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UNC vs Tennessee Tech: Three Things Learned

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Sterling, Point Guards, and Balance

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

It’s the time of year where we are all overly excited for Carolina basketball, and tend to read way too much into mid-November games against low-major opponents. There is nothing wrong with this, but any rational fan knows that the excitement needs to be tempered with reasonable expectations. Many times, the real takeaways are in the first half. So, despite the thrashing that was doled out last night in the Dean Dome what stood out to our highly professional, technically proficient, expertly trained eyes?*

*May or may not be true. You tell us.

Slow and Steady for Manley

It’s hard to get read on Manley’s progression. Prior to the season, I listed him as the one of the five keys to UNC’s success. So far, he has had moments of solid effort and hustle, mixed with bouts of looking like a baby giraffe who has one leg stuck in quicksand. Last night it was all on display.

A soft jumper from 15 feet and diving on the floor for the ball gave us glimpses of his potential. He also tried to go strong to the rim anytime he got the ball within 4 feet of the rim, and was active with three offensive rebounds. However, without any noticeable post move in his arsenal, Manley mostly tried to bully his way through the defender while keeping a pivot foot rooted in the paint. (Can someone please teach that young man how to consistently use an effective power dribble?)

The good news is that he continues to get opportunities and has become more noticeable with each game. There were times in the exhibition and home opener that many of the staff here at Tar Heel Blog didn’t even notice he was on the court. That has slowly changed. He finished last night with 13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 turnover, and 1 steal in a season high 17 minutes. It was a productive and active evening, if not uneven. Manley will remain a project, but early results are…very cautiously optimistic that he will become a serviceable option as the season goes along.

Balanced Scoring

Six players scored in double figures with Luke Maye’s 15 points leading the way. For the season, seven different players have accomplished that feat — Kenny, Cam, Coby, Garrison, Sterling, Luke, and Nassir. Most importantly, the points are coming from every position and place on the floor. The same thing happened last year, when seven players scored double-figures through the first four games (switch out Cam, Coby, and Nassir for Theo, Joel, and Platek). Yet, last year there was “hope” that someone would step up from game to game. So far this season, the only mystery has been “whose turn is it”.

While acknowledging Tennessee Tech is not the stiffest of competition (320th in KenPom), the Heels scored 108 points despite shooting just 5-23 from three. That means 93 points came from two-point attempts and free throws. Riding a 72.5% success rate from two, the Heels scored 72 points from inside the arc. Another 21 came at the free throw line. That dog will hunt every day, and twice on Sunday.

That is a complete 180 turnaround from last year’s team that could get overly-reliant on the deep ball, and struggled to generate offense when those weren’t falling. With so many shooters, threes will still earn frequent flier miles for the Heels, but it’s encouraging to see they may not be as one-dimensional as last year.

What PG Problem?

Four games is a small sample size, but so far Seventh Woods and Coby White are doing justfinethankyouverymuch. Both obviously bring very different skill sets, and yet both are the perfect complement to each other on the court. Against Tennessee Tech, White finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers in 20 minutes. Woods produced a statline of 7-2-8-1-0 in 17 minutes.

Per game, Coby is averaging 21.5 minutes, 10.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steal, and 2.0 turnovers. Those are perfectly respectable, if not great, numbers for a freshman point guard, regardless of the competition. Sure, he makes obvious freshman mistakes, but thus far it hasn’t really been an issue. Many of the errors have been while pushing the ball up court with a quickness the Heels haven’t had in a decade. Better to get those kinks out now in preparation for the big boys on the schedule.

Not to be outdone, Seventh Woods has made a strong case that maybe, just maybe, he should be seeing the majority of the minutes. With averages of 15.2 minutes, 3 points, 1.8 rebounds, 5 assists, 0.8 steals, and just 0.9 turnovers per game Seventh is quietly having a non-scoring breakout campaign. Clearly not the scorer Coby is, Woods is proving to be a better distributor and caretaker of the ball at this very early part of the season.

Most encouraging is Woods’ actions when he doesn’t have the ball. Watch him next game and you’ll see a player who is constantly talking, pointing, and directing his teammates on the court. He’s starting to see plays happen two or three passes before they materialize. Those things will take on a greater importance when the competition gets tougher.

To be clear, this is not a “competition” or a “pick one” situation. Instead, the two players may give the Heels that elusive 1-2 punch at the point guard spot that all of Roy’s great teams have had.