All hands on board as Tar Heels prepare to host Miami
North Carolina should have its entire active roster available for the first time this season when the Tar Heels host Miami Wednesday at the Smith Center (9 p.m., ESPN2).
Center Joel James, who started the first 10 games, is expected to return from a sprained MCL as the Tar Heels (10-4, 0-1) try to avoid going 0-2 in the ACC for the second straight year and for only the fifth time in program history.
The Tar Heels played the first nine games without senior guard Leslie McDonald, the team’s third-leading scorer, who was suspended for accepting impermissible benefits. McDonald debuted on Dec. 18 as a back-up against Texas, but before he could take the court, James injured his knee in the first minute of the 86-83 loss.
James came back to practice on Dec. 30, and UNC coach Roy Williams said he was “full go… with no limitations” during Monday’s session.
Having a full complement of players should help the Tar Heels against Miami (8-6, 0-2), but an even more critical factor will be the team’s intensity level. In Sunday’s 73-67 ACC loss at Wake Forest, the Tar Heels scored just 17 points on 24 offensive rebounds.
“We weren’t tough enough, physical enough, strong enough, explosive enough, whatever, to finish the plays at that point,” Williams said after the game.
The Demon Deacons also had 33 free throw attempts to UNC’s 11 and Williams counted 20 lay-ups for Wake Forest, evidence of his team’s lack of determination and aggression.
“I thought Wake Forest really wanted to win the game a lot more than we did,” Williams said on his weekly radio show Monday night. “I’ve done a poor job getting these kids fired up to play and it better change. That’s the bottom line.”
Instead of taking Monday off, which was his original plan, Williams put his players through the most physical hour-long practice session of the year, and then made them watch the Wake Forest tape for another hour.
“Hopefully it got their attention,” Williams said. “And if it didn’t, then they’re not alive.”
The Tar Heels are 3-0 against AP top 15 teams (Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky) but have lost four times to unranked teams, including twice at home.
The lack of consistent effort could stem from UNC’s youth. Of the nine Tar Heels averaging more than six minutes a game, McDonald and junior James Michael McAdoo are the only upperclassmen.
“A young team, right now they’re questioning everything,” Williams said. “They’re questioning their own commitment. They’re questioning ‘Is my shot working? Is my defense working? Are we eating the right things for pregame meal? You’d much rather have that experienced team that’s been through it, but we don’t have that.”
Miami is already 0-2 in the ACC, though both losses were close — in overtime against doormat Virginia Tech and by five at undefeated Syracuse on Saturday.
The Hurricanes went 3-0 against UNC last season, but have had to replace practically every contributor from last year’s ACC championship team. The Tar Heels had won 10 straight in the series before last season.