The North Carolina Tar Heels are showing why they deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament, and their home victory over the North Carolina State Wolfpack was the signature stamp they needed. Coming close to beating the Duke Blue Devils was a moral victory, pouring it on offensively against a great defensive squad in the Virginia Cavaliers was a confidence booster, and defeating the preseason favorites was the proof. The Heels took yesterday’s game in convincing fashion 76-65, but it isn’t time to ring any panic alarms in Raleigh.
Although N.C. State isn’t quite as good as we thought they were, being a victim of preseason hype and unrealistic expectations is no fault of the Wolfpack. Besides, was it really hype? The Pack may be having a rough time now, but the amount of talent in their starting lineup tells us that if this team hits their stride at the right time (next month), then State fans could be in for a treat. But for now, NCSU is relegated to having the same record as UNC (19-8). That’s the way it should be.
I was surprised to see that the Tar Heels came into this game as the five-point favorites, and I did have the Wolfpack taking this game as my prediction. Of course, that wasn’t even close to coming right, and I’ll take a look by listing some studs and duds for the game.
UNC Tar Heels Studs
1. Reggie Bullock- The best player and the leader of this UNC team, Bullock posted a fantastic 22-13 double-double that was a key to this win. He also drained five three-pointers and was third on the team with three assists.
2. P.J. Hairston- It took Roy Williams long enough, and it is no coincidence that the Tar Heels’s resurgence as a whole coincided with the implementation of Hairston into the starting line-up. Hairston posted a 12-4 line that wasn’t fantastic, but it was efficient; that’s what the Tar Heels needed.
3. Marcus Paige- Paige’s resurgence has also been remarkable, as he has consistently gotten better throughout the season. Once a liability, Paige is now a solid player for the Heels and had a terrific game against N.C. State. An x-factor coming into the game, Paige dished eight assists and stole the ball three teams. He also finished without turning the ball over, and that’s a line any point guard would be a proud of- especially a freshman. Paige also hit some shots and had 14 points.
1. It’s tough to pick out a player on UNC who fell flat, but James Michael McAdoo’s six turnovers and ten missed shots undermine his two steals and 14-7 line overall. McAdoo also led the team with four fouls, and it’s a good thing for UNC that his teammates only had a combined three turnovers.
N.C. State Studs
1. Scott Wood- Scott Wood is as good of a shooter and as steady of a player as you will see in college basketball today. My favorite player on the team, Wood had a team-high 19 points on 50% shooting and also hit five threes. He didn’t do much else other than score, but boy did Wood score at a high level.
2. Richard Howell- 13 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks; Richard Howell is definitely one of the best big men in college hoops.
N.C. State Duds
1. C.J. Leslie- C.J. Leslie played an absolutely putrid game, and he did so on the road against a hated rival. Leslie turned the ball over a team-high six times, and it was turnovers that really killed the Pack in this one. He missed all four of his free throws, shot very poorly from the floor, and Leslie came away with just six points in the game. Six points and six turnovers? Leslie clearly did not play his best game, and you almost never see N.C. State’s star forward (excellent 20.1 PER on the season) play this poorly.
N.C. State didn’t play poorly; they just made too many mistakes and were outplayed by a Tar Heels team that is currently coming together at the right time. I have a feeling N.C. State will start to gel and perform at a higher level soon as well.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.