Well, this certainly feels new. (Or old, depending on your point of view). North Carolina has their first three-game winning streak since...November? Hallelujah.
It’s just been one of those seasons, but the Heels are doing everything they can to gain some momentum for next week’s ACC Tournament. As of today, North Carolina is still technically in the running for the #10 seed in Greensboro. Aside from that miracle-waiting-to-happen, here are three quick lessons we can take away from their victory over Wake Forest.
Making shots is fun
Look. Sometimes it’s as easy as making shots. Sure, by itself, shooting is both art and science, but I’ve never known a “good” offense to look “good” when players weren’t making shots. I have, however, seen “bad’ offenses look amazing when the ball went through the hoop.
Whatever you think of this year’s team and their struggles, it’s hard to get angry when they’re hitting double-digit three-pointers. Those games have been sparse, only reaching that mark four times. The good news is that two of those games have come in the last 96 hours against Syracuse and Wake Forest.
Cole Anthony is the most noticeable success story, going 11-17 from deep in the last two games. Brandon Robinson has pitched in by going 7-15, including two clutch threes to stymie a late Wake comeback attempt. Not to be outdone, Christian Keeling is a cool 50% over his last nine games, shooting 11-22.
The damage isn’t just from deep either. During this three game winning streak, they’re hitting 70-127 from two (55.1%) and 58-76 from the foul line (76.3%).
It’s a good thing the offense is finally clicking because the defense has been less than stellar. That trend continued last night after they allowed 1.10 points per possession to the Deacs. That was the eight consecutive game an opponent scored 1+ PPP against the Heels. That same mark has been set 13 times in the last 17 games. That’s, uh, not great folks.
There are some valid reasons for that. Most notably, illness and injuries to Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot have forced UNC to go small for long stretches. The small lineup with Justin Pierce or Leaky Black lacks the experience, size, and/or athleticism to match up against most ACC competition. Add in a thin perimeter rotation, and teams have pick-n-rolled the Heels to death.
However, UNC also seems to consistently have breakdowns that seem to be avoidable. Whether it’s a lack of communication or not understanding assignments, opponents are finding open looks at the rim when they aren’t knocking down shots from outside. In fact, over that eight game span, UNC is allowing an average of 32.25 points per game in the paint, while only scoring 30.25 themselves. Conversely, teams are only hitting 34.2% from deep against UNC during that same span, for an average of 24.3 points.
Brandon Robinson Appreciation Rant
Here’s the bottom line. For as bad as this season as been, Brandon Robinson has been a “insert descriptive adult word of your choice” warrior. Battling through injuries, heartbreaking results, and even getting hit by a drunk driver, Robinson has continued to come back time and time again. Those combination of events would mentally break plenty of young college kids, but Robinson keeps tying his shoes and delivering on the court.
I am not one for putting athletes on pedestals, but what Robinson showed throughout this season goes beyond athletic achievements. His leadership and toughness has permeated the rest of the team. Part of that leadership included selflessly helping recruit Christian Keeling last offseason. Then, when things got tough, never once did Robinson utter a single excuse as the losses piled up. I’m not convinced the Heels respond the way they have these past few weeks if Robinson is not part of this squad.
Sure, UNC has a way of producing these kinds of players and young men with shocking consistently. But, very few have had to face as much adversity through one season, both on and off the court as Brandon has. If Robinson had decided to pack it in and just ride out the season, most people wouldn’t have been surprised. Frustrated, sure. But not surprised.
Instead, Robinson keeps coming back for more and to lead this team. Here are his comments after last night’s win.
Brandon Robinson: "We want to go to the ACC Tournament and win it and piss people off."— Ross Martin (@RossMartin_IC) March 4, 2020
Prior to this season, I said Robinson was one of the two most important players to this team. For a multitude of reasons, I believe that assessment has been proven correct. Besides, based on his comments after last night’s win, there is nobody else I want on the court next week to rally the troops.
Go to Hell Duke.