige had 35, ended with Paige’s winning lay-up with 0.9 seconds left. But Warren isn’t a point guard, making this matchup with Cotton even more enticing.
Still, Paige preferred to look it as more of a team challenge than an individual one.
“Obviously it’s going to be a great matchup between two great guards who are really playing well,” Paige said. “But we want to make it a 5-on-1 kind of thing where all five of our guys are aware of what he’s doing on the offensive end so we can contain him.”
NOTES — Williams has won at least one game in each of his previous 23 NCAA appearances, and UNC’s last loss in the Round of 64 came in 1999. The Friars haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1997. … Providence is second in the country in free-throw percentage (78.1), while UNC is last in the ACC (62.5). … The Friars’ six-man rotation features two forwards who transferred from the ACC — sophomore starter Tyler Harris played one season at N.C. State and junior backup Carson Desrosiers played two seasons at Wake Forest.
TALE OF THE TAPE: UNC VS. PROVIDENCE
|Opp. Avg. Pts.||69.1||69.5|
|Opp. FG Pct.||.411||.442|
|3-Pt. FG Pct.||.336||.350|
|Opp. 3-Pt. FG Pct.||.313||.329|
|Opp. 3-Pt. FG-Game||6.1||5.4|
NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS ROSTER
Coach: Roy Williams
|0 Nate Britt||G||5-11||165||Fr||Upper Marlboro,||Md.|
|2 Leslie McDonald||G||6-5||215||Sr||Memphis,||Tenn.|
|3 Kennedy Meeks||F||6-9||290||Fr||Charlotte,||N.C.|
|4 Luke Davis||G||6-0||175||Jr||Raleigh,||N.C.|
|5 Marcus Paige||G||6-1||175||So||Marion,||Iowa|
|11 Brice Johnson||F||6-9||210||So||Orangeburg,||S.C.|
|13 J.P. Tokoto||F||6-5||200||So||Menomonee Falls,||Wisc.|
|14 Desmond Hubert||F||6-10||225||Jr||Cream Ridge,||N.Y.|
|21 Jackson Simmons||F||6-7||225||Jr||Webster,||N.C.|
|22 Isaiah Hicks||F||6-8||220||Fr||Oxford,||N.C.|
|30 James Manor||F||6-6||220||Sr||Carrboro,||N.C.|
|34 Denzel Robinson||F||6-4||220||Sr||Chapel Hill,||NC|
|42 Joel James||F||6-10||280||So||West Palm Beach,||Fla|
|43 James Michael McAdoo||F||6-9||230||Jr||Norfolk,||Va.|
|55 Wade Moody||G||6-0||175||Sr||Mount Airy||NC|
PROVIDENCE FRIARS ROSTER
Coach: Ed Cooley
|4 Josh Fortune||G||6-5||205||So||Hampton,||Va.|
|10 Kadeem Batts||F||6-9||245||Sr||Boston|
|11 Bryce Cotton||G||6-1||165||Sr||Tucson,||Ariz.|
|12 Casey Woodring||G||6-2||180||Fr||Darien,||Conn.|
|13 Brice Kofane||F||6-8||210||Jr||Yaounde,||Cameroon|
|21 Lee Goldsbrough||F||6-9||230||Sr||Newcastle,||England|
|22 Ted Bancroft||G||6-6||215||Sr||Marion,||Mass.|
|23 LaDontae Henton||F||6-6||215||Jr||Lansing,||Mich.|
|25 Tyler Harris||F||6-9||215||So||Dix Hills||N.Y.|
|33 Carson Desrosiers||F||7-0||250||Jr||Windham,||N.H.|