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UNC vs Virginia: Three Things Learned

Second-half ineptitude, feeding the post, and the debut of two freshmen

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

UNC dropped their second straight game on Sunday. Four days after getting thrashed at home to Ohio State, the Heels left Charlottesville after another low-scoring beatdown. Nine games into the season and some interesting patterns are emerging. Let’s just dive into the what we think we learned yesterday.

Second Half Droughts

Pop quiz time. What are the following scores?

Game A: 39-34
Game B: 29-27
Game C: 24-18

The answer? Those are the halftime scores in UNC’s three losses. The Heels trailed at the half of each game, but clearly were within striking distance. They, uh, failed to strike. In all three games, in fact, they’ve been on the wrong end of some devastating scoring runs.

Michigan used a 19-0 run to turn a 41-36 lead into a 60-36 ass-kicking. UNC went scoreless for 5:55 of game time. The 24-point lead, obviously, was too much to overcome.

Against OSU, after consecutive Cole Anthony three-pointers cut the lead to 39-36 with 15:57 remaining, the Buckeyes went on a 13-2 run. That spurt lasted 4:03 and gave OSU a 52-38 lead. UNC’s only points in that stretch were two Garrison Brooks’ free throws until Leaky Black finally hit a lay-up to (very) temporarily stop the bleeding. Ohio State then closed the game on a 17-2 run over the final 7:15, holding the Heels to just two more Brandon Robinson free throws.

Then yesterday, after an Andrew Platek reverse lay-up cut the UVA lead to 39-35 with 10:36 remaining, North Carolina didn’t hit a field goal for the next 7:04. The Hoos went on a 16-3 run before an Anthony Harris attempt found the net. Game. Set. Match.

The problems are multifaceted, but the results are staggering. In their three losses, the Heels have been outscored 65-7 over a combined 24 minutes and 17 seconds out of 60 second-half minutes. They scored zero field goals during those various stretches.

That kind of ineptitude is so bad, it’s almost impressive.

Post Presence

Here’s the deal. It’s time to seriously consider whether UNC should enter the ball into the post every single trip down the court. That post entry doesn’t have to necessarily end in a post player taking a shot, but that probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. Why am I beating this (very) dead horse?

Because against Virginia, UNC hit 16 of 32 field goal attempts inside the arc. They were 12-for-22 inside the paint, where they outscored UVA 24-16. They also got to foul line 22 times. That may not seem terribly impressive, but it’s certainly better than the alternatives of shooting 1-for-14 from three or 4-for-10 in no-man’s land between the three-point line and paint.

Cole Anthony finished with 12 points on 4-15 shooting from the floor (1-6 from three). Armando Bacot, hobbled ankle and all, finished with 11 points on 5-8 shooting. Granted, he was 1-6 from the foul line, but that’s an entirely different problem. Even with that acknowledgement, Bacot almost matched Anthony’s production on seven fewer shots, in an area of the court that UNC largely dominated all day.

Anthony is a top-tier player and will be an NBA lottery pick, but he isn’t the natural scorer that Coby White was. Nor does he have last year’s UNC talent on the perimeter to open driving, shooting, and passing lanes. This year’s team, quite simply, must go through Bacot and Brooks in the post on every single possession – even if it’s just to shift the defense for a rotation or two.

Harris and Francis debut

Two freshmen saw the first action of their Tar Heel careers. In the second half, point guard Jeremiah Francis and shooting guard Anthony Harris entered the game with the Heels trailing by 12. When they departed after approximately three minutes of action, that lead had ticked up to 13. Ah well. They can’t all be fairy tale endings. Harris also came back in for the final minutes, but the game had long been decided.

Regardless, it was encouraging to see the two young men step on the court after both battled injuries over the last 12 and 24 months. Harris tore his ACL early in his senior high school season, and hasn’t played competitively since last November. Francis tore his ACL early in his junior year and required additional microfracture surgery before his senior year. Their return is reason for optimism in this young season.

Harris contributed four points on 2-2 shooting. At this point, UNC will take whatever they can get, wherever they can get it. With Christian Keeling and Brandon Robinson struggling to find a groove, the 6’4” Harris is another perimeter body to throw at opponents.

Meanwhile, Francis’ minutes may have been more noteworthy. Not because of anything he did, but because of who else was on the court. Francis handled point guard duties, while Cole Anthony pushed out to the wing. It’s a situation that could evolve into an answer for UNC’s back-up point guard concerns and scoring woes. Some fans called for a similar arrangement last year with Seventh Woods and Coby White, but it never materialized with any success. This year may not be any different but, nine games into the season, it feels like anything is worth trying.