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November 29, 2013

UAB-UNC Preview

Basketball Preview

It appears not all is lost in the world of basketball in Chapel Hill just yet. After a disheartening loss to Belmont in their third game of the season, the UNC basketball squad got a huge victory over the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals last Sunday.

They learned a couple things in the win. For starters, Marcus Paige is one of the best players in the nation right now. Also, Kennedy Meeks has the makings of a special player himself.

The Tar Heels got an entire week off before they have to travel to Alabama to take on UAB. They'll need to put aside the leftover turkey sandwiches and get refocused if they want to keep the momentum rolling against the Blazers.

Let's a take a look at some storylines as UNC gets back at it on the hardwood this weekend.

Marcus Paige

Let's all get used to seeing Paige's name as a common them in Tar Heel games this year. With Nate Britt still getting up to speed and P.J. Hairston modeling his best bench attire, Paige has become the unquestioned leader of this year's team.

Roy Williams talked about handing the reigns to Paige during an offseason practice during his weekly radio show earlier this week.

"This summer I gave it to him verbally in front of everybody. I said 'The leaders of this team are Marcus and James Michael. You know why? Because I never have to talk to them about bad things. I'm tired of talking to the rest of you idiots,'" said Williams. "Those are going to be the team leaders, I don't care what class they are or anything. Everybody's just got to accept it and it's not going to change. You can accept it or you can fight it and you're going to lose.

During back-to-back games last weekend, Paige set a career high in points during a game with 26 and 32 respectively. He's becoming a better player each and every time he steps foot on the court and by the end of the season could be a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award.

The area that has seen the most improvement by the second year point guard is in the shooting department. He has yet to shoot under 46 percent in a game and against Louisville he shot a staggering 75 percent. His efficiency, leadership and scoring prowess are all areas that were concerns for this team before the games got under way but it appears Paige has given Williams some answers in all those categories early on.

Kennedy Meeks

Tar Heel fans got their first real glimpse at the kind of talent Meeks has when he put up a 13 point, 12 rebound and 8 assist performance against Louisville.

Whether it was heaving a beautiful outlet pass to a streaking teammate, grabbing a rebound with two hands and holding on to it like a mother protecting her baby or moving without the basketball at just the right time to just the right place, it seemed like Meeks could do no wrong.

That was in stark contrast to his performance against Richmond the night before.

"On Saturday he was as bad as anybody I'd ever put in a game and then on Sunday he was about as good as anybody I'd ever put in a game," said Williams. "That's what you have when you have young players. On Saturday he only played five minutes. I talked to him after the game and said 'You've got to be more ready. You've got to be prepared to play."

After finding out just how good he can be, the next step in Meeks' evolution is to find the kind of consistency that can make him a starter. Let's face it, if he keeps performing like he did on Sunday, he'll soon find himself replacing Joel James' minutes sooner rather than later.

"Kennedy Meeks was the Kennedy Meeks that I hoped we'd find and I hope we'll find again. His play gives you possibilities of getting easy ones because he can throw it the length of the court with the outlet pass," said Williams. "I've been after our guys all year, 'Let's run. Let's run.' He has a skill, let's take advantage of that."

Weight Distribution

There is a lot of weight being moved around on the Tar Heels basketball team. It looks like the weight that has fallen off Meeks and James has found the once rail-thin frames of Paige and Brice Johnson.

Johnson in particular has become a much stronger player, both physically and mentally. He's finishing around the basket with consistency and has displayed a little bit better effort on the defensive end of the court.

He's yet to score below double digits in a single game thus far and has averaged 14 points per game on the year.

(5-2, 0-0)
#16/16 North Carolina
(4-1, 0-0)

Game Day
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Time: 6:00 PM EST
Venue: Bartow Arena (8,500)
TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: Tar Heel Sports Network & SiriusXM (Sirius 91/XM 91)
Last Meeting: UNC won 102-84 on December 1, 2012 in Chapel Hill
Series vs. UNC: UNC leads 3-0

UAB at a glance
Location: Birmingham, Ala.
Nickname: Blazers
Colors: Forest Green & Gold
Conference: Conference USA
Arena: Bartow Arena (8,500)
2012-2013 Record: 16-17 (7-9)
Last Game: W 85-73 over Florida A&M on November 27.
More on the Blazers:
Schedule | Stats | Roster
Official Site | Rivals Site

Last starting line-up
(against Florida A&M)

F - Rod Rucker
F - C.J. Washington
C - Fahro Alihodzic
G - Chad Frazier

G - Jordan Swing

Statistical Leaders
Scoring: Chad Frazier (18.4 PPG) C.J. Washington (16.9 PPG)

Rebounding: Rod Rucker (9.9) C.J. Washington (7.7 RPG)

Assists: Chad Frazier (5.7 APG) Jordan Swing (2.3 APG)

Team Statistics
Points Per Game:
Rebounds Per Game: 48.6
Assist Per Game: 13.6
Field Goal Percentage: .438
3-pt Field Goal Percentage: .315

North Carolina at a glance
Last starting line-up
(against Louisville)

F - Jame Michael McAdoo
F - J.P. Tokoto
F - Joel James
G - Marcus Paige

G - Nate Britt

Statistical Leaders
Scoring: Marcus Paige (22.4 PPG) James Michael McAdoo (15.4 PPG)

Rebounding: Brice Johnson (7.2 RPG) James Michael McAdoo (6.4 RPG)

Assists: Marcus Paige (3.6 APG) J.P. Tokoto (3.0 APG)

Team Statistics
oints Per Game: 80.2
Rebounds Per Game: 40.0
Assist Per Game: 16.4
Field Goal Percentage: .495
3-pt Field Goal Percentage: .396

Complete UNC game notes

Meeks and James have been productive after there were concerns that they might not be able to get up and down the court enough in Williams' system to be effective. Heck, if Meeks doesn't feel like running from defense to offense he'll just bullet a pass to a wide open teammate and pick up an assist.

Nobody, has seen weight come his way like Paige, both figuratively and literally. Williams has said the Iowa native has packed on almost 15 pounds and the weight of the team's success is currently resting on his shoulders as well.

Paige and the rest of his teammates that put up a great effort last weekend, will look to continue that transfer of expectations in the right direction against the Blazers Sunday afternoon. They've gone from a team expected to contend for the ACC crown, to one that might be NIT bound, back to a team that can beat anybody in the nation.

With games against Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas sprinkled in with games against Conference USA level opponents, it's imperative the Heels find a way to get up for every game like they did against Louisville. This will be a test of their focus and it's one everyone should keep a close eye on.

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