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UNC basketball: The importance of Garrison Brooks in the NCAA tournament

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The freshman big man could be the difference between another deep run and an early exit.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs North Carolina Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The stage is set. Landing in the West region, the Tar Heels got what they wanted by securing the 2 seed in Charlotte opposite the weakest 1 seed in Xavier. While there are plenty of potential bumps along the way, Carolina’s region is certainly manageable. A third consecutive final four is not out of the question, but Roy Williams will need some contributions from his bench in order for that to happen.

Specifically, the Heels will need Garrison Brooks to step up. I touched on his potential to become the team’s most complete post player earlier in the season. After his recent performances in the ACC tournament, it appears that could be coming to fruition at just the right time.

Through four games in the ACC tournament, Brooks averaged 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 11.8 minutes, highlighted by a 10-point, 4-rebound performance that helped the Tar Heels win the season series over Duke. Theo Pinson was hindered by foul trouble for much of that game, but Brooks allowed the Heels to stay afloat and hang on for the victory. He even frustrated Grayson Allen enough to do this:

Brooks has provided some much-needed production off the bench for a Tar Heels team that has perhaps been too reliant on its starters. Another key number from that stretch is that he committed just one turnover over all four games. There has been an obvious shift in Brooks’ approach to the game. He no longer looks like the scared freshman too focused on not screwing up. Instead, Brooks exudes confidence and energy when he steps onto the court. He’s playing smart and assertive basketball, and his display of emotion after thunderous dunks is reminiscent of Brice Johnson.

Offense was the biggest part of Brooks’ game that needed improving. He has looked much more comfortable with the ball in his hands as of late. He is looking to make a play for his team rather than giving the ball up in hopes that someone else will take on that task. Brooks even confidently knocked in a couple fifteen-foot jumpers against the zone defenses of Syracuse and Duke.

Defensively, Brooks continues to be the Tar Heels’ most reliable big man, and that includes Luke Maye. His discipline on that side of the floor is something else given that he’s just a freshman. Brooks has a great understanding for what Roy Williams wants in terms of rotations on defense. He does a great job of preventing his man from getting post postion, and he possesses the length to bother the shots of guys like Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. Speaking of, the job he did on those two, specifically Bagley, was paramount in earning Carolina’s second victory over the Blue Devils.

The Tar Heels desperately need the fearless, decisive Brooks to show up in the NCAA tournament. This is a team that has lacked consistent low-post scoring all season long. If Brooks can provide that, albeit in short spurts, he can open things up for the Carolina guards.

Garrison Brooks could be the key if the Tar Heels want a chance at reaching a third consecutive final four and capturing Roy Williams’ fourth national championship.