In their first game of the ACC tournament, the North Carolina Tar Heels handled their business against the Louisville Cardinals for the second time this season. After suffering a humiliating defeat to the Cards back in January, the Tar Heels have been on a tear through the entire conference, with the one lone exception being the game against Virginia. Now co-regular season champions, the Heels went back and forth with a Louisville team that seemed to show both their good and bad sides throughout the night. One could argue the Heels did as well, but more on that in a bit.
With their win, the Tar Heels will go on to play either Syracuse or Duke (the game is in progress while this is being written). There are plenty of takeaways from the first win of the ACC tournament for the Heels, so let’s dive into what we learned.
Coby White is ready for March
In the first two games against Louisville, Coby White struggled to get anything going. He scored a total of 12 points in those two games, though the other four starters were able to reach double-digits in the second game. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case last night, and Coby White somehow found a way to fill up the stat sheet despite still not being the most efficient that we’ve seen him.
White finished the game with 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. His seven rebounds were the second-most on the team behind Luke Maye’s nine. After failing to get anything going from deep, White found a way to get his shots at the basket. He found multiple wrinkles in the defense, and Louisville didn’t do a great job of playing help defense. White was also seeing the court really well, and truthfully could’ve had an assist double-double if a few more shots went in for his teammates.
Perhaps the most impressive thing that White has been doing as of late is taking care of the basketball. In the games against Duke and Louisville combined, he has only turned the ball over one time. This has been a huge development, as he was highly turnover-prone for a good portion of the season. If the Heels want to keep progressing in the tournament, this is a trend that has to continue, as both Syracuse and Duke do a good job of creating sloppy plays/turnovers.
Kenny Williams should’ve been on the ACC All-Defense team
It’s safe to say that there aren’t many Tar Heel fans out there that don’t know that Kenny Williams is one of the best defenders in the ACC, maybe even in the country. It’s hard to ignore the fact that he frustrated / earned the respect of Duke’s RJ Barrett, and that is just a needle in the very tall haystack that is his defensive resume. Well, add another performance to his resume, because Williams locked down Jordan Nwora all night long.
Nwora finished the night with seven points, making three of his eight attempts, which is good for 37%. It is true that going 3-8 isn’t egregiously inefficient, but it is the shots that Nwora didn’t even get to take that made the difference. Williams made it extremely difficult for Nwora to do anything productive on offense, and it was the other players for Louisville that had step up. Four Cardinals players ended up scoring in double-digits, but it just wasn’t enough against a Carolina team that held the lead for 35 minutes of the game.
In the post-game press conference, Luke Maye pointed out that he doesn’t think Kenny Williams gets enough respect for what he is able to do on defense. It’s easy to only look at the shots taken and made and think otherwise, but a perfect example is that Nwora had 15 shot attempts the night before against Notre Dame. Should the Heels run into Barrett again tomorrow night, one can only hope that Williams can keep playing stellar defense and force that other guy on the floor to make up the difference.
Carolina is drought-prone lately, and it’s worrisome
Let’s start with the good news: Carolina was able to go on multiple runs against Louisville, including an 11-2 run to end the first half. The bad news? Louisville was able to go on runs as well, including a 12-0 run before the run by Carolina that I previously mentioned. This may not sound bad, considering the fact that the Heels were able to answer, but it got worse. A few times.
The worst situation for Roy’s squad was scoring five points in the final 6:07 minutes of the game. The only field goal made during that timeframe was a layup by Coby White with 35 seconds left in regulation. The positive is that the Cardinals were held to just nine points during that stretch, as Carolina continued to play really good defense. However, this is similar to what happened near the end of the Duke game, and it’s not exactly a habit that any team should develop in tournament time.
If the Heels can get back to keeping their foot down on their opponents while continuing their attack, this team is going to be extremely difficult to deal with in the postseason. Hopefully it’s something that we get to see tonight, and the Heels can grind their way to the ACC championship game tomorrow night.