One can only imagine that the Tar Heels walked away from the Dean Smith Center last night not feeling especially excited about their 77-61 win against Gardner-Webb. To be completely fair, the the Runnin’ Bulldogs played them very hard, and looked every bit like a team that wanted to make a name for themselves by taking down a blue blood. However, they weren't without help, as the Heels started off shooting extremely poorly before getting things straightened out in the second half.
One of the bittersweet aspects of such a performance is that there are plenty of lessons that can be learned. Let’s take a look at a few takeaways, and maybe by the time we’re finished we’ll have a clearer picture of how they can show up to the game against Elon a sharper unit.
Solving perimeter shooting woes
Easily the most frustrating part of the Heels’ performance was the poor shooting in the first half. UNC finished the half only making 41% of their shots from the field, and went 1-10 from deep. From looking at the three-point shooting numbers having not seen the game, one would assume that Gardner-Webb played excellent defense. Granted, they did play good defense, but the truth is that there were a number of wide-open shots that were being missed. Andrew Platek and Christian Keeling had the worst times getting their shots to fall, and ironically, they were also the ones that found a way to correct things.
One method of fixing shooting woes is finding any possible way to get the ball into the hoop, even if it has to be a high percentage shot. Keeling and Platek started attacking in the paint more and getting some shots to fall, and the result was both players going 2-3 combined from deep in the second half. As a unit, the Heels finished the second half shooting 62.5% from three, and also made 50% of their field goal tries. If the Heels aren’t going to land three-pointers early in games, they need to find a way to get high percentage shots to fall much earlier than they did last night, or they may find themselves in big trouble in some of the tougher games on the schedule.
Armando Bacot could be a big-time player
One of the big positives from last night’s game was getting to see Armando Bacot back on the floor following the concussion that he suffered against UNCW. The big man combo of Bacot and Garrison Brooks has a lot of potential to bring Roy Williams’ favorite style of play back, assuming the two can find a way to gel on the court. When it comes to Bacot specifically, last night’s game gave us flashes of just how good he can be by the time we get into ACC play.
While it wasn’t necessarily a great performance, Bacot finished the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and went 6-9 from the field. In a vacuum that number sounds good, but as Roy Williams stated during his post-game interview, he could've performed a lot better even still. One thing that I noticed was that he wasn’t taking advantage of his size/athleticism against defenders as well as he should’ve been, as he was bigger/stronger than pretty much anybody that was guarding him. Simply put, if he figures out how to use his body to his advantage, he could be a huge contributor for UNC. The potential is absolutely there, and hopefully he reaches it sooner than later.
Cole Anthony’s OK game was still amazing
The epitome of first world problems transpired last night, as Cole Anthony’s “meh” game against Gardner-Webb would be a career game for a number of players in the NCAA. Anthony finished the game with 28 points, one rebound, one assist, four turnovers, 1 block, and four steals. He went 7-17 from the field, and also made 42.8% of his three-point attempts. Obviously the brutal stat here is the four turnovers, but the idea that the rest was just an alright day for him is so ridiculous to think about that it makes me chuckle just thinking about it.
In his defense, Anthony did anything and everything to get his teammates going in the game and played like a true point guard. Often we get hung up on assists as an indicator of a good point guard, but Anthony was a true floor general during the game communicating well with his teammates, getting the ball to them in good spots, and setting a strong example on defense. He still needs to find a way to cut down on turnovers, and it’s also very likely that Williams will be having a talk with him about not crashing the boards as hard as he did in the previous games.
Still, we’ll take an “OK” performance from him any day of the week, but should he play a cleaner, more aggressive game against Elon, it’s hard to envision him not having another ridiculous stat line when it’s all said and done. It’s scary to think about how good this kid is going to be in the NBA, but for right now he is a Tar Heel, and it’s hard not to love every minute of it.