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UNC vs. UNLV: Three Things Learned

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Despite a slow start, the Tar Heels were impressive in the opening round of the Maui Invitational.

Iona v North Carolina Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Tar Heels came out flat in this one, falling behind 13-0 in the first six minutes. The rest of the game, however, was dominated by Carolina as they raced to a 78-51 victory over UNLV. The Rebels devised a game plan to keep the ball out of the paint, doubling the UNC bigs any time they received the ball on the block. The Heels were getting open shots early passing out of those double teams, but they just weren’t falling. Andrew Platek finally got things started with a three-pointer at the 13:47 mark of the first half, and the offense started flowing after that.

Though the Heels were favored by double digits in this game, the decisive victory was encouraging nonetheless. Generally speaking, the freshmen seem to be adjusting to the college level pretty quickly. Veterans Leaky Black and Andrew Platek had solid nights and while Garrison Brooks started a little slow, he ultimately ended up with 14 points and 7 rebounds. Here are three things learned from Carolina’s tilt with UNLV.

Best Frontcourt in the Nation?

You’re starting to hear this discussion from national pundits and honestly after the way the bigs took over in this game, why wouldn’t you? It’s still early in the season and I’m definitely eager to see how they stack up against teams with greater length, but the Carolina frontcourt has looked as good as any frontcourt in college basketball. There are potentially four future NBA players on this roster that can rotate between the four and five spots.

It obviously starts with the senior Brooks. It’s possible he was a little too hungry to score his 1000th career point as a Tar Heel, which he eventually notched roughly twelve minutes into the game, making him the 78th player to do so. Nevertheless, Brooks found his footing as the game went on and gave his usual top-notch effort on the defensive end.

Armando Bacot continued his efficient scoring, going 4-4 for 12 points and four rebounds. The freshmen have gotten lots of the attention but Bacot has quietly been the Heels’ best back-to-the-basket scorer. He’s also been way better than last season defensively when getting switched onto smaller defenders, showing marked improvements in his footwork and lateral quickness.

Day’Ron Sharpe wasn’t quite as electric as he was in the opener, recording one point and six rebounds, but he still made his presence felt. Walker Kessler had an extremely solid all-around performance. He was 3-3 with seven points and six rebounds. Kessler had arguably the highlight of the night (at least in Coach Williams’ eyes, I’m sure) with a dive on the floor for a loose ball and a subsequent timeout secured in the second half with the team up twenty points. His length is going to be a problem for opposing teams this year.

R.J. Davis is a Hooper

Caleb Love is the freshman guard that received most of the attention coming into the season. However, R.J. Davis has been the more impressive of the two through the Heels’ first two contests of the season.

Davis was 5-9 from the field (3-4 from three) with 16 points, six rebounds, one assist, and one turnover against UNLV. His speed and knack for finishing at the rim despite being under-sized are a bit reminiscent of Tar Heel legend Ty Lawson. Seriously, some of the shots this guy is able to get up while in the paint amongst the trees are simply incredible, which is why he’s already got three and-ones on the year. Davis’ ability to knock down open threes is going to be extremely key moving forward for a team that needs opposing teams to have just an ounce of respect for the three-point line in order for its bigs to go to work.

Davis is going to be an exciting player to watch for the rest of this season and beyond. Assuming he doesn’t turn pro earlier than expected, I believe he’ll be the point guard to lead Carolina to its next national championship.

This Team Could Be Really Good Defensively

When the Tar Heels were down early in this game, the defense was a big reason they got back in it. They defended and rotated really well as a team. There were more than a few possessions in which UNLV did a good job of moving the ball around but the length of the Heels kept the ball from getting inside. Then when you have guys like Leaky Black defending on the outside who can contest and even sometimes block shots that appear to be open, it can be really frustrating for the other team.

Speaking of Black, he put together an extremely solid game on that side of the ball. Although he recorded just two steals himself, it felt like he was in on about every turnover the Heels created. Black frequently applied pressure to the UNLV guards and forced them into bad situations. If he and Brooks can give consistent effort on that end, the potential is there for Carolina to be one of the better defensive teams in the country.