Alright, I’ll say what we’re all thinking: this season hasn’t gone very well so far for Carolina basketball. Last year there was at least the saving grace of sweeping the NC State Wolfpack, and this year in the first ACC game of the season the Heels got completely outworked by Kevin Keatts’ squad. It’s frustrating, the losing is getting very old very fast, and maybe most importantly, it was at least one last jab that the year 2020 decided to take at all of us.
The highlight of all of these struggles has been the freshmen point guards. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis have continued to struggle operating Roy Williams’ offense, and to make matters worse they have both struggled to put the ball in the basket. Considering what we got out of Coby White and Cole Anthony, seeing these two offensively gifted players struggle to knock down shots is enough to make anybody want to go insane. Because of their struggles, the question then becomes: what is the next move? Does one of the guards get exchanged for Andrew Platek at shooting guard? Maybe Kerwin Walton? Or do you burn it all down and have K.J. Smith start alongside Platek?
These are some tough, perhaps even controversial options to consider, but as the Heels get deeper into their ACC schedule they have two options: make a change or get better fast. In this article what I would like to do is to discuss a couple of past UNC teams that had comparable first-year starting point guards, and point to some key stats that may shed some light on where this year’s team goes from here. Before we do that, however, we first must take a look at Love and Davis’ stats for the season so far.
11.1 PPG, 2.4 REB, 3.8 AST, 3.4 TO, 1.0 STL, 0.6 BLK, 28.7 FG%, 84.4% FT, 11.8% 3PT
10.1 PPG, 3.0 REB, 2.6 AST, 2.1 TO, 0.3 STL, 0 BLK, 36 FG%, 70.8% FT, 32.3% 3PT
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
6.4 PPG, 2.2 REB, 4.4 AST, 2.4 TO, 0.9 STL, 0.2 BLK, 43.2 FG%, 77.3% FT, 31% 3PT
Bobby Frasor was recruited by Roy Williams out of Blue Island, Illinois to help reload his team after a number of players from the 2005 national championship team left for the NBA. Frasor started all 31 games for the Tar Heels, which would be the only time that he started more than 10 games in a season for the rest of his college career. The answer as to why Williams couldn’t justify starting him following that particular season was simple: he recruited Ty Lawson, who from the very beginning was one of the best point guards Carolina fans have ever had the pleasure to cheer for.
I digress, Bobby Frasor’s efforts in the 05-06 season were good enough to lead the team to a 23-8 record overall and a 12-4 record in the ACC. They opened conference play with an 82-69 beating of NC State, and finished the season with an 83-76 win over Duke. After losing in the second round of the ACC tournament, the Heels would go on to beat Murray State to open the NCAA tournament before falling to George Mason 60-65.
Frasor’s most well-rounded game of the season happened against Duke in the last game of the regular season. He finished with 10 points and five assists, though one could argue that his four turnovers were a bucket of cold water on what otherwise was a solid night. His best offensive performance was against Miami on February 12th when he scored 13 points off 62.5% shooting. His best assist-to-turnover night was against Saint Louis when he dished out an impressive 12 assists and only committed two turnovers. Putting it simply: Frasor’s numbers for the season were pretty respectable from a facilitation perspective, especially when you consider that he had a 2.0 A:TO ratio. His ability to score may have been way behind the current freshmen, but he was able to be the floor general the Tar Heels needed.
8.2 PPG, 2.7 REB, 4.6 AST, 2.5 TO, 1.4 STL, 0.1 BLK, 35.6% FG, 83.6% FT, 34.4% 3PT
There may not be a better comparison in the last decade to Caleb Love and R.J. Barrett than the Marion, IA native, Marcus Paige. Sure, we can go round and round about how Coby White was also an offensively gifted combo guard, but the difference is that the three best players on the 2012-13 team were two sophomores in James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston. The lone senior that played significant minutes on the team was Dexter Strickland, who averaged 8.2 points and 4.6 assists per game. This was a young team, and Paige executed well enough in his 34 starts to get his team to the NCAA tournament.
Unlike Bobby Frasor’s start to conference play, Marcus Paige started his run in the ACC with back-to-back losses against Virginia and Miami. In the game against the Cavaliers, Paige struggled mightily to get his shot to fall, going 1-7 from the floor and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of exactly one. In the Miami game things went a lot better for him, as he finished with 10 points off 57.1% shooting, five assists, and three turnovers. From there Paige would go on to have seven more performances where he failed to score higher than 25% from the field (one game was exactly 25%), all of which were in conference play. His best shooting performance was a 19-point game against Virginia Tech, and his best overall game was against NC State when he finished with 14 points, eight assists, and zero turnovers.
Much like Davis and Love, Paige struggled to get his offense going his freshman year to say the least. He had some really strong performances, but to say his production was a rollercoaster is an understatement. If there was one reliable aspect of his game, however, it was that he finished his season with a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. If you happen to be curious what his worse game as a point guard was, it was against Maryland on March 6th when he coughed up the ball EIGHT times. Ouch.
The unfortunate thing about doing articles like this is that we could take a much deeper dive into freshmen point guards under Roy Williams, but truthfully these two former guards are as close of comparisons to Davis and Love as we’re going to get. Ty Lawson was a cheat code of sorts, Kendall Marshall was a point guard wizard, Coby White had a very impressive one-and-done season, and Cole Anthony despite being on a weak roster was also good enough to get drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft.
It’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions when comparing current players to past players, but I think what this exercise shows is that what Love and Davis are going through isn’t exactly a new problem. It is absolutely fair to blame where they are at on the COVID-19 pandemic, as there have been fewer games, fewer practices, and no fans, all of which make things really, really weird. However, I think the true takeaway here is that both Love and Davis can turn things around starting tomorrow against Georgia Tech. These two talented freshmen aren’t doomed to make the Tar Heels repeat the 2019-20 season, but if things are to get better it absolutely starts now. I don’t know that starting Andrew Platek or anybody else fixes anything for a few reasons that may be best saved for another time, and so I think the game of patience must continue.
My final thought is this: I think realistically we all knew that this season wasn’t UNC’s year as far as the national championship goes. 99 of those reasons are that Gonzaga looks unstoppable, but the 100th reason is that this team isn’t composed like a typical Roy Williams national championship team. With that said, I still think that this team has the potential to do some really fun things this year. If and/or when things click for Davis and Love, I think this team will reach new heights and will be hard to beat in the ACC. Let’s just hope that we get to see what that looks like soon.