The #1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels have officially moved onto the Sweet Sixteen after a dominant win over the Washington Huskies. It’s hard to really know where to begin with such a strong performance — Coby White’s big first half? Nassir Little’s second half? Luke Maye being awesome Luke Maye? Garrison Brooks and Kenny Williams showing high levels of toughness? Truly, there was a lot that happened, and yet there was nothing in the way of Carolina coming away with their final victory of their trip to Ohio.
Let’s not waste any time and dive into what we learned from their 811-59 victory.
Coby White and Nassir Little are a scary duo
In the college basketball world, we all love to hang onto storylines that may or may not be true. When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, one of the bigger ones that are heard involve freshmen having to work out the nerves of playing in the Big Dance. While one could argue that Coby White didn’t have a great game against Iona (and they would be right), Nassir Little has had a fantastic two-game stretch, and White decided to get in on the fun.
White and Little finished the game with a combined 37 points, which were the most points scored by two UNC freshmen in a NCAA Tournament game since Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green combined for 39 in 2006 against Murray State. Separately, White finished the game with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, and Little finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds.
When looking at Nassir Little specifically, it appears that a light bulb has definitely turned on for him this weekend. We’ve seen him this season at times look like he’s putting everything together, but as Roy Williams pointed out during his post-game press conference last night, Little’s injury created a bigger setback than expected. Thankfully, he has found a level of aggression this weekend that has paid off big time, and he was able to destroy Washington’s zone. Little finished the game shooting at a 72% clip from the field, besting his 69% shooting efficiency from the Iona game.
The most interesting thing about White and Little’s performances revolve around how the production was distributed. White’s best half was the first half, as he went into halftime with 12 points and only missed one of his five shots. Little scored 15 points in the second half, and made all six of his shots. Washington basically had to pick their poison when dealing with these two, which isn’t even factoring in Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson reaching double digits as well. If White and Little continue this kind of play in Kansas City, it’s almost a lock that the Tar Heels will get to cut down the nets and head to the Final Four. This is especially considering the fact that the Heels are 17-1 when Little scores in double figures.
Luke Maye is a silent assassin
Be honest: how many people realized in the final minutes of the game that Luke Maye had 20 points and 13 rebounds? If you didn’t raise your hand, that’s perfectly ok, as it was easy to be distracted by Coby White’s NBA three-pointers and Nassir Little’s demonstrative block and dunk in the second half. If you raised your hand, I need some form of evidence that you didn’t look at the box score before answering the question.
In all seriousness, Luke Maye was able to do a lot of good things against Washington. Much like Little, Maye was doing a great job carving up the 2-3 zone, making shots in the weak points, grabbing rebounds, and all-around just working his tail off. His shot selection has been a lot smarter lately, though one could argue that some of the shots he’s been taking the past few games typically go in. Nevertheless, he did enough to help his team win, and that indeed is the important part.
This is Luke Maye’s fourth game in a row both scoring in double digits and also grabbing at least 9 rebounds. He’s on pace to finish the entire month of March strong, as he has only failed to score in double digits once for the month, which was the second game against Duke. Maye’s performance on the glass was particularly important, as Garrison Brooks was taken out of the game after having one tooth chipped, another knocked out completely, and having his lip lacerated. Thankfully Brooks should be good to go Friday, so Maye won’t have to carry that kind of weight alone in Kansas City.
The Heels own the 2-3 zone
UNC has experienced more than their fair share of the 2-3 zone this season, with the usual primary source coming from Syracuse. Washington’s defense is very much a love child of Jim Boeheim’s, and just like how it goes when he uses it against UNC, it didn’t end well. Though, the big difference between this time and games earlier in the season is that UNC has found new ways to get the job done.
Carolina is such a good shooting team this year that attacking the 2-3 zone really had one main strategy: good spacing, shoot from the perimeter when there’s an opening, and try to beat the other team in transition when live ball turnovers are forced. In the game against Washington, we saw players like Maye and Little destroy the zone from inside the arc, and the Huskies really didn’t have an answer for them. It helps quite a bit that Coby White and Cameron Johnson were keeping them honest with their perimeter presence, and so Washington had a very hard time figuring out how stop the bleeding.
One would have to think that teams will maybe stop trying to play zone against Carolina for the rest of the post-season, but if nothing else the strategy does slow the team down. However, their half court execution was so good last night that it’s hard to imagine any other team will have much success playing that kind of defense. It’s probably for the best that teams don’t even bother, but if they do decide to give it a try, they should be ready for more problems than they bargained for.