Whenever I do post-game analysis, I like to rewatch the game so I can take notes without the emotions of fandom clouding my vision. Because I am taking self-care very seriously in 2020, I have made the executive decision not to do so today. Not to worry though, memories of this game will haunt my dreams for weeks to come. Vividly.
If anyone needed reminding, this is a young team, and we are in for a rollercoaster ride watching them grow and learn, perform and stumble, and ultimately win and lose. The good news is that Roy Williams will be able to teach these young Heels a lot with the Stanford tape. The bad news is that we’ve shown Texas a lot of things they can exploit. Here are three things learned from a hard-fought win over Stanford.
Better Get Used to a Crowded Paint
For the third game in three this season, the opposing defense made the paint as crowded as a rush-hour subway in Tokyo. Starters Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot were automatically double-teamed whenever they caught the ball on the block, usually with a third defender sniffing around in case they spun into the charge circle. Day’Ron Sharpe was able to make some plays passing (four assists), but only had four points, his second single-digit showing after scoring an impressive (and bullying) 13 points in his college debut. Walker Kessler was scoreless after an impressive (and efficient!) game against UNLV.
Carolina’s posts are a strength of the team, but they are running in quicksand if they can’t get any space. Two things need to improve for the posts to get any air; the shooters have to hit jump shots (and quickly, not after 10 speculative dribbles) and the entry passes have to improve. Several runs were killed yesterday when perimeter players failed to flatten out before attempting their entry passes, some of which were of the swirling, skip-pass variety that are difficult to catch. This led to live-ball turnovers, which resulted in points and fouls. Speaking of which...
Last Man Standing
This is what I looked like while watching the game:
It’s a good thing I was sitting on a soft, comfy couch and not a wooden bench. My hand might be broken from how many times I punched the cushion after an unanticipated whistle from this awful referee group.
The fouls. Oh God, the fouls. Carolina narrowly edged the Cardinal in this statistic, 22-19. The fouls on both teams were as dubious as they were numerous. Slight contact was whistled. Solid contact was not. Players jumped into the body of defenders who were straight up and got calls. R.J. Davis and Bryce Wills were bailed out on bad drives against taller defenders who blocked their shots.
Even poor Ziaire Williams was called for a technical foul when he briefly hung from the rim after a dunk at speed. Pointing out that he did not want to risk hurting his knee, which was in a Stone Cold Steve Austin knee brace, did not help his case with an unmerciful Teddy Valentine.
With the final margin of victory only four, the Tar Heels will certainly look at their 15 of 24 free throw shooting. One more Stanford basket could have made this game even tighter, and as survivors of last year’s cavalcade of last second losses, Carolina fans can be forgiven for not wanting to go through that again.
Roy Williams was likely recruiting Jerod Haase after the game to join him and all ACC and Big Ten coaches in throwing a blanket party for TV Teddy on Christmas Eve:
A key moment in the game came in the second half with 10:58 remaining and the score tied 50-50. Ziaire Williams fouled Walker Kessler in the post when he received an entry pass, giving him his fourth for the game. Stanford took him out and R.J. Davis hit a three-pointer seconds later. When Haase put Ziaire back in the game with 4:56 left, the score was still tied 58-58. Ziaire Williams scored on his first possession back on the court to give Stanford a brief lead.
In different games against better opponents, Carolina simply must take better advantage of a six-minute period without a star player on the floor. Allowing Stanford to hang around could have been calamitous if Ziaire Williams came out firing on all cylinders, particularly with UNC’s issues fouling. This was an opportunity for the Tar Heels to get comfortable, and they weren’t able to do it.
Credit does need to go to this team for winning the hard way, especially since last year’s team failed so often in the closing minutes of games (I still cry myself to sleep thinking of the home Duke game). Roy, true to his nature, did not bail the team out with a timeout, and the young Heels figured it out.
They’ll get their toughest test of the season against a Texas team that beat the blueblood out of Indiana.