Well, that was as bad as we expected it to be.
As much as I would love to finish this article with just that sentence and nothing else, we have to take some time and discuss the 81-94 beating that North Carolina received courtesy of Gonzaga. Roy Williams had this home and home schedule set for a couple of years now, and I think we can all agree we had pictured it going much different than it did last night. Alas, the Cole Anthony-less Tar Heels suffer another defeat against a top-five team, and here we are.
We all know the negatives of this team right now, and we’ve likely beaten those talking points into the ground to the point that the words have lost all meaning. So, in the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to try to focus on two good things about what the Heels did, but unfortunately there’s one really frustrating lesson that we learned that must be addressed. Let’s get to it.
Jeremiah Francis shows a ton of promise
Now that Cole Anthony will be out for a considerable amount of time, the point guard situation for the Heels is one that is likely going to remain pretty fluid. KJ Smith started his second game in a row, and just like that in the Wofford game he went a few minutes before needing to go to the bench. Jeremiah Francis came in for the winded Smith, and what he was able to do, all things considered, should give Tar Heel fans a lot of optimism for the future.
It’s fair to say that nobody knew what we were going to get from Francis if he ever got to play this season, and it’s also fair to say that nobody could’ve predicted that he’d be this good as a freshman. He finished the game with 11 points, 3 assists, and two steals, and made 44% of his field goal attempts. Francis also managed to go 2-3 from deep, which is a surprising stat considering the fact that he hasn’t really been advertised as a shooter. If he can figure out how to consistently make shots, whether it be from inside or outside the arc, it will help this poor offense tremendously.
Aside from his shooting, Francis plays the point guard position as well as anybody could’ve hoped for someone who has to fill Cole Anthony’s shoes. His vision has been good, he’s made good decisions when driving to the basket, and his defense has been solid. With all of the doom and gloom that has been happening lately, Jeremiah Francis is the feel-good story that we needed, and perhaps even the one that we don’t deserve.
This team doesn’t lay down
Alright, so yes, this game got really bad really quickly. Yes, Gonzaga is immensely better than UNC, and it was almost comical just how much better they are. However, the fight that the Tar Heels showed on the road, on the west coast, in a hostile environment with no Cole Anthony was something that deserves a lot of credit. They had every reason to just pack everything up and go home, but they fought for 40 minutes despite being outmatched in just about every way.
One stat that stands out as a good example is the fact that the Heels managed to outbound Gonzaga 35-30. It’s a very glass half-full / half-empty stat, as there’s two ways to look at this: either you can look at the fact that Gonzaga didn’t need to get more than the one offensive rebound that they pulled down because they made 59% of their shots, or you can praise UNC for being able to pull down more of their misses than the Bulldogs. UNC also had a season-high 11 steals, 4 blocks, and managed to shoot an improved 36% from three-point range. Their field goal percentage? 45.6%, though an argument can be made that the numbers are slightly inflated since Gonzaga took their foot off the gas a little bit in the second half. Regardless, the Heels fought hard in a tough road envrionment, but Gonzaga was simply better.
Armando Bacot needs to find poise
To address the elephant in the room, freshman big Armando Bacot only played 14 of the available 40 minutes last night. Within the first minute of the game Bacot managed to pick up two fouls in rapid succession and had to go to the bench. He eventually returned later in the half, but then right at the beginning of the second half he picked up his third foul and Roy Williams sent him to the bench. He finished the game with 4 points and 3 rebounds, making just one of his six shots.
Considering the fact that Cole Anthony is out for at least a month, Bacot has to find a way to stay on the floor each and every night. As the team’s second-best player, it is going to be a nightly struggle to win games if he continues to find himself in this kind of foul trouble, as he and Brooks will be relied on heavily for consistent production. Going against an upperclassman like Killian Tillie isn’t fair on some levels, and that’s understandable, but playing without getting into foul trouble will be crucial to how the rest of this season goes.
All and all, this game may have unearthed some tiny glimpses of hope in what has otherwise been a pretty depressing season. Now that they have four losses to teams that have been in the AP top five, and one loss to a team that loves to make it rain threes, we’ll see if UCLA is a decent matchup for them to gain some momentum. If you’re at the mall this weekend doing some late Christmas shopping, tell Santa that the Tar Heels really need a W for Christmas. We’ve all been good enough this year to make it happen, right?