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The Tar Heels spent their Thanksgiving holiday, on the beautiful Paradise Island, as they competed in the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. The team arrived with a 4-0 record, and the nation's 6th ranking. I think it was pretty clear that Carolina at this point in the season isn't the 6th best team in college basketball, even though the sport is as wide open as ever. There were plenty of questions for this group when they made the trip, and this tournament allowed us to find some answers to those questions.
As much as Roy Williams would've liked to win this tournament, I think as long as you won 2 then you felt like you accomplished something. That's exactly what happened as Carolina won their opener, lost the semifinal, before winning the 3rd place game. Here's a breakdown of all 3 games, and what we learned from the event:
Alabama: Brandon Robinson made his season debut, and provided some much needed perimeter scoring, and floor spacing for a offense that desperately needed both. Robinson scored 12 points while connecting on 3 triples. as he was one of 4 players in double figures. Garrison Brooks led the team with a 20 points, and grabbed 7 rebounds. The Heels weren't great in their half court offense, but they outrebounded the Crimson Tide 60-31 which offset yet another poor offensive performance.
Michigan: Michigan advanced after getting past Iowa State, and they took it Carolina early and never let up. This game took place on Thanksgiving Day, and it appeared the Tar Heels were stuffed with turkey and pie. Carolina trailed at halftime by 5, and any chance of a comeback was erased early after the Wolverines started the second stanza on a 19-0 run, that blew the game open. The Heels showed their resiliency as they made it a 8 point game, but not many teams are capable of coming back from down 24. The Heels shot just 43% from the floor and a even worse 15% from behind the three point line, as their half court offensive woes were continued. It also didn't help that they left 10 points at the foul line, and when they lose by 9 it only makes it worse. Even though they outrebounded Michigan, it felt that they were overwhelmed by the size and strength of the Wolverines big men. Cole Anthony led the way scoring 22 points, on 8-17 shooting. Garrison Brooks added 13 points and 8 rebounds, as he was the only other Tar Heel in double figures. This was the second straight season Michigan has bested Carolina.
Oregon: After the disappointing loss to Michigan the day before, the biggest question about this game was how would they respond after facing adversity? They responded in a big way, earning a 78-74 win, earning them their best win of the young season. Oregon posed a lot of potential problems with their length and experience, but Carolina was prepared. Armando Bacot powered the offense, as his development is visible. The freshmen big man scored a career best 23 points on 7-9 shooting, while hauling in 12 rebounds. They controlled the backboards out-rebounding the Ducks 47-39, which allowed them to control the game. The stat of the game was Carolina was 20-21 from the free throw line. Besides Bacot, the Heels put 3 players in double figures to pace the scoring. Leaky Black played 9 minutes on a sprained ankle, before exiting the game and never returning.
What did we learn from the two wins and loss on Paradise Island?
1. B-Rob's Presence Can't be Understated: Every Tar Heel fan knew how much the senior's absence would be, once it was announced he'd miss time with a ankle injury, I just don't think we'd thought it be as evident to start the season. He made his presence felt in all three games, scoring double figures in both the wins. Robinson gives Carolina a three point shooting threat, and more importantly another ball handler to run the offense when Cole Anthony rests. Robinson also helps spread the floor, which makes it harder for the opponent to bog down on either Anthony on the perimeter, or the post players on the interior.
Armando has Arrived: The big fella posted back to back double-doubles against Gardner-Webb & Elon, before the Battle 4 Atlantis. We wondered if that would continue, once the competition level was raised, and it did. He posted double-doubles against Alabama & Oregon, in no coincidence both games Carolina won. He controlled the game against the Ducks, who have a talented rookie themselves, along with a lot of size throughout the roster. His development is happening right before our eyes, and it's going to be a lot of fun watching him grow this season.
3. This Team Has Fight: After Michigan punched them in the mouth, and tested their competitive fortitude it was time for Carolina to show their resolve. They did just that, cutting the 24 point deficit to 8 at one point, before running out of gas and time. The next day they played Oregon at 11:30 am, and came ready to play a physical 40 minutes. Over the years, the program has been quoted as being "soft" but they showed this week they are tough, and with point guard from New York, they'll be ready for a rock fight every time they step on the floor.
Up Next: Carolina returns to Chapel Hill, but not to a break in the schedule, as they'll host Ohio State Wednesday night in part of the annual ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The game will be televised on ESPN, with a 9:30 tip time.