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Defense picks up the offense for Tar Heels

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UNC NOTEBOOK

After shooting a program-record low 24.6 percent from the field in a 63–45 loss to now No. 3 Michigan State on Nov. 26, North Carolina bounced back offensively with dominant wins over Michigan, Davidson, and Tulane by an average score of 89–73. But it was the defensive performance in the first half of the Tulane game Sunday that had head coach Roy Williams happy. “I thought we were more active,” Williams said afterwards, “I think we got our guys’ attention when we were talking about playing better defense.”

For a team that should have little difficulty scoring — aberration against MSU notwithstanding — improved defense is perhaps the most important ingredient f to reach its goals.

HISTORIC NUMBERS FROM MAYE

Junior forward Luke Maye was voted the Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Player of the Week for the second time this season after averaging 24.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.7 blocks in three wins while shooting a staggering 63 percent from the floor.

After averaging only 5.5 points per game on last season’s national championship squad, Maye is on pace to become the first Carolina player to average over 20 points and 10 rebounds (20.8/10.3) since Tyler Hansbrough’s 2007–08 National Player of the Year campaign (22.6/10.2). Antawn Jameison (22.2/10.5 in 1997–98) is the only other to accomplish this feat since the mid-1960s, putting Maye in rarified air.

In talking about Maye’s improvement, Williams took little credit.

“It’s not coaching,” Williams explained. “It’s sweat, because Luke Maye has been willing to put in the sweat at an amount and a level that very few players have done.”

SWISS ARMY KNIFE

Maye isn’t the only player putting up stat lines on par with prior Carolina greats. In fact, Theo Pinson’s current stat line is even rarer in UNC history. Currently averaging 10.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, Pinson is on pace to join Walter Davis (16.3/6.3/4.4 in 1975–76) as the only Tar Heels to average 10/5/4 in a season.

FRESHMAN BIG MEN PRODUCING

To have a successful year, Carolina was going to need freshmen post players Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman to mature quickly and play beyond their youth. So far, so good, as the freshman big men are averaging a combined 16.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game through the first nine games.

This production does not approach the combined 31.4/20.1 of last season’s veteran trio, but keep in mind that last year’s group averaged a combined 62.2 minutes per game, while this year’s youngsters are only averaging 35.7mpg.

On a per-minute basis, this year’s youngsters are actually averaging more rebounds (0.333 vs. 0.322 per minute) and only slightly fewer points (0.451 vs. .505) than last year’s big men, which highlights just how far beyond expectations these youngsters have played. Yes, competition will get stiffer once ACC play begins, but one would expect the freshmen to continue to improve with experience (and in Manley’s case, steadily improving conditioning) as well.

Of course, these numbers aren’t everything, as the young big men also must continue to progress defensively, an area where last year’s veteran group was outstanding.

FOOTBALL RECRUITING

With no bowl game on the horizon, the UNC football staff is expending all its energy on the recruiting trail. For the first time, college football recruiting features an early signing period (Dec. 20-22), making the early-December push even more important than in previous years.

Columbia, South Carolina, linebacker Kyle Wright is scheduled to announce his decision today (Tuesday), with most experts expecting a UNC commitment. Wright will be among several official visitors to Carolina this weekend.

UNC assistant coaches Chris Kapilovic and Chad Scott also spent extra time on a Friday in-home visit with four-star offensive lineman William Barnes, who has long been thought to favor UNC and Florida. Given Florida’s recent coaching changes, Carolina may have a better chance than usual for a standout prep talent from the state of Florida.

FOOTBALL TRIVIA

One of the bigger news items of this week in college football was Texas A&M’s hiring of former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. The only ACC program Fisher never defeated in eight seasons as the FSU head coach: North Carolina. Fisher was 0–2 against Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels, with each Carolina win coming in Tallahassee by identical 37–35 scores, with each game decided on a kick with no time remaining.

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