The North Carolina Tar Heels played Notre Dame in their first game of the regular season last night and they didn’t disappoint. Cole Anthony stole the show (more on that soon) and Carolina used a spirited second half run to bury the Fighting Irish and move to 1-0 overall and in the ACC. The team has a short turnaround, though, as they travel to take on UNC Wilmington on Friday night. Here are three things to watch in that one.
Let’s be honest: it’s going to be hard to discuss “things to watch” this season without mentioning Cole Anthony. He is maybe the most hyped freshman in UNC history and he still managed to exceed expectations against Notre Dame. Anthony notched 34 points (the most ever by a Tar Heel in his very first game), 5 assists, and 11 rebounds, and he also put together a solid defensive performance. He hit six of his eleven attempts from deep and most of those came during crucial stretches of the game.
Much has been made about Anthony’s athleticism and play-making ability but one area he supposedly needed to work on was three-point shooting. If Anthony can continue to shoot like this, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who can slow him down.
Another really impressive aspect of his game was rebounding. Roy Williams once said he thought Cole Anthony was the best defensive rebounding guard he’d ever seen in high school. Well, the freshman wasted no time validating that assertion as he pulled down eleven against Notre Dame.
Look for Anthony to continue to lead this team on both sides of the ball against the Seahawks.
Frontcourt Play/Free Throws
The Tar Heels opened the game in vintage Carolina fashion with two of their first three buckets coming at the rim. Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot each received post entries in the opening minutes and comfortably converted those opportunities to help the Heels go up 6-0. However, they started to get away from that as the game progressed and the offense went stagnant for a good portion of the first half. The Heels were ultimately able to run away in the second half thanks to Anthony’s explosion, but I don’t think Roy Williams’ game plan was executed exactly how he envisioned it.
As for free throws, Bacot is really the only one to be too concerned about. The Tar Heels shot 59% from the free throw line against Notre Dame, but if you take out Bacot’s attempts (went 1-6), the rest of the team shot 82%. This situation has a familiar feel for Tar Heel fans (think John Henson, James Michael McAdoo) and thus likely won’t be an immediate fix. However, Bacot must find a way to improve his free throw shooting or else teams will opt to send him to the line.
Overall, look for Coach Williams to pound the ball inside early against UNCW especially given the size advantage the Heels will have.
The Tar Heels turned the ball over 18 times against Notre Dame (granted a few of those came after the game was all but decided). This is to be expected from a team that had just 15% of its players back from last year and has very little experience playing together. Still, it’s undoubtedly an area that Coach Williams will harp on.
Christian Keeling looked hesitant early on and ultimately finished the game with 5 turnovers. Despite his incredible two-way performance, Anthony ended up with four miscues. Altogether, the starters accounted for 16 of the team’s turnovers, which isn’t too surprising when you consider the fact that Williams really only went seven deep in this one.
On the other side of the ball, the Tar Heels only forced six turnovers, giving them a -12 turnover margin. All things considered, though, this area certainly could’ve been worse than it was. I expect it to be one of the centers of focus as the season progresses and this team continues to gel together.