For the second straight year, North Carolina defeated Miami in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. They also earned their 13th quadrant 1 victory and avenged last week’s Senior Night loss. Their reward is now a rubber match with the Duke Blue Devils, and a potential spot in the Charlotte pod in the NCAA tournament at stake.
What else did we learn?
Blue Steel: 2018 Edition
Ok, so it wasn’t really the return of Blue Steel. but it as well have been. The six minutes and thirty-six seconds were so painful to watch that Roy Williams pulled his patented 5-for-5 switch. You know the one. It’s when all five starters are put in timeout and five substitutes show them how to play organized basketball. In this case, the subs entered the game with a 12-0 deficit.
When the starters came back in, the score was 14-5, Miami’s momentum had vaished, and UNC began to slowly chip away at the lead. They entered the half with a 32-31 lead, and eventually pulled away late. After that initial 12 point deficit, the Heels won the rest of the game 82-53.
None of that happens without a stellar performance by Garrison Brooks, Andrew Platek, Seventh Woods, Sterling Manley, and Brandon Robinson. In 33 combined minutes, those five accumulated 16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and only 2 turnovers.
So, next December when you inevitably scream at the television as UNC runs out a really odd lineup against a team like Wofford, remember last night. Then remind yourself that when March rolls around, you’ll be glad Roy does what he does.
Once is a mistake, twice a coincidence.....
...three time is a pattern. Was last night’s game just a coincidence or indicative of a new pattern? One night after holding Syracuse to a 59 points (a season low for a UNC opponent), the Canes could only muster 65 points. That was the fifth lowest point total UNC has allowed all season. Only two Miami players scored in double figures - Ja’Quan Newton had 17 and Anthony Lawrence tallied 12.
Noticeable improvement continued on the perimeter, where Miami was just 31.6% (6-19) from three one week after the Canes hit 11 of 22 attempts from deep. That was the 4th lowest percentage an opponent has hit against UNC this season. It came one night after holding Syracuse to just 34.7% (8-22) from the same distance.
And as we discussed in our three things to watch, prior to last night’s game, UNC did in fact have a defensive wrinkle ready for Miami. Last week Miami used multiple high ball screens to stretch the defense, and drive, pass, and shoot as they please. The Heels had no answer.
Last night, UNC “flattened” on ball screens and sagged slightly off of Miami’s guards on the perimeter. This action both delayed the ball handler from driving and deterred or contested outside shooting The sagging defenders on the wing prevented pick-n-pop shooting or pick-n-rolls to the basket. By preventing Miami from using their athleticism at the point of attack, the Heels slowly restricted offensive firepower that scored 92 points in Chapel Hill.
Always Be Closing
Midway through the second half, the Heels couldn’t quite shake the Hurricanes. Miami hovered within 1 to 4 points for much of the final 20 minute period, but it felt like UNC could break their spirits at any minute.
With 6:49 remaining, North Carolina finally pushed the lead to 8 points. Miami called a timeout shortly thereafter, but it was too late. They didn’t get closer than 3 points the rest of the game. The Tar Heels returned to their familiar ways involving late game defensive strangulation, as Miami was scoreless over the final 3:50.
That's two nights in a row that UNC has responded to an opponent that wouldn’t quite give up. Both times the Heels waltzed to a double-digit victory. Most importantly, they did so while handling different various pressure defenses that gave them so much trouble during the regular season - most recently against Duke.
Tonight, they'll get a chance to continue their mini-revenge tour in the ACC semifinals.
Go to hell Duke.