Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review last week’s games, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.
The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.
First, Happy Thanksgiving! This is one of my favorite holidays of the year with plenty of time for family, sports, food, and fun.
Last week was full of very tiny games. With a couple of non-prime matchups, many fans (including yours truly) were relegated to watching on phones, tablets, and other tiny screens. A moment of venting: why does the ACCX network not allow for screen mirroring? Why must fans watch on the small screens when the technology exists to watch on the big ones?
In any event, both the Carolina football and basketball teams got the job done. For football, this sets up the critical regular season-ending game with the Wolfpack. On the hard court, there is still a concern about offensive options even though the team remains undefeated. The true tests lie ahead.
Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .
There are some really unusual stats through the first four basketball games that will provide plenty of food for thought for Coach Williams. First, the team is shooting a mere 62.1% from the free-throw line. No one looks comfortable at the stripe. Garrison Brooks is the leading percentage shooter to date hitting a respectable 72.7%. No other regular player is averaging over 70%. Even with those terrible numbers, the Tar Heels have still made more free throws (59) than their opponents have attempted (52). Go figure.
Speaking of Garrison Brooks, raise your hand at home if you had Brooks as the top free-throw shooter to date. Also, raise your hand if you did not have Brooks as the top rebounder. How about the top two? Brooks is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game, which is behind team leaders Armando Bacot and Justin Pierce (both at 8.5 per game). For Bacot, that number is especially impressive given his limited minutes against UNC Wilmington.
Three-point field goals are another pair of unusual statistics. Unlike last year’s multiple options on the perimeter, there has been more limited success this year. As a team, the Heels are only averaging 32.9% from beyond the arc. Christian Keeling and Andrew Platek are both struggling with averages in the low 20’s. Excluding the red-hot season opener against Notre Dame, Cole Anthony is only 7 for his last 23 from deep over the last three games. The plus side of this number is that the three-point defense has been outstanding. Carolina is yielding a mere 27.2% on the opponents’ deep shots. That is a winning number all year long.
So what are fans and coaches to make of these numbers? Is this a great defensive team with offensive difficulties? Are the low numbers a function of early season jitters or the extension of the three-point line, or perhaps the injuries (especially the absence of Brandon Robinson)?
The most important question is should fans be worried about a 4-0 start to the season for a team averaging only 76.5 points and allowing only 62.3? Keep in mind that last season, the Tar Heels did not win a single game when scoring fewer than 75 points. What a difference a year can make.
Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.
Thanksgiving will be a very busy week for Tar Heel fans. The basketball team travels to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. The field is likely the most stacked of all the early season tournaments. Two top 10 teams in Carolina and Gonzaga are on opposite sides of the bracket and could meet in the finals. Oregon also lurks on the Gonzaga side while the Heels may have to meet an underrated Michigan Wolverines team.
No matter how the bracket plays out, this will be a solid test for the new look Tar Heels. Watch the shooting percentages on both offense and defense. Watch the free throw shooting and the stamina of a short bench playing games on consecutive days. But let’s be honest, we will all be watching Cole Anthony on a big stage.
For the football team, the measure of success this season has largely been making a bowl game. Saturday is that opportunity. The 4-7 Wolfpack are already out of the bowl picture and have had a disappointing year. Nothing would be a brighter spot than spoiling Carolina’s hopes for another month of football. After a solid 4-2 start to the year, NC State has now lost 5 straight. No Tar Heel fan would scoff at losses to Clemson and Wake Forest during that stretch, but the loss at Georgia Tech last week was shocking.
The key for Carolina will be to get on the board early and often. State is winless in games where their opponents score 28 points or more. Carolina is averaging 30.4 points per game this year. The numbers seem to favor the Heels but in a rivalry game with so much on the line, anything can happen.
Plenty to watch and root for in a big week of college sports. This may be the most meaningful Thanksgiving week for the Tar Heels in a long time. The basketball team could prove they are national title contenders. The football team could prove they belong on the national stage.
Travel safely. Have a great holiday. Go Heels!