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UNC Basketball vs. Stanford: Three Things Learned

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This team isn’t perfect yet, but boy is it fun to watch.

NCAA Basketball: Stanford at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, UNC welcomed the Stanford Cardinal into the Dean Smith Center and pulled off a 90-72 win. The Heels proved once again that they deserve every bit of their top-10 ranking in the AP Polls, and will hope to keep their streak alive this Friday when they take on Tennessee Tech.

There was a lot that happened in last night’s game, and I think what we saw was a very good team that was really good in one half, but struggled quite a bit in the second half. However, there’s a lot more to it than that, and so let’s go ahead and dive into a few things that we learned following last night’s win.

If you’ve been sleeping on Leaky Black, then wake up

I will confess: I had no idea what to expect out of Leaky Black this year. Not because I didn’t think that he was going to be a good player, but because the noise surrounding him was so much quieter than the other two freshmen that it’s been unfair the lack of attention that he’s gotten. Well, Leaky, if you’re reading this, you have my full attention.

Leaky Black finished the night with 8 points, 2 rebounds, and one assist on a night where he shot a perfect 4-4 from the floor in 15 minutes of play. Black was arguably the best point guard on the night for UNC, as he played really hard on defense while playing a clean game on offense.

The one thing that I’m starting to notice about Leaky is that his oft-quoted comparison to Theo Pinson begins and ends with the fact that he can guard multiple positions. His shooting, his defensive style, his decision-making, and his overall game are all pretty different from Pinson’s. So far my favorite thing about him is the amount of effort that he gives on defense. Even when he wasn’t able to get a hand on the ball, Leaky was aggressively trying to disrupt Stanford’s offense whenever he could do so without forcing a negative play. This kid is a X-factor for UNC, and should create some fun matchup problems for opposing teams throughout the season.

There’s no lack of intensity on this team

Speaking of effort, Leaky isn’t the only one that has shown a tremendous amount of effort so far this year. The other confession that I have to make is that when it came to last year’s team, I didn’t always feel like UNC as a whole gave their best effort night after night. While we’re only three games deep this year so far, I feel like this year’s team has an intensity level that was missing in 2017.

One reason that this may be true is that this year’s freshmen aren’t playing like last year’s freshmen. No, not everything has been perfect, but what we’ve seen so far are three guys who aren’t afraid of the college game, and are giving everything they have in order to help the team win. The best example of that would be when Nassir had the ball stripped away from him in the first half, and he responded by diving right at the ball mid-dribble in an attempt to steal it back. It was a show of Little’s incredible athleticism, but the awareness to be able to respond that quickly isn’t something you even seen much from upperclassmen.

The biggest thing for this team will be whether or not they can keep this level of intensity going for the entire season. The realistic answer is probably no, there will be games where they are asleep behind the wheel and will have to dig themselves out of a hole. In fact, it is a situation that presented itself in the second half last night, which brings us to the third lesson.

Things could be better, and that’s exciting

The first half of the game last night was everything that Tar Heel fans could ever want: they were aggressive, they were making shots, they were cleaning the boards, and they were doing well in transition. They finished the half shooting 60% from the field, and 42.9% from deep. They outrebounded the Cardinal 24-11, and had 11 total assists on the way to doubling them up at the break 52-26.

The second half, however, was pretty ugly. The Heels let Stanford shoot 44% from the field, which was an improvement on their 35.5% performance in the first half. The Heels themselves only made 38.9% of their shots from the field, but did shoot 50% from three, albeit on just six attempts. UNC was outrebounded by Stanford in the second half 21-24, and racked up 12 personal fouls.

As far as how everything looked in the second half, things were flat-out sloppy. Stanford started running on the Heels in transition, the defense looked uninterested at times, and things felt rushed on offense. Notably on the offensive side of the ball, Coby White forced a number of shots with little to no success, and it created a fair amount of those opportunities in transition for Stanford that I mentioned before. There were a few interesting lineups that saw the floor as well, and so it’s safe to say that Roy Williams and his team could’ve done things a lot better the second half overall.

With that said, knowing that there is still plenty of things for the Heels to correct, they still beat a pretty good Power Five opponent by 18 points. Shooting numbers still ended up being solid, they won the rebounding battle overall, they had 17 fast break points, and 44 points in the paint. Sure, a lot of work needs to be done. But let me tell you something: if you’re not excited by now for what this team can be, then you may not be alive.