The North Carolina Tar Heels are riding a two-game winning streak and fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief for the moment. The gut-punch that was the double-overtime loss against Virginia Tech sparked two solid performances, including an underdog road win in Raleigh.
Boston College travels to the Smith Center tomorrow evening and Carolina has a great opportunity to capture another win against a team that has lost five of six.
It does not get any easier for the Tar Heels down the stretch and this is the type of game that can set the tone for next couple of weeks. Does UNC continue its progression or revert back to their bad habits?
Here are a few things to watch tomorrow night that may lend insight to that question.
Better Shot Selection
During the five-game skid, there was a lot going wrong for the Tar Heels. One of the most frustrating was shot selection. The half court offense was sputtering, if functioning at all. Ball movement was lackluster. A contested shot near the end of the shot clock became too common.
For this next point, omit the Georgia Tech game when nothing went in the basket for an eternity and the VT double overtime game. Both games against Pitt and the infamous loss versus Clemson, Carolina heaved an average of 21 three pointers and only made six.
The opposing defenses forced Carolina out of their intended offensive game plan and the UNC offense could not regain their footing. Fast forward to the NC State game Monday. Carolina attempted just nine three pointers. Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot were forces on the inside and it opened up the offense for more high percentage shots.
These are the types of offensive possessions that build confidence for those players that may have struggled or are simply not mid to long-range shooters. And the proof is in the pudding. In the past four halves, UNC had one half at 60+ percent from the field, two at 50+ percent, and one at 49 percent.
Offensive Confidence, Defensive Intensity
Just with the eyeball test, the defense looks much improved in the past couple games. You can even go to the first 30 minutes of the Virginia Tech game and say the same. It was seen against Georgia Tech and Pitt. When the ball was not going through the hoop over and over again, the defense was a step behind and un-spirited.
The reciprocal relationship between offensive confidence and defensive intensity is a little bit like the chicken and egg. Which has the strongest influence on the other? There may not be an answer, but there has certainly been an uptick in the defensive pressure from the Tar Heels. Now they have two wins to show for it.
The best example of this Monday night came from Andrew Platek. He kept NC State’s leading scorer to zero points on eight shots from the field. Of course, that was the second-straight zero-point game for C.J. Bryce, but Platek did his part to keep the shooter shut down.
With an extremely short bench, keeping the intensity up will be difficult. Perhaps the January funk has passed and the defense can have a strong February.
Will Anyone Return Tomorrow?
The bench always gets smaller in February and March, but the Tar Heels need the bench to grow by a couple spots sooner rather than later. As of writing, there were no definitive reports about the return of Cole Anthony or Jeremiah Francis.
It has been widely reported that Anthony is champing at the bit to get back in action. He has been seen handling the ball and doing some non-jumpshots during warm ups. Anthony even has left tidbits in Instagram comments and stories about getting back on the court.
With the stories about his team-first attitude, you have to believe that the next second after medical clearance, Anthony will be dressed. Whether or not, or how much he plays will be up to Coach Roy Williams. But it will be hard to keep that young man off the court once he returns.
Could it be Saturday? We will wait and see.