Well that wasn’t nearly as fun as we first thought it’d be. For the first time since 2015, the Wolfpack came into Chapel Hill and took down the Tar Heels 95-91 yesterday. State absolutely earned the win, and the Tar Heels close the first half of the ACC season a head-scratching 5-4. What did we learn in the upset loss?
Seventh Woods’ Injury is the Fork in the Road
When Joel Berry was a freshman back in 2014-’15, Carolina had junior Marcus Paige and sophomore Nate Britt that took the pressure off him as he learned the position. Because of that, he was able to play as the two guard a lot. By his sophomore campaign, he was basically the Berry we know and love.
The thought going into this season is that you’d have a similar set up in Seventh Woods playing back up, allowing Jalek Felton to learn the position as Berry had. Then Woods suffered a stress fracture in December, meaning that Felton has had to shift to primary back up. Felton has clearly not earned the trust of Williams to play extended minutes as the lead point guard, leading to this stat:
Update: After playing 40 minutes today, now Joel Berry is playing more minutes per game than 24 starting point guards in the NBA. https://t.co/EOXmOUQpkI— nbabeau (@NBABeau) January 27, 2018
Joel famously worked his tail off in the weight room this offseason to try to withstand a season’s worth of play, but after taking multiple tumbles against State, it’s clear that the season is starting to wear on him.
There isn’t an easy answer to this. You can sub out Felton for Berry but have Theo Pinson play the one, and you started to see a lot of that this game. The problem is that you lose Pinson’s rebounding ability when he has to direct the offense instead of setting up to follow the shot. Even if Woods is to return this year, and I’m not fully convinced he will, he’s not going to be the player that was expected at the first of the season as he hasn’t practiced in over two months.
Woods’ injury has also likely messed up the rotations that Roy would have used in terms of players off the bench. With Woods, Kenny Williams likely gets more rest as Berry or Felton plays as a two, Felton isn’t responsible for nearly as much of the offense, Cam Johnson didn’t have to get rushed back as quickly, and so forth.
Berry only scored six points, went 0-3 from deep and bricked an important free throw. While this team is clearly better with Berry on the floor than on the bench, having him play 34 minutes a game is not a recipe for him to be healthy at the end of the year. It IS a recipe for him to put too much pressure on himself and start to make mistakes simply because of fatigue.
Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams are in Deep Slumps
It’s tough to win when the opposing team out scores you 45-12 from the three point arc, and it’s even tougher when two of the players that you are counting on to hit from deep go 0-6.
The game extended an even troubling drought for Williams. So far in the ACC, he’s been 12-49 from deep to shoot only 24.5%, and 31-78 (39.7%) overall. The last three games have been even scarier, as he’s gone for 5, 4, and 4 yesterday. Even defensively, it’s tough to say Williams has been a huge help when you see just how well State shot from beyond the arc yesterday.
Johnson has been a little better, as he found ways to get inside yesterday when his shot wasn’t falling. Still, he made some absolute horrid passes that led to easy baskets for the Wolfpack, was way off on multiple open threes, and lost the ball in OT when Carolina needed an answering basket. This is after he only had three points against VT, shooting 1 for 6 that game, and is 15-43 (34.9%) from deep in the ACC.
The whole point of subbing out Garrison Brooks for Johnson in the starting lineup was to shake things up and make it to where anyone on the floor could hit a long distance shot, opening up the lane. When two of the guys you count on aren’t hitting shots, the idea goes out the window, plus it leads to long rebounds that allows the other team to convert.
This lineup started against BC as it followed two losses agains teams where the losses were excusable, FSU and UVa. With Williams and Johnson struggling and the Heels losing against two teams they should have beaten, it’s worth asking if it’s time to change things up again and allow one of them to come off the bench. Hey, Tony Bradley and Marvin Williams came off the bench, and it worked out alright for them.
Speaking of Bradley
Carolina Misses Tony Bradley
First a caveat, and one so big I’m going to put this in italics: this is not blaming Bradley for leaving early.
I will say that again: this is not blaming Bradley for leaving early.
I was ecstatic for Bradley when he decided to leave and was drafted in the first round. The kids that play at this level ultimately want to be able to get paid to play this sport, and Bradley went ahead and seized his opportunity. It’s not only good for him, but good for the program that someone who wasn’t thought to be a one-and-done became one under Williams’ coaching. My philosophy on any kid that wants to go play pro ball is, essentially, “go make your money.”
With that out of the way, it’s clear that Bradley leaving early disrupted the plan Roy had for his big men. With Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks graduating, Bradley was supposed to be an anchor for this team in the post. That would allow Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman to come in for spot minutes, and had Roy still gotten Garrison Brooks, he likely would be playing as Maye’s backup. It would have allowed this team to play the way Roy likes, and would have allowed the guards to play more like they have been coached to their entire collegiate careers.
Yes, upperclassmen should be able to adjust, but in a way it’s more difficult for them because for the entire time they've been at UNC, they’ve been taught to play with having an experienced big man down low to back them up. This also could be contributing to Berry having a tough time finishing at the rim, as the defense no longer has to worry about someone like Bradley behind them.
To their credit, Manley and Brooks have improved in recent games even with their minutes starting to trend down. It’s important to note that Manley was again called to be on the floor during the defining defensive moment and almost completed the play that sent it into a second overtime. Unfortunately, his conditioning is likely to keep him from playing more minutes.
Another thing the team misses with going small for as long as they do: free throw attempts. Inside-out play usually leads to fouls as defenses have to scramble more on drives, as well as simply fouling the big inside as they go for the board/shot. In the ACC, Carolina is only averaging 15 free throws a game, and that actually went UP after yesterday where they got to the line 20 times. As a comparison, Carolina attempted 23 per game last season. When you get to the line that many times, you can better afford to miss nine like Carolina did yesterday.
It’s easy to fall into cheap cliches questioning effort, saying Roy can’t coach, the team has no heart, etc, but it’s important to remember that State was not only well-coached, they played well. They deserved the win. The other thing to remember is that despite getting blown out behind the arc and Berry only scoring four points, Carolina still almost won. I’m going to delve into this more tomorrow, in the meantime maybe back away from the cliff just a little.
**Note: this has been updated to correct Nate Britt’s name and show Joel Berry had six, not four, points.