Tar Heels still need big win
North Carolina has one last chance to get a signature non-conference win when the Tar Heels host No. 20 UNLV today at the Smith Center (2 p.m., ESPN2).
“We’re getting ready to play a game against a team that would be one of the two best teams in the ACC,” UNC coach Roy Williams said Friday.
The Tar Heels (9-3) rose as high as ninth in the country in mid-November before a disappointing set of results left them unranked for the first time since Jan. 29, 2011.
Williams wasn’t concerned with the Tar Heels’ tournament resume — “I’m trying to figure out how the (heck) to get the ball inbounds,” Williams said — but UNC would be on the bubble based on its non-conference results so far.
The Tar Heels’ RPI is 49 according to CBS Sports and 54 according to RealTime RPI, while UNLV (11-1) is 10th on both sites.
UNC has lost by double digits to their only ranked opponents, Indiana and Butler. According to RealTime RPI, their only win against a Top 120 team was their most recent game against No. 68 McNeese St., but that may have been cancelled out by an 18-point loss at No. 163 Texas.
“Most people are going to lose at Indiana and a lot of people are going to lose at Texas, but we didn’t play as well,” Williams said. “That concerns me more than the result. We have to start playing better.”
Now would be a good time to start. Behind freshman Anthony Bennett, who is averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, UNLV is 3-0 on the road including wins at Cal and UTEP.
“I’d have to really concentrate and think for a long time before I can think of a freshman in the country who has the numbers that he has at this level,” Williams said of Bennett. “And the reason I say ‘think a long time’ is because I don’t think there is one.”
UNLV beat then-No. 1 UNC by 10 a year ago in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational, but Williams said that result won’t provide much motivation.
While the Tar Heels lost four first-round NBA picks, UNLV graduated guard Chace Stanback (28 points, 10 rebounds vs. UNC) and Mike Moser (16 points, 18 rebounds, six assists) is questionable for today’s game with a dislocated elbow.
A more important factor may be the Tar Heels’ outside shooting. UNC is shooting more 3-pointers (21.4 attempts per game) than in any other season in the Williams era, and while the team is fourth in ACC at 37.4 percent behind the arc, that number dips to 22.4 percent in the three losses.
Williams wants UNC to be more aggressive, but the holiday break didn’t cause him to consider changes to the lineup, such as going smaller with power forward James Michael McAdoo at the 5 or inserting guard P.J. Hairston, who is averaging 12.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 17.8 minutes.
“The other four guys haven’t done anything to play their way out, and nobody else has done anything to play their way in,” Williams said. “P.J.’s really done some good things off the bench, but who do you take out? (And) I don’t want to go five small guys out there.”
Williams did say the rotation at center will continue. Sophomore Desmond Hubert and freshmen Brice Johnson and Joel James each have started once in the past three games.
“None of those guys have begun to establish that it’s their spot,” Williams said.
NOTES — This is UNLV’s first trip to Chapel Hill. Besides last year’s loss in Las Vegas, UNC has beaten the Rebels in the 1977 NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, the 1985 Great Alaska Shootout and the 1999 Food Lion Classic in Charlotte. ... UNC has won 62 straight non-conference games at home, dating to a loss to Illinois seven years ago. ... Under Williams, the Tar Heels have been ranked in the AP poll in 154 out of 178 weeks (86.5 percent).