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UNC vs. Miami: Three things learned

The Tar Heels opened their ACC Torunament with a solid win over the Hurricanes.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-North Carolina vs Miami Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina got off to a good start in the ACC Tournament opener with a 78-53 win over Miami. All things considered, it was a pretty decent way to start March.

A good Isaiah Hicks puts UNC over the top

Prior to the Duke game, it was quite obvious that Isaiah Hicks was struggling. In the three previous games he scored a combined 10 points, and committed a combined 13 fouls.

In that Duke game, Hicks played his best game of the season, going for 21 points and nine rebounds. Against Miami, he did more of the same, going for 19 points and six rebounds. He went 7-7 from the free throw line, and had two assists, including a nice look to Kennedy Meeks to beat Miami’s zone. The Hurricanes couldn’t do much to stop him in the first half.

As evidenced by the Louisville game when he was held scoreless and constantly in foul trouble, UNC has options and can step up and still win if Hicks is struggling. But if Hicks is going, the Tar Heels are a very hard team to beat.

UNC played one of their best defensive games at the right time

Every North Carolina fan is hoping that the Tar Heels are starting to peak as March begins. This game was just an ACC quarterfinal, so it’s obviously a bit early to make too much out of their performance. That being said, UNC definitely stepping up on defense the way they did is a good sign.

The offense played well against Miami. They shot 53%, they got 21 assists on 28 made field goals. Scoring 78 points against a team playing at the pace Miami does is pretty good. It wasn’t perfect though, as evidenced by the 11 turnovers. It was North Carolina’s defense that was the real star in this game.

They forced 15 turnovers, and held the Hurricanes to just 36% shooting. After an excellent first half defensively Miami made a run right at the end of the half to cut the Tar Heels’ lead to five points. Instead of that spurt negatively affecting UNC, they then came out in the second half and held Miami to even less points than they did in the first.

Again, it was just one game. There still could (hopefully) be up to as many as eight more in March. An ACC quarterfinal win is not UNC’s end goal, but it was definitely a good start.

Carolina’s depth is a giant strength, even when the bench appears to play bad

Just thinking back to the game, you’re probably thinking the Carolina’s bench didn’t have a great game. The lineup at the end of the half that allowed Miami to cut the lead to five going into the break contained Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson, and Luke Maye.

Robinson finished with a plus-minus of -1. Woods was 0. Considering that run, you would probably think they played worst than that. The rest of the UNC reserves (excluding Stilman White who played two minutes) all had plus minuses of at least +10.

UNC only got 17 bench points in this game. The starters did carry most of the load on the offense in this game. However, the bench can provide solid minutes off the bench, especially with Maye and Tony Bradley in relief of Hicks and Meeks.

That run at the end of the first half definitely wasn’t pretty. However, it’ll probably help the likes of Woods and Robinson get used to March for the rest of this season, and for the future.