The Heels return to action tomorrow night against Monmouth. King Rice returns to Chapel Hill with a 10-2 record, as the Hawks have continued their winning ways from last season. It’s the final non-conference contest for the Heels, as they finish their preparations for the ACC gauntlet that awaits.
As always, there are a few trends that should pique your interest. Here are three things to watch.
Avoid the Christmas Hangover
The Tar Heels have proven they can close a game. They have turned sure blowouts into frustrating close losses (Kentucky, Indiana), a mind-boggling loss into a final possession win (Tennessee), and held a team to 16 second-half points on their way to a 43-point win (Northern Iowa). What this team has not done, wth the exception of Radford, is consistently start strong and fast.
That’s surprising considering playing fast, with quick, efficient possessions has traditionally been a UNC staple. Just as surprising, the Heels are 4th in the country in adjusted offense (points per 100 possessions) and 12th in points scored per game with 88.7. Yet, that hasn’t translated to very many first half performances that have allowed fans or players to breathe easy. Hopefully there isn’t too much Christmas rust when they take the court on Wednesday.
Luke Maye redefining his role
Raise your hand if you knew that Luke Maye has logged more minutes than Tony Bradley in three of the previous four games. If you raised your hand, you either are a liar or have an unhealthy obsession with box scores. All joking aside, Maye has quietly asserted himself as a productive, if not necessary, power forward.
The past four games have seen Maye average eight points and 3.5 rebounds, while shooting 50% (4-8) from three. That’s solid work in 17.5 minutes per game, an increase from his season average of 14.3. It’s even more impressive considering that many fans and pundits had Luke as an afterthought entering the season. (Ahem. Except us.)
It’s unclear if there are other reasons, other than increased production, as to why Maye has received a more prominent role. Maybe Bradley has begun to hit that freshman wall or his elbow injury is more significant than currently thought. I, however, am not concerned. Pinson’s return will eat into Maye’s time on the court, but he will continue to provide crucial minutes as March draws near. Every possession he can get now will be hugely beneficial as the season wears on.
UNC is averaging 12.4 turnovers a game. However, the past three games have seen the Heels give it away 10, nine, and four times. That’s encouraging ball and possession protection. If they can continue that trend, that elusive fast start could become a true realization.
They are also forcing 15.6 turnovers a game. That was surprising, especially considering the strength and style of many opponents. Northern Iowa, Davidson, and Wisconsin don’t exactly lend themselves to many possessions, and thus increased opportunities for turnovers. Yet, UNC has forced 10 or more turnovers in every game except one. Kentucky only had nine in that 203 point instant classic
For what it’s worth, Monmouth has very similar turnover and forced rates. They average 13.08 turnovers a game, while forcing their opponents to give it away 15.1 times per game. In this hometown article, King Rice stated that Monmouth definitely wants to run with UNC. If that’s the case, UNC will have plenty of chances win the turnover battle.