Yesterday, North Carolina got back into the win column after trouncing the Miami Hurricanes 94-71. It was fun, confidence-building, cathartic, and a significant milestone in college basketball history. Roy Williams passed Dean Smith with 880 total wins and UNC no longer is the sole occupant of last place in the ACC. This season is so weird.
Enough small talk. Here are three things we learned yesterday.
Point Guards are Important
Anyone who has rolled their eyes on the impact *one* player can have on a team needs to take long, hard look at yesterday’s game. Yes, Miami only dressed six scholarship players, but one of those was not starting point guard Chris Lykes. The junior point guard is averaging 15.7 points per game, but missed yesterday’s game with an injury.
Would Miami have won if Lykes had played? Probably not, but it certainly would’ve been more competitive as the Heels still gave up 0.95 points per possession while putting up 1.29 points per possession on offense. It’s a fair bet that Lykes’ presence would have mitigated what ultimately became a shellacking. Anyone who has watched Jim Larranaga’s squads give UNC fits over the years knows the importance of Lykes or other Hurricane point guards.
Meanwhile, UNC has started four different players at point guard and are still waiting for Cole Anthony to return to action. They have held double digit leads in three of their six conference losses. Until yesterday, they had not held an ACC rival to less than 1.0 PPP since their road loss at Virginia. Even with all the other injuries during the season, it’s not unrealistic to think the Heels are at least four games better with a healthy Anthony.
For the first time all season, Carolina was able to see how other teams struggle without a point guard. Perspective, folks.
Confidence is Contagious
Brandon Robinson obviously lit up the scoreboard while going 6-10 from behind the arc. The rest of the team was 4-13 from deep. That may not seem great, but five different Heels hit a three-pointer. Robinson, Andrew Platek, Justin Pierce, Christian Keeling, and Leaky Black all contributed. That ties a season high: The Heels also had five players hit a three-pointer against Gonzaga.
That somewhat limited success helped other shooting aspects. Even if Miami was forced into a 2-3 zone, the Heels moved more quickly. Passes snapped around the court. Open attempts went through the hoop. They finished at the rim. Off-the-ball movement was executed with urgency. You could just see a difference in demeanor, body language, and overall play.
The result was going 30-46 (65.5%) inside the arc and 40-69 (58%) from the floor. Both were season highs. Any other year, we might shrug considering the state of the opponent’s roster. Instead, just enjoy it and hope a few players can build on this as the schedule gets tougher.
UNC Fans are Lucky
Roy Williams finally got his 880th win. As all UNC fans know, that moves him one game ahead of Dean Smith’s career total. Over half of those wins, 462, have come during Williams’ stint in Chapel Hill. Between the two of them, Dean and Roy accumulated 1,371 wins (and counting) in 53 combined years as UNC’s head coach.
The program has had exactly two losing seasons since Dean Smith took over. The first was Smith’s inaugural season In 1961-62, as the future legend navigated NCAA sanctions and a post-season ban. The other season was 2001-02, when Matt Doherty struggled to rebuild the program in his vision.
59 seasons. Just 2 losing records.
That’s categorically insane.
This year has been frustrating, but college sports is a cruel profession. Making a career of relying solely on the minds of 18-22 years old should probably require a psychiatric and/or psychological exam. Yet, UNC has had two coaches dominate in a single sport for over half a century. In fact, four of UNC’s last five coaches have gone to a Final Four. Three won national titles.
There wasn’t any fanfare after the game and N.C. State looms large on Monday. Roy and the team are focused on getting back to .500. On one hand, moving into fourth place on the all-time win list isn’t much reason to celebrate. It’s clear the coaches and players are treating this like business as usual. On the other hand, passing a bona fide coaching legend for a career achievement isn’t some fluky event.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, it’s worth sitting back and realizing just how lucky we are.
There are better days ahead.