North Carolina’s game against Kentucky was one of the best college basketball games in the past couple seasons. While it didn’t end in a win for the Tar Heels, there were some positive takeaways from the three-point loss.
This team is fine
After the two games prior to Kentucky, some worries about North Carolina arose. After the Kentucky game, it’s fair to say the Davidson and Tennessee games fall more towards the exception rather than the rule.
Yes, the Tar Heels lost. However, they lost by just three in a game where the following things happened: An opposing player went for 47 points. UNC dealt with a whole lot of foul trouble. (Joel Berry and Kennedy Meeks fouled out, Isaiah Hicks picked up three in the first half and finished with four.) They lost the rebounding battle. Kentucky shot 54% overall and 55% from three. All that, and it was still a game right until the final buzzer.
It was totally fair to be a little anxious about the Tar Heels after Tennessee and Davidson. However, now it’s clear this team is still one of the best in the country.
Joel Berry is immensely important
This was evident even before the past three games, but it’s even clearer now. After getting hurt against Radford, Berry missed the aforementioned Tennessee and Davidson games, which ended up being UNC’s two worst performances of the season.
In his first game in nearly two weeks, Berry went for 23 points, seven assists, and five rebounds in 34 minutes. And that was in a game where he was probably a bit rusty and possibly not even 100%. His ability to get to the rim is something that no other point guard on the team can really do consistently.
His effect on the rest of the team is fairly evident as well. Meeks and Hicks didn’t play well in the two games where Berry was out. Both were somewhat limited with foul trouble against Kentucky, but when they were in, they both looked a lot better. It probably helps to play with a star point guard who has been your teammate for three years.
Theo Pinson is also pretty important
The main reason for UNC losing to Kentucky was the performance of Malik Monk. The Kentucky freshman went for 47 points, going 8-12 from three point range. Had Pinson been available, he probably would have gotten that assignment on defense.
Kenny Williams is a good defender, and none of the other UNC wings are particularly bad at that end of the floor, but Pinson is still the best of the bunch. Would he have stopped Monk on defense? Probably not. It still would have been nice to throw a 6-6, long-armed, good defender at him.
The fact that Carolina has been as good as they’ve been without him is a good sign. Adding in a good defender who was penciled in as a starter before the season will be pretty nice.