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UNC vs. Harvard: Three Things Learned

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It’s not much, but the Tar Heels are seemingly improving areas that need improvement.

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

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Tar Heels pulled out a second consecutive 20-point victory, beating Harvard 77-57. The Crimson hung around for most of the game, but a 16-1 run from Carolina in the middle of the second half put the game away for good. Here are three things from the Heels’ last non-conference matchup.

The turnover situation is at least improving

One of the biggest reasons for Carolina’s struggles this season has been turnovers. Roy Williams wants to go fast, and he has a team that can do just that. The Heels are right at the top of the nation in both pace and scoring. With a starting point guard like Coby White, getting the ball down court quickly is not a problem.

There is a problem, though, when you’re constantly coughing the ball up. In its two-game stretch against Gonzaga and Kentucky, the Heels turned it over a combined 41 times. In the two games since against Davidson and Harvard, they’ve turned it over 25 times. Granted, some of that can be contributed to a step down in competition, but the decrease in miscues is encouraging.

Without a true go-to big man down low, this team has to try and get points early in the shot clock, but Carolina did a better job of picking its spots and knowing when to attack and when to pull it out reset. There’s a difference between playing fast and playing out of control, and this team may be beginning to turn that corner.

Coby White’s performance has been a big reason why the Heels have been able to avoid as many turnovers. He’s had his ups and downs this season, but he has played smarter as of late. He hasn’t tried to do everything himself, and has in turn been able to get his teammates more involved. White finished with 13 points, 4 assists, and just 1 turnover.

The Tar Heels could have used Sterling Manley

Manley hasn’t exactly had a stellar season thus far. After an up and down freshman campaign, many thought he could make a jump this season because of his exceptional length and touch around the basket. Though that hasn’t come to fruition, he certainly could’ve been used in this one.

Before the game, it was announced that Manley would be unavailable due to soreness in his left knee. The Tar Heels struggled to dominate the paint without the 6’11 sophomore. Though Carolina won the rebounding battle, it was a slim margin at 38-34. There was once again a glaring weakness in the Heels’ ability to score inside-out.

Manley is in no way an automatic fix for this team’s deficiencies down low, but it’s evident this team needs all the help it can get. For now, it’s still unclear when Manley will be able to return to action.

This team has potential defensively

It’s way too early to say that the defensive problems that have plagued this team are entirely fixed, but things are starting to look up. Here’s an encouraging stat:

On a night where the offense struggled to produce, the defense was much more active than usual. Harvard committed 22 turnovers for the game and, while some of those were unforced, it was clear the Heels’ pressure was getting to them. Carolina’s rotations were much quicker and they used their length to get in passing lanes.

Another thing that should be noted is what Garrison Brooks brings to this team defensively. Here’s something that lends heavily to the idea that the Tar Heels’ defense is stingier with Brooks on the floor:

There’s a reason why Brooks has won more defensive player of the game awards than any other Tar Heel. Brooks got in early foul trouble once again, but Carolina could’ve easily recorded its best defensive efficiency of the season had he gotten more burn. Say what you want about his game on the offensive end of the floor, but this team needs Brooks’ discipline and intelligence on defense.

Moreover, Roy Williams went small more than he has all season. Typically, going small means giving up some defense for better offense, but the Heels managed to make up for the loss of size with quickness and athleticism. Of course, as mentioned earlier, the defense was at its best with Brooks on the floor, but it’s encouraging to see the small lineups actually get some stops instead of simply relying on outscoring the opponent.