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UNC vs. NC State: Three Things Learned

The Tar Heels are still climbing out of that massive hole they dug in the middle of PNC arena.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Kentucky Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

If I could sum up UNC’s frustrating loss against NC State in this paragraph alone, it would be that the Tar Heels cannot dig these deep of holes in the ACC. They just cannot do it. Teams like the Wolfpack are designed to make you pay for every mistake that you make, and even if you find a way to claw your way back (like the Heels did), it will more than likely be too late (which it was).

Now that I got that out of my system. Let’s discuss a few lessons from this game.

Caleb Love cannot shoot more than 10 attempts per game

Anybody that knows me knows that I try very hard not to be extremely hard on freshman. They are, after all, just learning Roy Williams’ system and are trying to get adjusted to the college game. However, if there was one recommendation that I would make about Caleb Love, it would be to take fewer shots per game. In fact, I would argue that his entire shooting profile needs to be evaluated altogether.

Last night Love made just three of his 14 shots from the floor. Unfortunately it was not an anomaly, as prior to last night he was shooting at a 29.9% clip and made 13.3% of his three-point attempts. Going back to his shooting profile, Love averaged 4.3 three-point attempts prior to last night, and only made an average of 0.6 of those shots. He has also had a bad habit of stopping when driving to the basket in order to pull up for mid-range jumpers. To put it simply, it’s been tough to watch.

The best thing for Caleb Love right now, as well as the entire team in general, would be to focus on improving his facilitating skills. He came out of high school as someone who was able to score at will, but it’s become more and more clear that Love is realizing that college is a different animal. Does that mean he shouldn’t shoot the ball? Not at all, but smarter, fewer shots may go a long way in helping this team get where they are trying to go.

Follow the Leader(????)

For the first time in a really long time, the North Carolina Tar Heels have a sizable problem on their hands. The 2010s featured an impressive list of leadership in Chapel Hill that included names like Kendall Marshall, Marcus Paige, Joel Berry, and Kenny Williams. Truthfully, even Cole Anthony did his best with last year’s team despite his freshman status, but of course we know how that ended. With this year’s 2020-21 team, however, one thing has become abundantly clear: there really isn’t a leader on this team.

Going into the season the presumed leader of the Tar Heels was Garrison Brooks. Now that UNC’s first ACC game is over, I can confidently say that I don’t think this team has a vocal presence on the floor that is capable of getting them through situations like they were in against NC State. The bad ball-screen defense continued until Roy Williams called for an adjustment, there are still not enough paint touches per game, and overall there are just way too many moments of sheer chaos.

If there’s one thing that makes me extremely nervous about this team, it’s that nobody has stepped up to own the leadership role that is so desperately needed in sports. I hope this changes at some point, but if not it’ll become very difficult to see this year playing out much better than last year.

Sense of Urgency

Yet another aspect of the game that would be fixed with better leadership, this year’s Tar Heel team at times has had a major sense of urgency issue. In fact, one could make the argument that it is why they have gotten off to a slow start in so many of their games so far. Last night NC State started the game playing at a level that was much higher than the Heels. They were aggressive on defense, executed their offense beautifully, and did a great job getting to the boards. This was not the case for the Tar Heels until after the 3:56 mark in the first half and they were down 29-46. From there UNC closed the gap to within one point in the second half, but ultimately the Wolfpack showed their toughness and closed out the game.

In the post-game press conference Roy Williams, RJ Davis, and Armando Bacot all spoke about the sense of urgency issue, and Bacot specifically attributed the issue to the team’s youth. He also stated that he and Garrison Brooks have to do a better job of making sure that the young guys are ready to go on game day, which really brings things back around full circle to the leadership issue I spoke about earlier. If this team is going to finally put an end to their bad starts, better point guard play, better leadership, and overall a stronger sense of urgency will be crucial. Hopefully they can get these things figured out soon before it’s too late.