After a disappointing loss at Texas the Heels comfortably defeated Tulane and Appalachian State on either side of a neutral court, come from behind win over UCLA. The Heels are once again in the top ten of both polls and order has been restored to the universe with basketball ranked ahead of football. Carolina's run has been marked by Brice Johnson having one of the best stretches of his Carolina career. Johnson has had at least 22 points and 9 rebounds in his last three games and has responded very well since his poor play at Texas. The Heels around Johnson have seemed to coast at times, especially in games that have been noncompetitive but Johnson has been so good recently that the play of the rest of the team has not particularly mattered.
Limit Opponent Shooting: B+
Carolina held every opponent to less than 50% shooting from the field in their most recent three games. The Heels also held every team they faced to less than 50% three point shooting a bugaboo that has cropped up in each of Carolina's losses. The Heels's defense inside the arc has been more impressive than their three point defense so far. Against the Heels, UCLA and Appalachian State each made a higher percentage of their three pointers than their two point shots. The Heels need to fix their pick and roll coverage to prevent shooters from getting the open looks the basket. Currently opposing shooters are getting a great look at the rim when the big man comes back to the screener off their hedge and the guard has often not caught up to the ball handler yet. The Heels need to either switch on screens or just get better at executing their scheme. Otherwise the Heels' opponents will continue to blitz them from three as they have in the Heels' losses this season.
Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks Must Rebound: B+
Isaiah Hicks has been very impressive on offense recently but he needs to pick it up on the defensive boards to become a more complete player. Johnson has been a very good rebounder all season and has continued his good work in this most recent stretch of play. Joel James has been a surprisingly good defensive rebounder while starting for the injured Kennedy Meeks. While starting, James has averaged just more than 6 rebounds a game in about 15 minutes per game which is considerably better than Meeks had managed in the 5 games before he went out. James has taken a lot of stress off of the Carolina front line and therefore Hicks' less than stellar numbers have been a non-issue.
Brice Johnson Needs to Play: A
Brice Johnson has been great over the past few games as Brian already noted. Johnson has been especially good about staying on the floor and not getting into foul trouble. Johnson has averaged more than 27 minutes over the past three games, compared with only 20 against Texas. Johnson staying on the floor has been one of the keys to his success, he's been able to get into a rhythm in each of the past few games and has starred. Johnson has gotten starters into foul trouble and gone to work against backups. Johnson has also shot 84% from the line this season, by far a career best and another reason he's been excellent recently.
Marcus Paige Stars: B
Paige exited the Appalachian State game with a jammed ankle but before that had not been particularly impressive. Paige went only 2-9 against UCLA when he faced the Heels' toughest opponent and was outplayed by Joel Berry at the other guard spot. Paige remains inconsistent and has not yet repeated his dynamite performance against Maryland. On the other hand, with the exception of the Texas game, Carolina has not yet needed a bail out performance from their pre-season All-American. One thing to keep an eye on is Paige's assist numbers, which are just as inconsistent as his scoring, Paige typically finds a way to contribute when his shot is not dropping but as the offense shifts more and more towards Joel Berry as the point guard, Paige's assist opportunities will fade and he could be pressed a bit harder to help the Heels on offense.
Make Your Free Throws: B
Carolina cooled off a bit from the line over the past few games but the Heels do not have a lot to worry about in that department. Most of the recent weakness has been from Luke Maye and Joel Berry. Each of these players are better shooters than their numbers from the line indicate and Maye's minutes most likely are at a season high with Meeks out. Once the Heels are at full strength free throw shooting should remain a non-issue, a welcome feature of a Roy Williams team.