Season Analysis: Brice Johnson
Season stats: 5.4 ppg (7th on the team), 3.2 rpg (4th)
Per-40 minute stats: 20.5 P, 12.1 R
Season in a sentence: Brice Johnson showed an advanced knack for putting the ball in the basket, but his lack of bulk hurt him in the post against bigger opponents.
Season highlights: Johnson was a revelation early in the season. Arriving in Chapel Hill less heralded than some of his classmates and relatively unknown--given the world of recruiting--because of his Orangeburg, S.C. background, Johnson scored six points and grabbed five points in the season opener against Gardner-Webb, then scored double figures in six of the next eight games. That eight game stretch also included a pair of eight-rebound games, coming at Long Beach and in the Maui Invitational opener against Mississippi State. Those eight rebounds (amassed in just 13 and 14 minutes, respectively) would be his season high.
Johnson was one of the very few Tar Heels who didn't look overwhelmed at Indiana, hitting five of his seven field goals. That performance was part of a torrid early shooting start, as he made 61 of his first 97 college field goals (62.9%) in a stretch that lasted through the ACC opener against Miami.
Against the ACC: Even before the move to the smaller lineup, Johnson struggled to find the same production against ACC opponents that he had against the nonconference foes. His blistering start cooled to just 23-55 (41.8%) in UNC's first 10 league games. That was partially the reason he was among the big men who were unable to wrestle the fifth starting spot away from Desmond Hubert before the lineup change. For the season, he shot just 41.0% against ACC teams and his rebounding dipped from 12.5 rebounds per 40 minutes against nonconference teams to 10.5 against the league.
Postseason: Johnson saw just spot duty in the postseason. He played a combined 14 minutes in the ACC Tournament and shot 1-for-6 with three rebounds, then went 2-of-5 against Villanova and Kansas in the NCAA Tournament while collecting two rebounds.
Areas of improvement: Although most of the attention went to Hubert, Johnson was actually one of the players most affected by the switch to the smaller lineup. His minutes dipped dramatically in the second half of the season, and he saw double-digit playing time just once after the lineup change (playing 11 minutes in a win over Virginia). The freshman sometimes struggled to find his rhythm in the sporadic playing time, and went scoreless in three of Carolina's last six games.
Part of the reason his minutes decreased was that he wasn't providing especially consistent rebounding; after the Duke game, his game-high in rebounds was just four (against Virginia) and his rebounds per 40 dipped to just 9.04 after the lineup switch.
Bulk has been an area of emphasis for Johnson, as he was too easily pushed off the block by older, more physically mature players. Being outweighed especially hurt him defensively and on the glass, two areas where Roy Williams requires his big men to be contributors. A year in the Jonas Sahratian-led strength and conditioning program has paid dividends; after playing at 187 pounds last year, Johnson is listed at 205 for his sophomore campaign.
Season stats: 51.1%--Johnson's field goal percentage, which led the team and earned him the Brad Daugherty Award.
1-His total number of assists in the last 15 games of the year, when he occasionally forced shots against tough defenders.
Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist.