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Tar Heel Hangover: New Year’s resolutions

Wishes for a happy Tar Heel New Year.

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

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning opportunity to review last week’s game, second guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

Another week off led to a solid defensive effort and a good home win. There was great energy on the court against Davidson. The question that remains is can the team keep up the intensity?

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

Roy Williams did not hide his frustration with the team following the Kentucky game so a few New Year’s resolutions seem to be in order to keep Roy’s spirits up.

“I hope everybody has a better Christmas than I’m going to have. Mine is not going to be as smooth as I would like it to be . . .” Here’s hoping that the Davidson game provides a little better cheer for New Year’s Eve. A slew of early turnovers kept the game close in the opening minutes despite a solid effort on the defensive end. Once the aggression level picked up on the offensive end about mid-way through the first half, the game pushed out to a comfortable margin. A 22-point victory against a good team is a nice way to polish off the calendar year and start looking ahead to conference play.

“So, we’ve got to get better defensively and I think the defensive intensity is something that’s got to go up. The defensive brain has got to get better.” For this resolution, the team needs to commit to winning on the defensive end and the fans need to support this effort. Davidson shot less than 30% from the field and had tremendous problems moving the ball. The Carolina wings played excellently with particularly good efforts from Nassir Little and Kenny Williams. Both were aggressive in the passing lanes (with Williams only giving up one backdoor layup) and had very active hands. Forcing a team to work hard early in the game often leads to rushed jumpers even in the face of open opportunities. Davidson shooting 26.3% from outside the arc is indicative of this point.

“Win the rebounding battle.” This team has quietly become one of the best rebounding teams in the nation despite not having a dominant post presence. Kentucky crushed the Heels on the boards but that game was an anomaly. On the season, Carolina is fourth nationally with an advantage of 11.9 boards per game. This should continue to be a bright spot moving forward as the athletic and lengthy wings make a resolution to mix it up in the lane and battle for boards.

“Another thing was limit turnovers; make the easy play . . .” A rough start against Davidson may have been due to a holiday daze with a week between games. Once the offense started to hum, however, great ball movement led to quality shots with very limited turnovers. Valuing possessions needs to remain on the resolution list for 2019.

On Nassir Little, Coach Williams stated, “He needs a game for him to really have a good game defensively to give him a little more confidence there I think and then needs a game for a couple of jump shots to go in . . .” Little logged 20 minutes against Davidson and had an impact on the defensive end. He did not force his shots and finished with 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and a block. Little is a more offensively polished version of Theo Pinson and he needs to play with the positive attitude that Pinson possessed. If he commits to doing everything well in every aspect of the game, then he could be a leader on a team full of high-quality players.

A Word of Wisdom from MGD . . .

My Grumpy Dad was clearly more excited about the team this week than he was last week. Perhaps it was the Christmas spirit. Perhaps it is the optimism that accompanies New Year’s Eve. The post-game conversation on Saturday was not grumpy at all.

“It looked like they gave a much better effort and really pulled away for the final 30 minutes of game play. When they play like that, they can be really really good.” There was a chemistry on the court Saturday that has been missing at times this year. As the lineups continue to evolve, this is an important intangible to keep an eye on.

Garrison Brooks was in foul trouble for much of the first half, but there are some clear playing time developments. Four starters (Luke Maye, Coby White, Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams) are inching toward 30 minutes per game. Little is moving north of 20 minutes per game and Brooks is just under that. There is then a drop off to Seventh Woods and Sterling Manley (moving toward about 10-12 minutes per game) and then to Leaky Black and Brandon Robinson (about 8-10 minutes per game). This will likely be a ten-man rotation for much of the year, but the level of playing time equality that existed early in the year is becoming a thing of the past.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

The Heels host Harvard on Wednesday for the final non-conference game of the season. ACC play begins Saturday with a trip to Pitt. The Panthers 10-3 record is a bit deceiving given their 265th ranked strength of schedule. ACC road wins are never easy, however, and this is a good opportunity to get off to a fast conference start.

And if anyone has not been paying attention, the ACC is very good. Four teams are ranked in the top 10 and UNC is not one of them. Florida State and Virginia Tech are both off to impressive starts. NC State has also been surprisingly good in the early portion of the season. Just surviving the conference schedule will require a determined and sustained effort.

Final Thoughts

While there is still room for improvement, Saturday’s game could serve as a positive jumping off point for a run of Ws.

Happy New Year and Go Heels!