It's a virtual rite of winter that around mid-January, the college basketball world pauses to wonder what's going wrong with Carolina basketball. That's usually followed closely by an annual rite of early spring: the Tar Heels being touted as one of the hottest teams in basketball going into the NCAA Tournament.
The annual midseason clash with Duke usually marks the end of the first half of Carolina's ACC season (even if it's not exactly the halfway mark). The Tar Heels have won an incredible 20 straight regular season ACC games following the first matchup with the Blue Devils. Carolina hasn't lost in the second half of the league schedule since the end of the forgettable 2010 campaign.
Overall, Williams is 53-8 (.869) in his last 61 ACC games played in the second half of the regular season--and that doesn't include a win at 19th ranked Connecticut in 2005. Redshirt junior Leslie McDonald, who has been part of all 20 of those victories, identifies a few reasons for the late-season success.
"It's close to tournament time, so guys are more focused," McDonald said. "Also, at Carolina you're always going to have new guys coming in, so they have to gel at the beginning. But as they gel, they come together, and Coach always talks about how Rome wasn't built in a day."
Streaking: There's been plenty of attention paid to Carolina's success since moving to the smaller rotation. What hasn't been talked about is just how handily the Tar Heels are winning the games during the current six-game winning streak.
Carolina is on a three-game ACC road winning streak-and they are the only program in the conference this year to have a three-game road winning streak in which all three wins are by at least nine points. The Tar Heels are also the only program in the conference this season to post at least a five-game league winning streak with all the wins by at least nine points (all six of the wins during the current streak are by at least nine, with an average margin of victory of 12.7 points per game).
Bullock's efficiency: Reggie Bullock is shooting 49.7% from the field during his junior season, a figure that jumps to an even 50.0% in ACC games. That puts him in elite territory among other Tar Heel wings and perimeter players during the Williams era.
Among non-post players, the only other Tar Heel regulars to shoot at least 50 percent from the field for an entire season during the Williams era are:
Ty Lawson: 2007, 2008, 2009
Quentin Thomas: 2008
David Noel: 2006 (but he was mostly playing in the post that season)
Jawad Williams: 2005 (again, playing largely in the post)
Marvin Williams: 2005
Jackie Manuel: 2004
Bullock has attempted 298 field goals this season. The only players on the above list who have attempted more and still made at least half their shots are Lawson in 2009 and Jawad Williams in 2005.
Senior night starters: As per tradition, Carolina is expected to start the seniors--all the seniors--in Saturday night's final home game against Duke. That means Dexter Strickland will be in the starting lineup, as per usual. But it also means walk-on Frank Tanner will be a starter for the first time in his Tar Heel career.
Some might (incorrectly) see it as the Tar Heels choosing to play at a talent disadvantage for the first couple minutes of the game. It's much more than that, of course--it's a tradition started by Dean Smith that makes Carolina basketball what it is.
But during the Williams era, it's also been a crowd-pleasing catalyst to solid starts. Over the last three seasons, Carolina leads 11-5 in senior day games during the opening minutes when the senior starters are in the game. In fact, the Tar Heels haven't trailed by more than a basket when the seniors are in the game since Roy Williams's first senior day back in Chapel Hill against Clemson.
New rotation: Here's a look at how Carolina has fared with its old rotation as compared to the new rotation employed by Williams beginning with the first matchup against Duke:
|All games (old lineup)||ACC games (old)||New lineup|
|Off. Reb. %||.367||.331||.308|
|Def. Reb. %||.701||.734||.667|