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UNC vs. Pitt: Three Things We Learned

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The Tar Heels hold on against the Panthers to remain perfect at home

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The #12 North Carolina Tar Heels have won three of their last four games, but this stretch has including some of the worst defensive efforts this season. The Heels needed this win against last-place Pittsburgh, especially moving into the gauntlet of their ACC schedule. They squeaked out a two-point victory last night to stay undefeated at home and atop the ACC standings. Here are three things we learned from UNC’s win over Pitt.

The Defense is Struggling

In each of the last four games, UNC’s opponents have shot a higher field goal percentage than the Heels. Last night, Pitt shot 55.6 percent from the floor, including 44.8 percent from three-point range. The Panthers made more field goals and threes than the Tar Heels. UNC won this game on the free throw line. They were 13-19 from the charity stripe, compared to 5-5 for Pitt.

During his post game comments, Coach Roy Williams said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but someway, somehow I got to figure out a way to do a better job coaching on the defensive end of the floor.” Coach Williams identified one of the issues from the game against Pitt, and from the last few games as well, is “getting up on the shooter.” There were some mismatches in this game, including Kennedy Meeks having to stretch out to the wing and Nate Britt being posted up on down low.

Eric Montross in the pregame show against Miami talked about “filling the gap” after ball screens and when opponents are isolated. Too often, it seems as though the Tar Heels give their opponents too much space to make a jump shot or to get that first step driving to the basket. This must improve before Saturday.

The Heels need Theo Pinson

Once again, Coach Williams addressed this post game, saying Theo being a tall and lengthy defender would have been a much better match up against Jamel Artis. Plus, Coach Williams pointed out how important he is to the offense. It is no coincidence that a couple of the best performances of the season for the Heels (versus NC State and Florida State) Pinson contributed at a high level in a variety of ways. Against NC State, he stuffed the stat sheet. Against Florida State, he had a double-double in the biggest game of the season to that point.

Coach Williams would not put a timetable on his return, and said he would not play Saturday against Notre Dame. However, with Pinson out of his boot and starting back practicing today, he will hopefully be back in the lineup before UNC travels to Cameron Hansbrough Indoor Stadium next week.

Justin Jackson is getting it done

Justin Jackson has scored at least 20 points in six of the last eight games, and is averaging 20.4 points per game in conference play. Eric Montross and Jones Angell have commented that Jackson has the quietest 20+ performances. He consistently leads the team in field goal attempts, but does it even seem that way? This year, he has improved his outside shooting and continues to be effective on his signature floater driving the basket.

At the end of the game last night, Jackson and Isaiah Hicks had great drives to the basket that ended with easy points. With Hicks showing off his ability to dribble-drive to the rim last night, and the proven effectiveness of Jackson and Joel Berry II being able to do the same, the Heels should make a concerted effort to make these attempts occur more often than have in recent games.