Don't look now, but here comes Carolina! Yes, this is the same team who had some fans wondering, earlier in the season, if they would be playing post season ball. The same team that Coach Williams advised that with patience, would be much improved as the season progressed. He was correct and the Tar Heels have become one of the hotter teams in the Country.
After a decisive 79-58 victory against Florida State on Sunday, the Heels have now won five games in a row and 11 out of their last 14.
Coach Roy Williams deserves a lot of credit in the change of direction with this team. It started on February 13 against Duke when Carolina went to what has become referred to as their "small lineup". P.J. Hairston joined the starting lineup against the Blue Devils in Durham and though Carolina lost that game, it was clear they were on to something with this lineup.
It also became clear that outside shooting was a real strength with this team with Hairston in the lineup and when Reggie Bullock and Hairston are on, the Tar Heels can be very good. Since the insertion of Hairston in the starting lineup, North Carolina is shooting 40 percent from behind the three point arc, averaging 8.3 three pointers made per game on 20.6 attempted,
The smaller lineup has helped Carolina open up their transition game that Coach Williams prefers his teams to play.
Another key factor in the Tar Heel success of late is the improvement of Marcus Paige at point guard. In the last 5 games, Paige has averaged 5.8 assists per game to only 1.8 turnovers. Dexter Strickland is quietly giving Carolina quality play at guard averaging 5 assists per game and less than 1 turnover in the last 5 ball games. Between Paige and Strickland, North Carolina is getting quality production from the point guard position, combining for 10.8 assists a game and only 2.4 turnovers in the last 5 games.
Despite the smaller lineup, North Carolina continues to be one of the best rebounding teams in the Country. They are currently the 9th ranked rebounding team nationally, averaging 40.1 rebounds per game. Reggie Bullock has stepped up to help, averaging 8.3 rebounds per game since the Tar Heels have gone small.
Roy Williams teams have traditionally picked their defense up heading down the stretch and into the post season. This team has been no exception playing quality defense recently. North Carolina leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in steals and are second in turnover margin forcing their opponents into 15.7 turnovers per game.
When you add all of this together, you have a team who is hot and playing their best ball of the season when it counts. Their current 5 game winning streak is currently the best in the conference and with 2 games left in the regular season, the Tar Heels still have a shot at second seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament.
North Carolina faces Maryland at College Park on Wednesday before playing Duke on Senior night at the Smith Center on Saturday. The Tar Heels will need to bring their "A" Game against the Terps to avoid a potential trap game with the Blue Devils looming. Maryland is dangerous, still needing some work to make the NCAA Tournament field.
There is still a lot of basketball left to be played, but with North Carolina playing at their best in March, they are a team that no one will want to see in their bracket in the next couple of weeks.