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Jay Bilas and Jay Williams talk North Carolina men's basketball, NBA Draft and recruiting before UNC-Virginia

Ahead of ESPN College Gameday and the North Carolina men's basketball team's matchup with Virginia on Saturday in Chapel Hill, two commentators — Jay Bilas and Jay Williams — met with members of the local media on Friday. Here is a sampling of different topics discussed.

North Carolina in the national landscape

Bilas and Williams — both former standouts at Duke — are two of the most embedded college basketball minds in the country. From their vantage points atop the collegiate landscape, they both said UNC (22-5, 10-3 ACC) was in the top tier of teams in the nation.

Bilas said North Carolina was the best team in the country in November, especially during the Maui Invitational run. The difference between now and then has been in the Tar Heels' team defense.

“In November and early December, they defended at a really high level,” Bilas said. “And I think they are trying to get back to that, where defense is a bigger factor in their success.”

Bilas qualified his comments, though, by acknowledging how it gets tougher now without Kenny Williams, who is likely out for the season with a right knee injury.

“Healthy, they are the best team,” Bilas said. “Losing Kenny Williams, he’s probably their best perimeter defender, or right there. So that hurts, and it hurts their rotations. But (Theo) Pinson’s back, so that’s helpful.”

Jay Williams also spoke highly of the Tar Heels. He went as far to say that UNC has the ingredients to get back to the national championship game, where North Carolina fell just short last season.

“Their bigs, their shooters, the way (Justin Jackson) is playing," Williams said, "they have all the pieces right here to do it."

Bilas on UNC players' draft prospects

Bilas also works as an NBA Draft analyst for ESPN. He shared some of his opinions on how North Carolina’s current stars could fair in the NBA, starting with Justin Jackson.

“Justin is an NBA player,” he said. “His first couple of years, he didn’t shoot it as well as I think people thought he would. He came out of high school with a great reputation as a shooter and didn’t make shots at as high a rate. And this year he’s really making shots.”

Jackson is making 38.9 percent of his 3-pointers this season, up from 29.2 percent a season ago.

“He’s got a great middle game," Bilas said. "Like everybody, he needs to get bigger and stronger and that kind of stuff, but I think he’s got a good future ahead of him.”

He also called Joel Berry a terrific player and was optimistic about his pro prospects.

“Today’s game, with his speed and his ability to handle the ball, would he be a starter at the next level, projected right now, maybe not," he said. "But can he play in the NBA? He can absolutely play in the NBA. He’s a much better shooter than he was, and quick — he’s a hell of a player.”

He finished by discussing Isaiah Hicks, who ranks third in scoring for UNC this season.

“Isaiah’s another good player," Bilas said. "He’s got a really good shooting touch, and he’s had foul issues that kept him from playing extended minutes at times. But I think if you were an NBA front office person, you would say, ‘We’d like him to rebound at a little higher rate, and maybe block a few more shots.’"

“I wouldn’t classify him as a rim protector, but because he can step out to 15-17 feet and make a shot, he can run and has got a good post game — all the Carolina guys are so fundamentally sound in the post, they can play down low. They all have a chance.”

Williams on UNC men's basketball recruiting

Jay Williams discussed why North Carolina hasn’t been able to land some of the top recruits in the country the past few recruiting classes. North Carolina hasn’t signed many top-tier recruits since Harrison Barnes, the top-ranked player in the Class of 2010.

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“You have to find a hook," Williams said. "And this doesn’t sound bad, but there was a mystique about North Carolina basketball that is just maybe starting to come back over the last year or two, right? Getting to the championship last year. But kids used to be knocking at the door to go to school here, 24/7. I was one of those kids, which is why I recognize it, back being from New Jersey."

"And now it seems like with what (John Calipari) has been able to build over at Kentucky, getting kids to be like that one-and-done society, what Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) has been able to do with USA Basketball, everybody’s found a hook."

“And the thing is, what’s North Carolina’s hook? You have to get people to start talk about your program outside of the norm of college basketball. And I think that’s the next step for this program — how can it create that movement in that direction?”

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com