Thursday, April 10 2014 2:43 PM EDT2014-04-10 18:43:26 GMT
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(RNN) - In their last meeting, Miami dominated North Carolina in an 87-61 win at home. But a new strategy could produce a different result in Sunday's ACC tournament championship.
UNC's smaller, faster starting lineup embraces the team's best attributes - passing and scoring in transition. Coach Roy Williams' move came from a simple premise: Get your five best players out there and see what happens.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes met the Tar Heels in the middle of a 14-game win streak when it seemed like they could do no wrong.
Since then, they went through a late-season stumble and only now seem to be rediscovering their identity as a defensive team that relies on turnovers to turn the game in their favor.
Here are the breakdowns of the two squads, by position:
Point guard: Marcus Paige, UNC, vs. Shane Larkin, Miami
Paige, a freshman, was dropped into the role of running the Tar Heel offense early in the season and suffered through his growing pains. One of the top prospects out of high school, he often looked timid, passing the ball early in offensive sets and acting hesitant in finding his own opportunities to score.
He got comfortable in the lineup around the same time the team went small. Although he doesn't account for many points, he has been a key component of the high-octane UNC offense by finding his teammates for open looks at the basket.
His best game of the tournament was against Florida State in the quarterfinals Friday, when he had nine points and 10 assists.
Larkin, the runner-up for ACC Player of the Year, is the clear leader on a team that finished with a Top-10 ranking and the conference regular season title. That leadership is even more impressive when you account for him being the only non-senior in the starting five.
Larkin's game is extraordinary because of its balance; he averages 13.9 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. He works to keep his teammates involved throughout, but he will take over with his scoring when he feels it is needed.
He totaled 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the 81-71 semifinal win Saturday over NC State.
Guard: Dexter Strickland, UNC, vs. Durand Scott, Miami
Strickland showed he can find the range with his jump shot in the 79-76 semifinal victory over Maryland. The senior finished with 15 points on 7 of 12 shooting and added four assists.
Strickland defends his position and leads a fast break with equal proficiency. His versatility allows him to spell Paige on the point guard duties, and he can take the opposition off the dribble to score or create an open shot for a fellow Heel by drawing the defense in.
Scott scored a career-high 32 points against NC State in the semifinal, going 5 for 8 from 3-point range. The senior is also among the best basketball thieves in the conference, and his play earned him the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award.
His speed and 6'5" frame allow him to cover anyone on the perimeter and prevent them from getting the ball into the lane. His opportunistic mindset leads to multiple turnovers per game on average, which gives the ‘Canes easy baskets and demoralizes whomever they may be playing.
Guard: Reggie Bullock, UNC, vs. Trey McKinney-Jones, Miami
Bullock is a coach's dream come true: He defends, grabs a bunch of rebounds, hits 3s at a high rate and scores without having plays drawn up for him. Since the Tar Heels went smaller, his points and boards have increased dramatically; he went for 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists in Saturday's semifinal.
At 6'7", he can guard nearly anyone on the floor and cause turnovers. His 44 percent average from beyond the arc stretches out the defense to prevent double teams.
His rebounding may be the most important factor in the new lineup's success, though. He averages nearly 10 boards in the last seven contests, so UNC doesn't need to give up offense to get more size into play.
McKinney-Jones is the type of "glue guy" that every team wants. He is a smart player who gets into the right place, whatever the situation, and rarely makes mistakes.
The senior is a good one-on-one defender, which keeps his teammates from having to leave their man to help out. And when defenses forget about him, he's happy to bury a few 3s to keep them honest; he sank two of them and finished with 12 points Friday in the win over Boston College.
Forward: P.J. Hairston, UNC, vs. Kenny Kadji, Miami
Hairston is the reason for the change in North Carolina's starting five. His play had been so good off the bench that coach Roy Williams finally decided he couldn't keep him sitting for a taller but inferior player.
Since the adjustment, he has taken on much larger players on defense and more than held his own. Any size that he gives is more than made up for in his effort, physicality and ability to fire from long range.
His toughness has been tested with a concussion during the season and a gash on his hand that required eight stitches during the tournament. In the most recent case, he returned the next game and finished with 13 points and four rebounds against Maryland, even though his hand was heavily wrapped.
Kadji is a 6'11" forward with a game suited for a 6'0" guard. The senior hits 38 percent of his 3-point tries and can wear out guys of similar height by making them chase him all over the court.
He also has shown he can score with his back to the basket. Kadji's post play gives him another dimension when a team tries to counter with a smaller, faster defender.
Since Reggie Johnson went down in late January, he took on more of the scoring and rebounding load. He continued those contributions even after Johnson returned, including 15 points and 11 rebounds in the quarterfinal win.
Forward/center: James Michael McAdoo, UNC, vs. Julian Gamble, Miami
Gamble never averaged more than 20 minutes per game until midway through the 2013 season. But once Johnson went down, the senior took over the starting spot and never looked back.
He has become a strong defender around the rim, blocking or altering shots from players who try to get into the paint. He also is a physical scoring presence, grabbing offensive rebounds or turning passes from teammates into dunks and layups.
He scored 10 points, nine in the second half, on 4 for 4 shooting Saturday.
McAdoo has led the Tar Heels in scoring and rebounding all season. In the semifinal contest, he scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The 6'9" sophomore is a freakish athlete who can out-muscle or run by nearly anyone else his size. He has a tendency to rely on his skills too much, but his game has become more well-rounded this season, with his offensive rebound totals going up and his turnovers going down.
A bulging disc in his back caused him to miss practice recently, but it has not had an impact on his play. Even hurt, he remains one of the Tar Heels' biggest advantages and can score large amounts of points in quick bursts.
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