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UNC Basketball vs. Elon: Three Things to Watch

The Tar Heels get one more tune-up game before the schedule ramps way up.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated Gardner-Webb on Friday, 77-61. Although the Tar Heels ultimately pulled away, the final score is not necessarily indicative of how they performed. Cole Anthony had another big night (28 points, 7-17 shooting, 11-13 from the free throw line) but he didn’t receive a whole lot of help as the Heels struggled to pull away from a winless Gardner-Webb team. Tomorrow night, they’ll get a chance to work out the kinks against Elon before a trip to Bahamas next week for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Here are three things to watch against Elon.

Armando Bacot

Roy Williams made it very clear that he didn’t believe Bacot had a good game against Gardner-Webb, and I tend to agree with him to an extent. The freshman big man finished the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds on 6-9 shooting but it felt like there was more to be desired. With such a clear size advantage inside, Bacot did manage to get some easy scores (and show off some impressive post moves) but he also turned the ball over three times. All three of those turnovers were steals that occurred around the basket because Bacot failed to keep the ball above the defense, a tactic that Williams has preached to his big men for years. It’s also worth noting that he never once got to the free throw line.

Offensively, Bacot has the most potential out of any of the post players on the team. Through three games, he already has that Brice Johnson/Kennedy Meeks relationship with Coach Williams wherein Roy is constantly demanding more out of him. The tremendous ability Williams sees in Bacot is what makes the careless and unnecessary errors even more frustrating. Although those turnovers against GW were disheartening, there’s no denying Bacot’s offensive capabilities. I expect him to clean up some of those miscues against Elon and continue to blossom into a reliable back-to-the-basket scorer as the season progresses.

Perimeter Shooting

The Tar Heels haven’t necessarily struggled in this area but it remains to be seen just how good of a shooting team they can be. Cole Anthony has proven he can stroke it as he’s hit 13-29 (45%) from deep on the season. However, Anthony has accounted for over 50% of the team’s made three-pointers. Other guys need to step up and prove they can hit those shots on a consistent basis.

Justin Pierce has been pretty solid as he’s made five of his twelve (42%) three-point attempts, but the majority of that came during a 20-point outburst against UNC Wilmington. Andrew Platek and Christian Keeling are known for their shooting ability but they are a combined 5-20 on the year. The rest of team has taken just two three-pointers collectively.

Carolina’s primary focus offensively is getting the ball inside but hitting outside shots is imperative to keeping defenses honest. Brandon Robinson should provide assistance on that front whenever he returns, but for now, players not named Cole Anthony need to step up and hit shots.

Injuries/Getting Healthy

At the time of this writing, it’s unclear whether or not the Tar Heels will return any players from injury against Elon. Regardless, it’s an area to monitor for this game and beyond.

Bacot suffered a head injury against UNC Wilmington but obviously was good to go against Gardner-Webb. Keeping him healthy will be extremely important given the bevy of injuries the Heels are currently dealing with. The aforementioned Robinson suffered an ankle injury in the exhibition game and has yet to play in the regular season. Freshmen Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis as well as junior Sterling Manley are still recovering from offseason knee injuries.

Roy Williams expressed that he believes Robinson will be back as soon as November 27th when Carolina begins the Battle 4 Atlantis against Alabama. He also at one point said that Harris would be the first one to return from injury. Manley’s future is still fairly uncertain but Francis is progressing well and should be available sooner rather than later. Given that the Heels are playing an unprecedented seven-man rotation, getting those three back will be very critical moving forward.