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UNC vs. Pitt: Three Things Learned

Murphy’s Law continues to bombard the Tar Heels as they fall to 1-3 in conference play.

Pittsburgh v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the North Carolina Tar Heels fell to the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Dean Smith Center. Oh, you haven’t heard that one before? Of course not, because it’s the first time that it has ever happened. That’s right, we are entering the darkest timeline where NCAA Tournament hopes are out the window unless Roy Williams can somehow will their team to an ACC Tournament title, and let me tell you, the chances of that happening are pretty terrible.

There were a few lessons that we were able to take away from this game, including the fact that Justin Champagnie was added to the very long list of players that came into the Dean Dome and did things that they shouldn’t be able to do. Let’s take a look at some of those lessons now, and get ourselves ready for what just might be another long day Saturday.

Armando Bacot isn’t hurt

For what feels like way too long now many of us suspected that something must be wrong with Armando Bacot. He had trouble staying with his assignments, he looked disinterested, he was committing silly fouls, he wasn’t going very hard at the rim at all even to try and draw his own fouls, etc. Well, he finally decided to show up last night and it was a much-needed performance despite the outcome of the game.

Bacot finished the night with 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block. In the first half he looked downright impressive, as we were seeing the return of the version of Bacot that we had seen earlier on in the season. He even threw down some authoritative dunks for good measure, and it was truly a joy to see him being himself again. As far as why he disappeared in those previous games, it’s hard to say, but if he can keep this up alongside Brooks and UNC can get Cole Anthony back, things maybe won’t look quite as bleak as they currently do. Maybe.

Jeremiah Francis needs help

It goes without saying that this team is desperately missing Cole Anthony, and there likely isn’t a single person in the college basketball universe that would be willing to debate that fact. However, what’s becoming more and more apparent is that Jeremiah Francis needs consistent help in the backcourt from...somebody. Anybody. Remember when Seventh Woods decided to transfer to South Carolina? One wouldn’t think that such a move would be so significant considering the fact that UNC has about four players that can play point guard, and yet here we are.

Francis’ performance tonight was a fascinating one, because on one level he had four turnovers, had a tendency to pound the ball a little too much, and he didn’t have his best game defensively. On the other hand, things still don’t look completely right when Francis leaves the court, even with some of his struggles last night. He finished the game +4 in the +/- column, and he still has the right idea when trying to make plays. With all of this said: Jeremiah Francis prior to the Virginia game hadn’t played basketball in approximately 1,000 days. Any good or bad that he has in ACC play honestly is permissible given that fact, and honestly from a point guard perspective there’s been a fair amount of good. Now he needs help.

The good news is Cole Anthony’s return shouldn’t be too far away. The bad news is that the Heels will at least play Clemson and likely the second game against Pitt before we see him return. In short, the hits will keep on coming for now unless Leaky Black or KJ Smith find a way to consistently keep the offense going when Francis isn’t on the court.

Capel’s Three-Headed Monster

We usually don’t focus too much on opponents in this particular piece, but seeing how we have to play Pitt again next Saturday, it’s important to point out this important lesson about their team: when Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, and Justin Champagnie all get going, you’re in for a bad time.

What’s dangerous about Xavier Johnson is that he plays with the kind of energy that UNC is missing right now. He picked up two fouls during the first half, and when he went to the bench the way Pitt attacked on both sides of the ball changed quite a bit. When he was back in for the second half I feel like the energy he brought on defense became infectious, and McGowens and Champagnie were the biggest benefactors. Johnson’s two teammates scored 31 of the team’s 73 points in the second half, with Champagnie going ballistic from the three-point line. McGowens started heating up as well, and became more and more demonstrative as the game went on.

If the Heels are to stand a chance against the Panthers in round two, they have to figure out a way to keep these three players from getting too hot. The good news (maybe) is that Champagnie isn’t a very good shooter from deep on average, so his performance last night is more of an outlier than something to put too much focus on at the Oakland Zoo. As for McGowens and Johnson, figuring out how to keep them in check for a full 40 minutes will be a big difference between getting swept by a low-tier ACC opponent, and hopefully getting something positive going before getting deeper into conference play. Seriously, can we maybe get Cole Anthony that bionic knee already?