The #5 Tar Heels showed some rust against Hawaii, especially on the perimeter. The Heels’ defensive rotations were slower, their shots weren’t going in, and the guards’ penetration was nearly nonexistent. Much of this can be attributed to the game’s extenuating circumstances: Played at 1:00 AM EST after a long flight, very little practice time at a new gym, etc. The game looked weird when it was scheduled and fulfilled that notion when it was played.
Fortunately, Roy Williams’ teams have a tried-and-true mantra when guard play is being disrupted by some factor or another: Feed the ball down low. Against an overmatched Hawaii team, the entire UNC front court was able to succeed, but the one who shone brightest was Isaiah Hicks.
Hicks led the team with 16 points on 7/8 shooting (2/3 from the free-throw line) and added five rebounds and two assists in his 28 minutes of playing time. While he didn’t play perfectly on the court in ways that aren’t measured in the box score, UNC was badly in need of efficient scoring in this game and Hicks brought it. All but one of his baskets were right around the hoop, showing his ability to finish in close range.
A role that he will have to fill this year now that Brice Johnson is gone is that of “crowd control” in the front court, with his propensity for explosive dunks that can ignite a home crowd or quell an opposing audience trying to inspire their team to go on a run. This ability was seen fairly frequently against Hawaii, with several of Hicks’ points quieting a loud Hawaii crowd and helping start small UNC runs that helped keep the lead comfortable.
It has been said over and over in the lead-up to this season that Hicks needs to foul less, and he had been very good at keeping himself out of foul trouble in the first three games. This game, the box score will show that Hicks had four fouls, but by my admittedly sleepy and slightly biased eye, at least two of those were questionable at best, and more likely closer to nonexistent, including one that was called fairly late on a gorgeous blocked shot against the backboard. Hicks’ defense was good during the game, but not incredibly notable, as the front court generally held up on the defensive end.
Make no mistake, Hicks needs to improve. He failed to corral several rebounds that he should have had, and five rebounds (three defensive) against a smaller Hawaii front court is not enough for a starting power forward. On offense, though, he made the right plays, maintaining a positive A:TO ratio and scoring efficiently, and this earns him Friday/Saturday’s game ball.
Honorable Mentions: Tony Bradley, C
Kennedy Meeks, C
Nate Britt, G