McAdoo, Tar Heels face challenge in post
North Carolina sophomore James Michael McAdoo is coming off his worst performance of the season and is dealing with a back injury that has Coach Roy Williams “very concerned.”
Now McAdoo must help contain national player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee if UNC hopes to pull an upset against No. 2 Duke today at Cameron Indoor Stadium (9 p.m., WRAL/ESPN).
“I hope he bounces back greatly,” Williams said. “I’ve had some players (like) Kirk Hinrich, when he played poorly, the next game he was going to be off-the-charts good.
“How (McAdoo) bounces back, I don’t know.”
Plumlee is averaging 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game while shooting 61 percent from the field.
“I think I’ll really try to rely on what helps me the most, as far as my quickness and trying to outsmart my opponent I guess,” McAdoo said. “But mostly (I’ll) just relying on the scouting report and my teammates always having my help side, because I’m far from perfect.”
Williams said he might employ a different strategy against Plumlee.
“I think we’re going to start (point guard) Marcus Paige on him and bite him on the kneecaps a couple times and see if that will help us any,” Williams said. “We’ve tried everything else.”
Like Plumlee, McAdoo considered leaving for the NBA after the 2011-12 season but decided to come back to school.
The UNC sophomore is averaging 14.9 points and 8.2 rebounds and was on a tear recently, with three straight double-doubles and back-to-back 20 points games over the past three weeks.
But McAdoo had a clunker at Miami on Saturday, recording a season-low six points on 3-of-12 shooting and posting as many turnovers as rebounds (three).
“James Michael just wants it so badly he rushes it sometimes,” Williams said in the postgame. “And I think today he just didn’t catch his breath and get a little more solid fundamentally.”
Besides his mental approach, Williams also worried about McAdoo’s back, which has been bothering him for the past week. On Tuesday, senior Dexter Strickland said that his teammate got an MRI on Monday, but McAdoo brushed off questions about the injury.
Of course, McAdoo wasn’t the only Tar Heel who performed poorly in the 27-point loss to Miami, which was UNC’s biggest defeat of the season. Instead of sapping the team’s confidence, Strickland said that blowout has served as strong motivation heading into the matchup with Duke.
“I think the loss to Miami was kind of embarrassing, so I think we have something to prove and I think it’s going to be a great game,” Strickland said.
McAdoo’s post defense will be even more important considering UNC will be without freshman center Joel James, who has missed the past two days of practice with a concussion.
Williams said that James “took a blow to the head” against Wake Forest on Feb. 5 and was having “pretty severe headaches,” but a team spokesman said that the freshman didn’t tell team doctors about the injury until Monday.
James had no points, no rebounds, two fouls and two turnovers against Miami. Though he was only averaging 8.2 minutes in conference play, he is UNC’s tallest (6-10) and heaviest (260) player and would have provided a different look against Plumlee.
UNC’s three other centers are sophomores Desmond Hubert (6-9, 220) and Jackson Simmons (6-7, 220) and freshman Brice Johnson (6-9, 187).
One thing Williams is hesitant to do is put too much focus on stopping Plumlee, a strategy that can lead to open shots on the perimeter. Miami hit 15 shots from 3-point range Saturday, and Duke leads the ACC in 3-point accuracy.
“You can’t over-help, because I’m real good at math and 3s add up a lot faster than 2s,” Williams said.
The seeming mismatch in the post is one reason UNC will enter Cameron as a double-digit underdog. None of UNC’s current players were alive the most recent time an unranked Tar Heel team won at Cameron, a span that encompasses four games and dates to 1990.
Still, UNC has won five of the past seven games in Durham. When asked how his team matched up to Duke, Williams responded: “Well, not very good on paper, but we still get to play the game.
“We’ve got to have greater emotion, we’ve got to have a greater sense of urgency. We have a chance — and I believe that from the bottom of my soul — but we have to play great, and we didn’t play great Saturday.”