UNC perimeter threats remain out
Out of the 345 teams in Division I basketball, North Carolina was the only one that entered the week making fewer than three 3-pointers a game.
That trend is likely to continue indefinitely for No. 18 UNC as its two top shooters, junior P.J. Hairston and senior Leslie McDonald, remain sidelined because of issues with their eligibility.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said Thursday that there’s no update regarding the status of Hairston and McDonald as the team prepares to face No. 11 Kentucky Saturday at the Smith Center (5:15, ESPN).
UNC (6-2) has only said that the school and the NCAA are working together on an ongoing compliance issue, and Williams long ago stopped guessing when a decision would be reached in the months-long investigation.
“I’m sure that the NCAA would like it to be over with, too,” Williams said. “But there’s no update. There’s nothing else. We’re just staying the course and I’m sure they’re trying to do everything they can too.”
Hairston and McDonald combined to make 131 3-pointers in 64 games last season. Without them, shooting guard Marcus Paige (20 of 51) is the only Tar Heel with more than two made 3-pointers on the season.
Still, UNC has shown it can make do without a deep threat. The Tar Heels beat then-No. 1 Michigan State while only shooting 2 of 11 from behind the arc and beat defending champion Louisville with just six three-point attempts, though it has also combined to shoot 3 of 19 from long range in losses to unranked teams Belmont and Alabama-Birmingham.
“I think we’re just finding what works,” Paige said. “We understand as a unit, shooting 3s isn’t what works for us, so we’re not jacking up 12 3s or 14 3s. We understand that our strengths are inside and if we can play a lot of defense and try to get out in the passing lanes, then we can be effective. We’re not doing a lot of things we’re not capable of doing.”
Williams said he has spoken with Texas coach Rick Barnes about the challenge of not knowing when, or if, an expected starter will return. Last season, Longhorns guard Myck Kabongo wasn’t handed a 23-game suspension until Dec. 21.
“It’s tough,” Williams said. “You don’t know, but it’s what it is. You just go ahead and prepare every day. You have to go with who can play, is really what it is. At one point I thought my team was worried about it, and I had to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s play. Don’t be concerned about what’s going to happen. We have to play right now.’”
Part of the reason for Kabongo’s delay was that the school appealed his full-season suspension for accepting impermissible benefits and then lying to NCAA investigators, which led to the shorter sentence.
In September, Williams noted how the NCAA made a decision on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel “in two days.” But he said he hasn’t asked for or received an explanation as to why his players’ cases are taking so long — only that he didn’t expect it to be resolved any time soon.
“I can’t control that,” Williams said. “I think they’re really working hard. I think that everybody’s cooperating, but I do not know. I’d love to tell you everything — if I knew anything, it would probably be good — but I don’t know anything. I would be stunned if I were to go upstairs and somebody would say that those guys are eligible to practice today.”