Marcus Paige has taken better care of the basketball over the past month.
Marcus Paige has taken better care of the basketball over the past month.
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Lucas: Tar Heel Basketball Notebook
Release: 12/28/2012

By Adam Lucas

In advance of Carolina's trip to Bloomington to face then- top-ranked Indiana, Roy Williams mentioned an aspect of the Hoosiers that most impressed him: "They have five guys averaging double figures, and you have heard me say before that's the most difficult kind of team to guard."

In a slightly ominous note, Williams identified the same aspect of the profile of Saturday's opponent, UNLV. "The thing that jumps out at me first is they have five guys averaging double figures and two guys averaging 8.8 or 8.3 points per game," the head coach told the media on Friday morning. "They have seven guys who can score the ball."

One of those players is Mike Moser, who is on the verge of returning from a dislocated elbow but said this week there is "no way" he will play against the Tar Heels. In fact, this year it's UNLV that's the team that is battling injuries, as guard Anthony Marshall (10.3 points per game) sat out of practice on Wednesday. He is expected to play on Saturday.

Saturday keys: If you're looking for a trend to watch against the Rebels, keep an eye on the shooting of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Not surprisingly, considering Carolina's heavy reliance on the perimeter this year, their shooting has played an important role in the Tar Heel fortunes this season. Hairston and McDonald are a combined 9-for-40 from the field in Carolina's three losses.

Lineup questions: One of the most popular season-long questions about the Tar Heels has been the ever-changing starting lineup. For as much attention as the fifth starter has received, it really hasn't played much of an impact on the actual minutes played by the members of the rotation. Desmond Hubert got the start against McNeese State and played ten minutes overall...right at his 9.8 minutes per game average. He came off the bench in the previous game, at Texas, and played eight minutes...virtually right at his 9.8 minutes per game average.

Joel James earned that fifth starting spot against the Longhorns, and played seven minutes. He came off the bench against McNeese State and played 10 minutes. It's illustrative of exactly what Williams keeps reiterating-the players who play the best will play the most. Earning minutes has much more to do with actual performance in that specific game than it does which players trot out for the tip-off.

That being said, lineup questions remain one of the most popular topics for the media at Williams's press conferences. One thing that seemed apparent Friday is that the head coach is not close to going small with his starters.

"P.J. has really done some good things off the bench, but who do you take out?" Williams said. "Reggie? He's done some really good things, too. I don't want to go completely small with five small guys out there, and the other four guys haven't played their way out (of the lineup)."

And, no, Williams doesn't know who he'll start against the Rebels, a fierce rebounding team that beats its opponents by an average of 7.7 boards per game.

"I literally made the decision before McNeese State when I was writing the starters' names down on the board," Williams said. "Desmond Hubert was the first guy who came to mind, and I think I surprised him. None of those guys have established it's their spot."

Notes: After Williams challenged Marcus Paige defensively before the McNeese game, the freshman point guard was pleased with his defensive effort. As it turns out, Paige was right-he earned his first defensive player of the game award from the Tar Heel coaches...Paige identified ball security as one of his biggest areas of improvement. "I've done a better job recently of taking care of the ball on every single possession," he said. He's right. In the seven games Paige played before missing the UAB contest with a shoulder injury, he averaged a turnover every 8.2 minutes that he played. Since then, in four games, he's averaging a turnover every 14.1 minutes of game action...

Saturday's game is the first of two straight Smith Center sellouts. Limited tickets remain for just five of Carolina's remaining 10 home games...The Tar Heels have had some difficult travel assignments over the past few years, so it's worth noting that UNLV will be playing at 11 a.m. Las Vegas time on Saturday...The Rebels, allowing opponents to hit just 37.1% of their field goals, will be the third team the Tar Heels have faced that ranks in the top 21 nationally in field goal percentage defense. The other two are Texas (first, at 33.8%) and Indiana (15th at 36.1%)...Carolina currently ranks 273rd in the country in free throw percentage (64.8%) but leads the nation in assists per game (20.1)...Uh-oh, you know what this means. UNLV freshman guard Anthony Reinhardt said this week, "As a little kid, watching basketball growing up, I've always wanted to play in Chapel Hill." The legion of players who watched the Tar Heels growing up and then went on to torch them (casts casual glance at Miles Simon) nods in agreement.

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly and the author or co-author of seven books on the Tar Heels.


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