Before the Christmas holiday, it had appeared as if the Tar Heels were rounding into form and starting to look like the team we all expected to see when they started the season ranked #1 in the country. Well, that will have to wait after Carolina, which re-entered the Top 25 earlier week, lost at Pittsburgh earlier today, 76-74. The loss drops Carolina to 9-5 on the season, as the Heels became the first team since 2000-01 Arizona, to start the season ranked #1, and lose 5 of its first 15 games. The loss to the Panthers makes it the fourth time in the last five matchups they’ve gotten better of Carolina.
Carolina led 40-34 at the break, and lead by 9 at four different points in the game, but Carolina could never put the game away. That allowed Jamarious Burton to heat up, as he scored a career-high, 31 points on 14-17 shooting, to lead his team from behind, and in the process, earn their best win of the season. After shooting over 50% from the field in the first half, Carolina was just 9-27 in the second half and wound up shooting only 43% from the field, and 32% from behind the arc, as they were only 7-22 for the game, after shooting 6-13 in the first half. They were led by Armando Bacot, who recorded his 58th career double-double, scoring 22 points, on 8-14 shooting, and he grabbed 13 rebounds. R.J. Davis added 16 points, on 4-11 shooting, and Pete Nance scored 10 points on 4-8 shooting, and those were the only other Tar Heels in double figures scoring.
Make no mistake, this is a bad loss, and it’s not that Pittsburgh isn’t a good team, they most certainly showed what they are capable of today, but these are the types of games that national title quality teams win. Carolina is now 0-2 in ACC road games, 0-3 in true road games, and 3-5 away from Chapel Hill. Hubert Davis will enter the new year still seeking answers to questions, he was hoping to have answered before the start of conference play.
Points in the Paint: Carolina’s perimeter defense was solid in terms of defending the three-point line, as Pittsburgh shot 5-20 from deep, but their inability to contain the ball was an issue. Pittsburgh outscored Carolina in the paint 42-26, as Pitt kept attacking the rim, while the Carolina guards neglected Armando Bacot. Usually, when UNC gets beat, it’s because they can’t guard the perimeter, but in more cases this season, it has been because they can’t keep their opponents out of the lane, until that happens, they’ll be more suspect to get upset.
Inconsistent Guard Play: There have been only a handful of times that Davis and Caleb Love have played well in the same game, and that didn’t happen today. Davis may have scored 16 points but was only 4-11 from the field, and 1-5 from behind the arc. Meanwhile, Love scored 9 points, on 3-9 shooting. Love’s inconsistency has plagued the team virtually all season long, yet he’s faced little repercussions for his below-average play, as today he played 35 minutes. As talented as Love and Davis are, Hubert Davis has to find the ability to sit them if they aren’t playing well.
Rotation: It was nice to see D’Marco Dunn return from a broken hand, but it wasn’t ideal to see him play the most minutes off the bench (20), especially as Burton kept targeting him on the defensive end. Injuries have played a factor in why the rotation isn’t fully set as the long stretch of ACC games begins, but it’s starting to look more like Davis will be only able to play at most 7 players on a consistent basis.
Toughness: A big reason why Pitt won today was that they were simply just tougher than Carolina, a theme that carried from last season, where the Panthers waltzed into Chapel Hill, beat UNC, and had current assistant, but former Tar Heel, Jason Capel claiming they were soft. Hubert Davis thought his team had toughened up after back to back hard fought wins over Ohio State, and Michigan, but that isn’t the case.
Up Next: Carolina returns home on Wednesday night when they play host to Wake Forest at 9 PM.