clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tar Heel Hangover: Making noise

The first of February has North Carolina sneaking into the national conversation.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning 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.

A fairly easy second tilt against NC State preceded what was obviously a trap game, as I anticipated last week. Miami played with tremendous energy and hit a ton of difficult shots. Frankly, the Heels were lucky to get the game to overtime and ultimately prevail. Saturday afternoon felt very much like a survive-and-advance tournament game.

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

What are the reasons why Saturday was so clearly the classic trap game? Team on a winning streak? Check. Big game against highly ranked competition coming up? Check.

Then there is one other element; only top teams suffer trap games.

A new narrative started circulating on the Saturday morning pre-game shows. Sure there was still a lot of talk about the top four teams in the polls, including two in the conference. There is Kentucky on the rise. And then there is a quiet but growing undercurrent of Carolina Blue.

Its like the February light switch turned on for the media and there is a sudden realization that this Carolina team is very good and very dangerous. That is precisely the type of talk that can get in players’ heads and leads to the inevitable trap game.

On Saturday, the Heels won by scoring. With 8:10 left in the game, Carolina had only 52 points and had not scored in almost 2 minutes. They had only 5 points in a nearly 8 minute stretch. A 7 point lead had become a 4 point deficit. Then the scoring started. 36 points over the final 13 minutes (including overtime). That is a pace that is hard to match and even with Miami hitting a ton of shots, they just could not keep up.

As good as that offensive output was, the defense just was not. I know that the statistics put this defense at a much higher ranking than I have given them credit for, but the eye test still tells me that they are only mediocre. Miami scored 27 over that same stretch, even with a couple of scoring droughts. Holding Miami scoreless for 2:30 down the stretch of regulation looked like pretty good basketball. Miami only scoring two for the first four minutes of overtime looked more like favorable officiating in a game where they let the players play.

Early in the year, I was a big fan of just outscoring opponents. I still think this team can pull off that strategy when it has pushed out to double digit second-half leads. In close games, however, a more balanced approach will be required. Finding a way to support more consistency on the defensive end has to be a top priority.

The one interesting development Saturday was allowing Nassir Little to be switched to cover Chris Lykes. With a very early high ball screen, Little repeatedly hedged to cover Lykes on the point. Over and over again, a clear out allowed for a defensive switch back but the Heels were content with Coby White staying off the ball. Little did an admirable job against Lykes, but the smaller and quicker player repeatedly won the matchup.

A Word of Wisdom from My Grumpy Dad . . .

“It is hard to believe that [Miami] team is 2-9 in conference. They can really play.” Here is where the caveats start to fly. The Heels were great down the stretch. Coby White hit every shot he saw. Luke Maye was clutch once again. Kenny Williams made a huge three with the game tied and just over 2 minutes left in overtime. They looked awesome.

They were playing at home, against a team with a 10-13 record. Clearly, Miami is better than their record, having held second-half leads in most of their games, but barely escaping with a win against that team is concerning. NC State scored 72 more points on the road against Carolina than it did at home against Virginia Tech. 72 more points.

As I have written for four months, the schedule is favorable for the Heels. A quality team needs to take care of business against less talented competition. That will be the mantra in 6 weeks during the first, second, and third rounds of the tournament. That needs to be the mantra now.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

The short turnaround is quite a bit easier for the Heels than it is for the visiting Cavaliers. This will be a true test on both ends of the floor. Scoring 90 will not be needed to beat the team from Charlottesville, but giving up 75 will not get it done either. Hopefully, this will be the return of Sterling Manley and the bench will start to be a bit deeper once again.

What is clear, however, is that the offense is virtually the opposite in philosophy than other versions of the Heels. The team shot 50% from three against Miami. It is the deep ball that starts the offense and opens up the interior this year. I still think that is a dangerous recipe come March, but Monday will prove to be an excellent test. Score against Virginia and this team can score against anyone.

Saturday will be a trip to Wake Forest. Think a two-win team in the conference can’t be a threat? You don’t remember Saturday.

Final Thoughts

This is a team on a roll. They need to keep shooting and they need to play defense. Some fans have seen for a long time that the offensive balance they can put on the floor will be devastating to most opponents. They control their own destiny with 8 games to play in the regular season.