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ACC Weekend: It's how you finish

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James Michael McAdoo (43), Marcus Paige (5) and Brice Johnson are UNC's top scorers this year, but they need a fourth person to step up and shoulder more of the load. (Source: North Carolina Athletic Communications) James Michael McAdoo (43), Marcus Paige (5) and Brice Johnson are UNC's top scorers this year, but they need a fourth person to step up and shoulder more of the load. (Source: North Carolina Athletic Communications)

(RNN) - This week, I'm going to make the definitive case why North Carolina haters should continue to watch the Tar Heels for the rest of the season.

Even if you aren't impressed by their status as hoops royalty, and even if you are not the type who taps the brake and gapes at a horrendous wreck on the interstate, there may be other motivation.

Thinking, thinking, thinking… First, let's analyze what's wrong. That may free more blood to the brain cells.

P.J. Hairston is gone. Can we please stop boohooing over him? He'll never suit up for the Tar Heels again. Story over. Sorry.

The consensus opinion was that Leslie McDonald would return from his suspension and pick up where Hairston left off, but it was ridiculous to entertain such a notion. Since McDonald served his time and first suited up this season against Texas, the Heels have gotten progressively worse, and there's a eason for that.

He's nowhere near as dynamic a scorer as Hairston. Matter of fact, McDonald is just not a dynamic scorer, period. He had averaged seven points on 37 percent shooting the past two seasons, though he was pretty reliable at the free throw line.

This season, McDonald's shooting accuracy from the field, behind the arc and at the line have all dropped dramatically. That's because his team is leaning on him to play the type of game that does not come naturally for him.

But it's not all McDonald's fault.

Point guard Marcus Paige is the team's leading scorer in addition to being asked to distribute the ball. That's fine as long as he has a shooter he can kick out to when other teams bottle him up - but he doesn't. The Heels' 30 percent shooting on 3-pointers places them behind just about every other team in the country. There are about 300 Division-I teams in the country, just for reference.

And the Heels can't shoot free throws. I hear about their troubles at the line more than I hear about Justin Bieber's social life, and they're both supremely annoying.

Sure, North Carolina had a slow start last year, and later they caught fire. But last year, they lost their first two conference games and won six of the next seven. They started 1-4 in conference this season, a much deeper hole.

And yes, they beat Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State. But they also lost to Belmont and UAB.

Belmont aaaand UAB. One of those losses is somewhat understandable. But twice should have been a wake-up call - kind of like overlooking your love interest's rank flatulence but fleeing once you find the decapitated rabbits in the backyard. No offense to the Bruins and Blazers.

So back to my original point: why watch the Tar Heels anymore?

Do it in the hopes that a secondary shooter will step up and take pressure off everyone else. J.P. Tokoto is the most likely candidate, but he is more of a slasher than sharpshooter. That would be fine and dandy if he were the least bit reliable at the free throw line.

But did I mention that UNC can't hit… Never mind.

Saturday games (all times eastern)

Florida State at No. 18 Duke, noon

FSU (13-5, 4-2 ACC) and Duke (15-4, 4-2) are two of the teams in a three-way tie for third place in the ACC, but the differences end there. You're probably expecting me to say something flattering about the powerful Blue Devils, but I'm going to disappoint you.

FSU has beaten more ranked opponents [VCU, UMass] than Duke [Michigan], but their losses to ranked opponents are also noteworthy. The Seminoles lost to Michigan [in overtime] and Florida by a combined three points.

Duke lost to Kansas and Arizona by a combined 17.

What I'm saying is, you might want to tune in to ESPN around lunch time Saturday and decline invitations to leave the couch for a while.

Virginia Tech at Virginia, 3 p.m.

The Hokies (8-10, 1-5) have lost five consecutive ACC games and seven of their last eight, which is somewhat surprising. They play pretty good defense and shoot the ball well from 3-point range.

Those turnovers, though. They give the ball away 13 times per game, essentially handing opponents uncontested points.

They only turned the ball over six times Wednesday against Wake Forest, three less than the Deacons, but still managed to give Wake just its second road conference win in four years under coach Jeff Bzdelik. Read that again and think about it.

The Cavaliers (14-5, 5-1) have only lost one ACC game, which is even more shocking. For a while, it looked like a flightless bird might get farther than this team's offense.

Player Power Poll writer Matt Quillen adroitly pointed out to me the Wahoos have been better since their leading scorer, Joe Harris, left with an injury two minutes into their game against Florida State on Jan. 4. Matt's thought was that Harris was pressing, and everyone else was stagnant.

It looks like he was right. After getting embarrassed in a 35-point loss in Knoxville, none of their conference games have been close, save for a game against Duke that the Wahoos probably should have won.

Malcolm Brogdon, previously an on-today-off-tomorrow scorer, is now a consistent second option. He threw up 11 points in the first meeting with FSU and has notched double digits in the five games since to increase his scoring average.

Pitt at Maryland, 6 p.m.

I'll give you five reasons to watch a Maryland basketball game if you have not already - Dez Wells, Jake Layman, Evan Smotrycz, Seth Allen and Nick Faust. They're the reason Maryland (11-8, 3-3) is the only team in the ACC with five players who score 10 points or more per game.

Allen's seven games since his return from foot surgery have not yielded better results than the team's 8-5 nonconference start, but as he gets better maybe the team will get better.

Unfortunately, the Terrapins don't really do defense, which is something of a problem against Pitt (17-2, 5-1).

The Panthers are not exactly scoring machines, but they grind through possessions and prevent scoring opportunities for opponents. Just ask Clemson, whose highly regarded defense got it all of a 33-point loss this week.

Also on deck

No. 2 Syracuse at Miami, 1 p.m.

Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 3 p.m.

Sunday games

Clemson at North Carolina, 6 p.m.

It's truly amazing that Clemson (13-5, 4-2) is sitting in a tie for third place in the conference, and I mean that as a compliment.

KJ McDaniels, who averages 16 points, is the only player who scores more than 10 per game. But to say the Tigers get inconsistent scoring would be a lie. As many as 12 guys can play in any given game, and they all contribute.

We've already chronicled North Carolina's troubles, but this is the first of five winnable games before they play Duke and Pitt back-to-back.

Not to say the Heels can't beat Duke or Pitt, but well, you know.

Also on deck

Georgia Tech at NC State, 1 p.m.

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