We knew one way or another we were going to learn more about the Tar Heels this weekend, as they were participating in an event that included four ranked teams, all of which can win their conference, and make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament next March. While the goal is to win every game, going 1-1 over the weekend was a more reasonable result, and still something Carolina could’ve built off of. Instead, the Tar Heels lost a tightly contested game to Purdue yesterday, before getting blown out by Tennessee earlier today. With those losses, we learned a lot about Carolina, just not in the way in wanted to, or even expected to, as it appears Hubert Davis has his work cut out for him, once the team gets back in Chapel Hill.
You had to love the effort, just couldn’t love the result. Despite Armando Bacot scoring just 2 points, as he battled foul issues all game long, and Leaky Black not being available due to an illness, Carolina competed in a 93-84 defeat. Carolina was paced by Dawson Garcia who had his best game as a Tar Heel, scoring 26 points on 10-13 shooting, and grabbed 8 rebounds. Hubert Davis said entering the event, he needed to do a better job of getting Garcia going offensively, and it appeared he did so in this one. This game was the first big test for the new look frontcourt for UNC, and they were able to hold their own for the most part, even with the trio of Bacot, Manek, and Garcia all committing at least four fouls, with Bacot and Manek fouling out. Purdue’s frontcourt of Zach Edey and Treivon Williams combined to score 29 points, as the Boilermakers, dominated the painted area 42-18.
This game had all the feelings of an NCAA Tournament game, with an electric crowd, and fast paced play, with both teams playing at a high level offensively. Purdue shot a blistering 68% in the second half, as the Tar Heels continue to struggle on that end of the floor. Carolina’s competitiveness was the best it has been all season long, and it’s something this team needs more of consistently.
It usually takes until December or January, for Carolina to look disinterested in a game, but this year it only took until the fifth game of the season. From the jump, Tennessee had more energy and competed at a higher level than Carolina simply couldn’t match. They slept walk themselves into a 39-32 halftime deficit, which the game didn’t even feel that close. Ultimately it wasn’t, as the Vols routed UNC, 89-69, as UNC went winless in the Hall of Fame Classic. Had it not been from Brady Manek’s 24 points on 7-12 shooting, who knows how bad the margin would’ve been. After allowing Purdue, to shoot 68% in the second half on Saturday, Carolina allowed Tennessee to score on 16 of 17 possessions, at one point in the second half, negating any chance at a comeback in the final 20 minutes. To make matters worse, after getting schooled in the paint by the Boilermakers, UNC allowed Tennessee to dominate that area again to the tune of 54-22, and they don’t have the size that Purdue does. After seeing this team compete at a high level just 24 hours ago, this performance was as deflating as it could be in November.
You play these events, to get a feel for your team, and the areas they need improvement. After leaving Uncasville, 0-2 it is clear the Tar Heels have work to do.
Defense: After a summer of talking about being better defensively, it has proven to just talk to this point. Carolina has allowed at least 83 points in four consecutive games, and in four of the last eight halves of basketball players, they allowed the opponent to shoot 60% or better from the field. Even with the offense playing more efficiently, that’s not going to get the job done. Outside of Leaky Black or Anthony Harris, there isn’t a single Tar Heel that can stay in front of the ball on the perimeter, which is allowing constant penetration, which forces the defense to collapse and give up open shots. Armando Bacot is the only legitimate rim protector on the team, but given the lack of front-court depth, he can’t contest every shot at the basket. Right now, there are more questions than answers for the Tar Heels defensively, but it’s clear adjustments need to be made. After seeing some zone in the first two games, Hubert Davis hasn’t gone to it since. Against Tennessee, he threw out a half-hearted press that was easily beaten for a layup. Defense is all about effort, and want to. Five games in, it’s clear that Carolina doesn’t have any desire to defend at the necessary level.
Layups: Simply put, Carolina has to be better around the rim. Today, Carolina was just 7-19 on layup attempts. That’s inexcusable, to say the least. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis have done a good job getting into the lane, but they need to be better at finishing. They are driving the lane, anticipating contact, and when they don’t get a foul, and they lay the ball up in lazy fashion, it results in a miss. These bad habits should’ve been erased over the summer, but add that to the list for Hubert Davis.
Turnovers: After a summer spent emphasizing valuing the basketball better than last year, Carolina has still been careless with the basketball. Whether it’s bad entry passes, the cross-court passes, or just simply not being strong with the basketball, the Tar Heels are turning it over at a rate they can’t withstand. The decision making needs improvement, as well as the overall feel for the game, and that includes everyone on the roster.
Lack of Front Court Depth: There is no way to solve this during the season, but moving forward Hubert Davis will need to better balance the roster. Given the time of his hire, he did the best he could this summer, but only having three quality front-court players isn’t enough, and that was proven over the weekend. Justin McKoy is going to be a nice player for Carolina, but his offensive game is still a year away, and he’s a liability on the floor at the power forward position. With Carolina’s struggles to rebound the ball consistently, Davis can’t implore the small ball lineup as much as he probably wants to, which adds more emphasis on Bacot, Manek, Garcia to stay out of foul trouble.
Garcia & Manek Shine: It was important for Garcia to have the type of game he did on Saturday, albeit in a loss. He’s the most talented front-court player on the roster and needs to be a consistent contributor. That game will go a long way as he continues to settle into his role for the Tar Heels. Manek has had his moments, but today against Tennessee, he got the long ball working, connecting on 6-10 triples.
3 Point Shooting: Carolina continues to shoot the ball well from beyond the arc, shooting over 40% from deep in both games this weekend, and that included Kerwin Walton going just 2-10. Given the way they are defending right now, it appears they will need every single one of them too.
Up Next: It’s not time to panic just yet about Hubert Davis, and this Tar Heel team. This is the first taste of adversity they've faced under their new head coach, let’s see how they respond Tuesday against UNC-Asheville, at home on ACC Network Extra, starting at 7 PM.
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