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Heel Tough Blog: Play or Go Home

Tar Heel Times

The Tar Heels return to practice today after a third straight loss earlier this week to Wake Forest. Their defeat put Carolina at 15-9 overall, and 7-6 in the ACC, a far cry from where everyone thought this team would be back in November. After the loss to the Demon Deacons, Carolina stayed in the locker room for 37 minutes, as Hubert Davis told Jones Angell on the Tar Heel Sports Network, that his team “needed to have a talk”. While Hubert Davis was rather reserved, senior big man, Armando Bacot wasn’t. When asked about what was said in the locker room, Bacot said: “I just told everybody, 'I'm not gonna quit. If you want to be here, be there on Thursday. If not just go home”. While he was so forward, Bacot also communicated the confidence he still has in this group, as he also had this to say: "We've got the talent to do it. Me, Caleb, RJ, and Leaky, as we came back for a reason. And this isn't it. And I mean, it starts with us four,".

The reason Carolina entered the season with such high hopes, was because of the growth of those four returning starters on the way to the national title game, Outside of Bacot, it’s fair to say that Love, Davis, and Black have all underwhelmed at different points this season, and that’s a big reason why this team is where they are right now. As much as nobody wants to hear this right now, most of Carolina’s hopes and dreams are still in front of them. While they might not be able to come back and win the ACC regular season title, their schedule does lend to them playing themselves off the NCAA Tournament bubble, but for that to happen, it starts with the team’s core four playing much better. Here’s how each player can start helping the team collectively:

Caleb Love:

Love is arguably the most frustrating player to watch on a consistent basis since Rashad McCants played here in the mid 2000s. After hitting the biggest shot in the history of the rivalry with Duke last year in the Final Four, Love spend the whole off-season working on becoming better at his shot selection. Simply put that hasn’t happened, as Love is shooting 38% from the field, and 29% from behind the arc, despite averaging 16.6 points per game. The other night, Love started 0-9 from the field, which took him completely out of the rhythm on offense, and impacted his effort defensively. He needs to stop hurting his team on both ends, as Love takes multiple shots per game that aren’t in the flow, which leads to easy buckets for the opposition going the other way. After a productive 4-7 game in the win at Syracuse, everyone thought that was the turning point for Love individually, but he followed that up with a 3-15 performance against Pittsburgh. Until his shot selection changes, Carolina’s fortunes won’t.

R.J. Davis:

After Bacot, Davis is the only other starter that has consistently played hard on a night-in, night-out basis. He’s third on the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game while shooting 43% from the field, and 34% from behind the arc. He also averaged 5.0 rebounds and leads the team in assists at 3.4 per contest. There’s obviously a disconnect between him and Caleb Love, a lot like last season, and that’s why Carolina’s offense is the way that it is right now. When he’s in control of the offense, he plays much better, hence the home wins over Wake Forest and NC State, but when he’s not, Carolina’s offense bogs down like it did in the first half at Wake Forest earlier this week. Davis needs to establish himself as the primary ball-handler, and have Love adjust to that, just like last season.

Leaky Black:

Nobody changed the narrative about their perception more than Leaky Black did last season, as his defensive prowess allowed this fan base to praise him all tournament long, and celebrated his decision to return for his fifth season in Chapel Hill. Most of those feelings have worn off as, Black’s offensive struggles have continued this season, as he’s shooting 42% from the field, and just 31% from behind the arc. While his offensive struggles aren’t too surprising, he has taken a step back defensively, which wasn’t expected, and has really hurt this team. During the run last season, Black was taking the opponent’s best players out of the game, and that hasn’t happened as much as it needs to with him being a starter. The other night, he stole the ball at mid-court, and instead of running down the floor for the dunk, he allowed the defender to draw a foul, where he would go miss both foul shots. Black needs to return to defending at a high level and making the plays on offense that are there for him to make.

Armando Bacot:

It’s really hard to ask Bacot to do more than he’s doing now, as he leads the team in scoring (17.5), and rebounding (11.3) but even Bacot has room to improve. For one his finishing at the rim has declined in recent games, and he’s been inconsistent at the foul line, shooting just 67% from the charity stripe. More importantly, there have been times when Bacot has picked up early fouls, and given Carolina’s lack of depth in the front court, it completely alters the game, as Jalen Washington isn’t ready to contribute every night. Bacot shows up every game ready to play and plays at a high level, but he needs to keep himself on the court as much as possible, and get back to finishing at the rim, and converting at the foul line. While Bacot is more than capable of putting this team on his back, he needs help from his teammates to help turn this season around.

Carolina returns to action on Saturday when they host Clemson in a very important game that has major NCAA Tournament implications for both teams. Clemson has only won once in Chapel Hill but has been the surprise team of the ACC this season, and will be confident they can win again. The game is set for a 2 PM tip on ESPN2.

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