Going into the 2019-20 season, one of the players not named Cole Anthony that I was looking forward to watching play the most was Christian Keeling. The Charleston Southern grad transfer had a very good career during his undergrad, finishing the 2018-19 season averaging 18.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Considering his resume and the fact that Roy Williams had such tremendous luck with Cameron Johnson as a transfer, hopes were maybe a little too high for Keeling going in, as what actually happened was a mix of some really good and really not-so-good things.
If I could summarize Keeling’s lone UNC season in two words, it’d be confidence and adjustment. These words apply to both the good and the bad that we witnessed, as the worst parts that we saw were mostly due to needing time to adjust to Roy Williams’ scheme as well as needing to regain his confidence. Inversely, we saw Keeling’s confidence levels increase considerably as he started putting everything together following his 14-point performance against Florida State, and from there we saw his confidence rose considerably. What was the major difference for him, particularly on offense? Amazingly enough, it was his mid-range jumper that seemed to help spark just about every other aspect of his game. So much for the mid-range jumper being the worst shot in basketball.
Christian Keeling finished the season averaging 6.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, and 0.5 steals per game. From the Florida State game onward, he averaged 10 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.3 assists, and 0.83 steals per game, and so it’s clear that his offense was able to at least get thee other parts of his game going a little bit more. His best performance of the season was against Syracuse, as he finished the game with 18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and shot 63.6% from the field as well as 50% from three-point range. His worst performance? It’s hard to make a case that any game was worse than the one at Virginia, when he logged 3 rebounds in 15 minutes of play. That’s it. Those are the stats.
When it comes to how Christian Keeling will be remembered for his time at Carolina, I feel like it’ll be very similar to how the season went overall for the Tar Heels. There was at least a fair amount of promise at the beginning, then things turned out to not be very good at all, but then got better near the end before the tragic Syracuse game in the ACC Tournament that quite honestly shouldn’t have been played in my personal opinion. Regardless, much like the rest of the team Keeling made considerable strides during the stretch, and I believe one question we’ll find ourselves asking when reflecting on what could’ve been will revolve around what would’ve happened if he had just one more year of eligibility.
I still do believe that Keeling was a much better player than how his season turned out, and it was good to see him flip the switch and put on a show at least for a little bit. It’s always rough when a player ends up on the wrong side of team history, but there’s plenty of good moments from him that fans to hold onto as he moves on to whatever is in store for him next.