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UNC Basketball: The Tar Heels need Caleb Love to get things going

The freshman guard is still getting acclimated to college basketball.

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

Similar to last season, this year’s version of the Tar Heels has had a hard time scoring the basketball. There aren’t really any proven shot makers on this roster, and as a result, the offense has oftentimes looked disjointed. If the Heels are unable to deliver a clean feed to the post early in the shot clock, the ball tends to stick on the outside. We’ve seen more than a few instances where one of Carolina’s freshman guards ends up dribbling out most of the clock before putting up a forced, contested shot. Roy Williams always fields great rebounding teams, but these Heels in particular have relied on that statistic, if nothing else because of their inability to put the ball in the hoop.

UNC’s shortcomings on the offensive end can be attributed to multiple factors. The combination of having an unusually young team and all the weirdness that a global pandemic presents certainly hasn’t made things easy. In addition to the aforementioned lack of shooters, the Heels are also turning the ball over at a high rate (16 a game). Although there are several guys I believe could be playing better, one player in particular that I think has lots of room to improve is Caleb Love.

Love was a five star recruit coming out of high school and considered the 14th best player in the country according to 247sports composite rankings. He was marketed as an elite three-level scorer level with above-average length and athleticism, and with good reason. He averaged 26.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 2.6 steals per game as a senior.

Love follows Coby White and Cole Anthony as the third straight freshman point guard to start for Roy Williams. The other two were maybe a bit more well-rounded and we all know how difficult the position can be to learn, but the overall assumption was that Love would make this transition at least close to as seamlessly as White and Anthony did. Such has not been the case so far this season.

Through eight games, Love is averaging 11.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 3.4 turnovers per game. Those 3.4 turnovers are by far the worst on the team (R.J. Davis is next with 2.1). He’s shooting 28.7% from the field and an absolutely abysmal 11.8% from three. So what’s the issue?

As we’ve often seen with young guards in the Carolina system, Love is still waiting for the game to slow down for him. The talent is clearly there. If you were watching the NC State game the other night, you probably saw him finish a pair of incredibly tough shots to keep the Heels afloat in the second half, one of which resulted in an and-one. However, he went just 3-14 for the whole game, and the difficult makes were outweighed by some questionable shot attempts.

Given his propensity to play fast, there’s no question that Love’s game fits the system. Right now, though, he’s playing perhaps a little too fast. He needs to do a better job of taking what the defense gives him and not trying to force something that’s not there. With opposing defenses honing their focus on the Tar Heel frontcourt, it’s up to Love, Davis, and the other Carolina guards/wings to take advantage of the crowded paint and be able to knock down open shots.

The Tar Heels will be back in action on December 30th at Georgia Tech. I expect Caleb Love to continue to figure things out and adjust to the college game. Sooner or later, the dude is going to start shooting/scoring the ball like we know he’s capable of. When that happens, go ahead and put the rest of the country on notice.