UNC looks for consistency going into ACC play

At Friday’s press conference, Roy Williams tapped into his arsenal of sayings, reciting one he admitted usually brings about a deal of laughs from his players.

“You can’t come in there tiptoeing through the tulips,” said the North Carolina men’s basketball coach. “You’ve got to come in, plant your feet and be ready to make a stand.”

Though Williams went to the phrase when asked about the readiness of his three freshmen players going into UNC’s first game of 2014, the saying may apply to his entire team, as the Tar Heels get set to dive into conference play Sunday in their ACC opener at Wake Forest.

UNC concluded its non-conference schedule at a 10-3 mark with an 84-51 rout of UNC-Wilmington on New Year’s Eve. Despite defeating the top three teams selected in the nation’s preseason poll — Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State — the Tar Heels fell to three unranked opponents in Belmont, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas.

Junior forward James Michael McAdoo said he’s comfortable with where the team stands heading into its ACC slate.

“We’re 10-3. A lot of people thought we were going to be that,” McAdoo said. “They probably didn’t think we were going to lose to the teams we lost to, obviously. But we’re confident. We’re ready for this.

“Me and (sophomore guard) Marcus (Paige), being the leaders on this team, we’re in good communication now. We realize what it’s going to take.”

Though he made no reference of a New Year’s resolution for his team, Williams called for the Tar Heels to start the year by playing more consistently than they did in their first 13 games of the season.

For Williams, the team’s widespread steadiness must sprout from what he currently sees as the most consistent aspect of the game for the Tar Heels — defense.

“Our consistency, I have not liked,” Williams said. “Sometimes we’ve been a good rebounding team, sometimes we’ve been a sorry rebounding team. Sometimes we’ve been extremely unselfish, and other times we’ve been extremely selfish.”

“But I’ve got hope, I really do, that we’re going to be pretty good defensively first to start.”

Defensively, the Tar Heels will likely again be missing the inside presence of 6-foot-10, 280-pound sophomore center Joel James, who Williams said he anticipates will miss a fourth straight game Sunday despite participating in Friday practice.

James started the first 10 games of the year for the Tar Heels before sustaining an MCL sprain in the opening seconds against Texas on Dec. 18. Sophomore Brice Johnson started two games in James’ absence before freshman Kennedy Meeks got the starting nod in UNC’s last game against UNC-W. But Williams has yet to commit to a starter for the Wake Forest game.

Days after making his first career start against the Seahawks, Meeks will play in his first ACC game against the Demon Deacons along with the team’s other two freshmen — starting point guard Nate Britt and forward Isaiah Hicks. Williams said the team’s transition from non-conference play to the ACC schedule may result in some growing pains from the youngsters.

“They have no idea,” Williams said. “It really is a big-time jump.”

It’s one that all the Tar Heels, not only the freshman trio, will attempt to make starting Sunday in Winston-Salem.

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