The North Carolina Tar Heels lost to the Texas Longhorns in preseason action. Does that statement sound familiar? It should, because it has become a disturbing trend in the Roy Williams era that I don’t think I will ever understand. Rather than go on a rant about how much I hate seeing burnt orange right now, let’s just dive right into the things we learned from this game.
Leaky Black is better than some may think
Every now and then there will be a player that comes along that has a seemingly poor stat line in a game, a season, or maybe even a career, but their effect on any given game goes extremely underrated. Kenny Williams comes to mind as a good example, because while his offensive game wasn’t great for most of his career, just about everything else he did was really good. Well, UNC has another one right now, and his name is Leaky Black.
After the season that Carolina had last year, it’s understandable that we all want to get frustrated at scoring perhaps more than anything. Heck, I know I’m a little frustrated with how things have gone myself. However, despite shooting 27% from the field this season and having a 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, Leaky Black has had a lot of positives for this team.
Think about it: in the first four games he has recorded five or more rebounds three times, he has had 10 rebounds twice, he did an excellent job guarding Ziaire Williams, who was coming off of a 19-point performance against Alabama, and he is averaging 1.3 steals per game. When looking at his complete game, shooting is absolutely a blemish, but it gets a pass when considering how he closed out against Stanford or how he helped give UNC a chance down the stretch against Texas with those two clutch free throws. If we really want to be technical, one shot in this game changes to a make instead of a miss, and we’re talking about back-to-back 50% FG shooting nights for Black.
So what we’ve learned is this: Black has made progress from last year. He’s still developing just as much as anybody on this team, but I like where he’s headed. It’ll be important for him to keep finding ways to trend up, because behind him in the small forward position there’s really nowhere else to go until Puff Johnson is ready to take on more minutes.
The backcourt is running a marathon, not a sprint
Caleb Love and RJ Davis had some rough moments all tournament long, but each player also showed some flashes of good. Things were particularly bad for both players last night, as Love finished the game shooting 15% from the floor, and Davis 27%. Only Davis logged any assists (3), and both players combined for seven of the team’s 14 turnovers. Is it bad? Yes, it’s pretty bad. However, the question becomes: how much of this is really their fault?
I’ve spent the better part of the last week watching a lot of college basketball, and I’ll be completely honest: I’m not impressed with this freshmen class as a whole. We’ve witnessed seasons with elite Kentucky freshmen, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Coby White, Lonzo Ball, and many many others, but this season just hasn’t felt right. Is it a talent thing? I honestly don’t know, but what I do know is this: COVID has messed up the time that coaches get to prepare freshmen for the college game, and the two UNC freshmen are no exception.
We all know that playing at the point guard spot is one of the hardest things to do at UNC, and the learning curve is pretty steep. We’ve been spoiled by Coby White and Cole Anthony the last couple of years, but this season is pretty unfair. Davis and Love looked lost on numerous occasions against Texas, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they look lost a little longer. Preseason games, more practices, and secret scrimmages are very important in Roy Williams’ ability to teach the new guys how it’s done, and a good amount of those opportunities were lost this season. Am I worried about how these two will turn out? Not at all, but patience will be key as they get acclimated to the system, and hopefully figure out how to help make the offense look...like an offense.
A Sign of Things to Come
Continuing with the conversation of less preseason work for the Tar Heels, now that the game against Elon is canceled, there are no mid-major games left. That’s it. The list was completed after Charleston. The Heels will play No. 3 Iowa Tuesday, No. 23 Ohio State a little more than a week later, and then they go right into ACC play. The closest we will see to a tune-up game will be against Georgia Tech, who looks terrible so far this season. It’s a frustrating, sub-optimal, and development-damaging situation, but it is what it is.
The silver lining, if one would like to look at it that way, is that nobody has many preseason games on their schedules. All of college basketball will be thrown into the fire of their respective conferences very soon, which means that truly across the board college basketball is going to be ugly. We are all learning a very important lesson that I think we all knew: preseason games are extremely important. I’m sure Duke, Kentucky, Virginia, and Villanova fans would agree with me, as all of those teams have already suffered uncharacteristically bad losses in November/early December.
Nobody likes what’s happening in college basketball this season. We like that it’s back, we like that it’s a nice distraction from this terrible world we’re living in right now, but no having no fans in the stands only scratches the surface of how chaotic this season will be. I don’t know when anybody’s team will start to look polished (I’m not counting you, Gonzaga and Baylor), and Carolina is no exception. Let’s just hope that maybe, just maybe, Iowa won’t be ready for the level of defense that the Heels are playing so far. It’s our only hope.