By Karlton Tate
The strongest Carolina basketball team in recent years, complete with phenomenal big men, a deep bench, and a versatile offense, finally appears equipped to dominate ACC conference play and reach the Final Four.
The absence of prominent starters throughout the season thus far has granted increased playing time to various other players and positions on the deep Carolina bench. A metacarpal fracture in senior guard Marcus Paige’s right hand sent him to the sidelines for the Tar Heels’ first six games, giving guards Joel Berry and Nate Britt valuable playing time against low-stakes opponents. Likewise, a bone bruise in junior forward Kennedy Meeks’ left knee forced him to sit out for seven games at the end of December, providing playing time to forwards Isaiah Hicks and Joel James.
Going into the season, many skeptics doubted the effectiveness and efficiency of the Carolina offense if star point guard Paige were to contribute lackluster performances at the rim. However, resounding victories over formidable opponents like Syracuse and NC State in which Paige scored fewer than four points proved the versatility of the Carolina offense. Sophomore guard Joel Berry has finally filled out the big shoes given to him, shooting from beyond the arc both confidently and productively, while granting new opportunities for Paige and the rest of the Carolina squad offensively.
Fortunately, less than stellar performances from the promising sophomore guard Justin Jackson have been counteracted by the incredible offensive and defensive efficiency that Isaiah Hicks has offered to the Carolina team off of the bench. Hicks completes the trifecta of big men, which also includes Meeks and Brice Johnson, that Roy Williams can engage as dynamic offensive forces.
For the past few years, the question of the “toughness” of the Carolina team has plagued the program. Last year, the team lost several games as they could not maintain poise for the entire 40 minute game, often crumbling in the final fourth of the ball game. This season, strong performances against fierce opponents like Maryland, in which the team played exceptionally well for the duration of the second half, have quelled the naysayers’ remarks thus far.
With a versatile offense, strong performances from the bench, and the best start to ACC conference play (5-0) in the Roy Williams Era, the 2015-2016 Carolina basketball team looks primed for ACC supremacy and a lengthy run into the NCAA tournament in March.
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