Heels, 'Canes square off for ACC Tournament crown
Greenboro, NC – The Miami Hurricanes seek an Atlantic Coast Conference championship sweep, when they take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in the league's tournament title game at the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday.
Conference titles haven't been the norm in Coral Gables. Miami earned its first regular-season ACC crown this year and just its second ever conference title (shared of the 2000 Big East crown). In just his second season at the helm, Jim Larranaga was named the ACC Coach of the Year and has his Hurricanes in their first-ever tournament title game. The 'Canes navigated the tournament field as the top-seed with wins over Boston College (69-58) in the quarterfinals and NC State (81-71) in the semifinals.
UNC has plenty of postseason success in this event, ranking second in ACC history with 17 tournament titles, although the Tar Heels are seeking their first since 2008. A slow start in 2012-13 had people questioning North Carolina early on in-conference, but Roy Williams' Tar Heels really came together down the stretch to finish up 12-6 in conference play, good for third place. The Tar Heels opened their tournament run with an 83-62 rout of Florida State, but had a much tougher time in Saturday's 79-76 semifinal win over Maryland. A win on Sunday would be Williams' 700th in his head coaching career.
The Tar Heels hold an 18-4 series advantage against the Hurricanes, but half of Miami's victories have come this season. Miami knocked off UNC in Chapel Hill on Jan. 10 (68-59) and followed that with an 87-61 rout in Coral Gables on Feb. 9.
Scoring points hasn't been a problem for North Carolina this season and the Heels needed that to be the case against Maryland on Saturday. Dexter Strickland and Reggie Bullock led the way with 15 points apiece. P.J. Hairston was nursing a hand injury but still finished with 13 points, as did James Michael McAdoo. Still, the Tar Heels had to hold on down the stretch and sweat out a win.
On the season, North Carolina comes in averaging a hefty 77.2 ppg. Just a sophomore, McAdoo struggled to live up to the hype surrounding him coming into the year, but he still put up big numbers, leading his team in both scoring (14.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg). Bullock (14.3 ppg) and Hairston (13.8 ppg) add to the scoring punch. Strickland (8.1 ppg) and Marcus Paige (7.7 ppg) don't usually add much to the scoring column, but they are a potent one-two punch in terms of facilitating the offense. Just a freshman, Paige leads the team with 149 assists, with Strickland (135) not far behind, ranking as two of the ACC's top assist men.
It will be strength against strength, as North Carolina's offensive firepower will try to penetrate Miami's staunch defense. The Hurricanes are yielding just 60.2 ppg, while holding foes to under 40 percent shooting overall (.397). No player has meant more to Miami's run this year than sophomore Shane Larkin. The 5-foot-11 point guard leads the team in scoring (14.2 ppg), assists (4.3 apg) and steals (2.0 spg). Forward Kenny Kadji (13.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and guard Durand Scott (13.4 ppg) are big time performers as well in the Miami lineup. Further depth comes in the form of guard Trey McKinney Jones (9.1 ppg) and center Reggie Johnson (7.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
It was Scott that stood up and took over against NC State in Saturday's semifinal matchup, netting a career-high 32 points to put the Hurricanes in the title game. Scott was 12-of-18 from the floor, including five 3-pointers in the performance. Larkin was unstoppable as well, netting 23 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists. Julian Gamble chipped in with 10 points, while Kadji netted eight points and grabbed nine rebounds for Miami.