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UNC vs. Clemson: Three Things to Watch

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The Heels must step up against a talented and tough Tigers squad.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

To be honest, the North Carolina Tar Heels game on Tuesday evening was difficult to watch. The stretches of scoreless, disjoined offense coupled with turnovers made the game seem more like summer pick up than a January conference game.

Even with the negatives that are coming out of this one-point victory, there were several good takeaways:

  • Leaky Black continued his good play from his game winner against Notre Dame by scoring 16 points, including a perfect 4-4 from three, and pulling down nine rebounds.
  • Day’Ron Sharpe registered a double-double with 12 points and 16 rebounds.
  • Despite offensive struggles, Garrison Brooks and Andrew Platek made the final four points in the final minute to secure the victory for UNC.

The Tar Heels need to carry these positives forward while continuing to improve on both ends of the court.

Below are three things to watch as Carolina takes on no. 19 Clemson.

Turnovers and Offensive Tempo

Yes, this may seem obvious, but there is more to this point than just the turnovers. This UNC team is committing the most turnovers per game since the 2005-06 squad. Tuesday’s 20 turnovers did not help that average.

Everyone knows the Roy Williams offense will have more turnovers. Higher tempo means more possessions, and the number of touches will alleviate the impact of a higher than average turnover figure. However, this year’s team currently ranks 78th in KenPom’s adjusted tempo ratings. So far, this is the worst of the Williams era.

For comparison, here are the historical rankings for Carolina in KenPom’s adjusted tempo ratings:

  • 2020: 67th
  • 2019: 6th
  • 2018: 46th
  • 2017: 40th
  • 2016: 60th
  • 2015: 16th
  • 2014: 18th
  • 2013: 12th
  • 2012: 10th
  • 2011: 15th
  • 2010: 23rd
  • 2009: 6th
  • 2008: 9th
  • 2007: 8th
  • 2006: 23rd
  • 2005: 7th
  • 2004: 16th

Long time Tar Heel fans can look at the years, imagine the personnel on the court, and understand why Carolina has that particular tempo ranking. The most influential factor right now for UNC is the lack of a point guard that can run the offense as intended. Until that time, turnovers will remain an issue for this team.

It means even more tomorrow against Clemson. The Tigers rank second in the league in turnover margin, forcing five more turnovers than they are coughing up.

Offensive Improvements

Clemson is one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Tigers lead in the ACC in scoring defense, and are 3rd in three-point field goal percentage defense, 4th field goal percentage defense, and 5th in scoring margin.

Simply put, the Tar Heels cannot continue their offensive woes against Clemson or it will be a long evening in the Smith Center. It is encouraging to see Black and Platek stepping up in the backcourt, while Kerwin Walton remains a threat with the deep ball.

Carolina was 9-20 from three against Miami. Their 45 percent shooting percentage from behind the arc was the highest since wins last March against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. The flip side to this is the Tar Heels shooting an overall 34 percent from the floor, meaning that two-point shooting percentage was south of 30 percent.

Here are two factors contributing to that low percentage.

Despite the well-advertised frontcourt advantage for Carolina, Miami outscored UNC 32-24 in the paint. Sharpe was 4-12 from the floor, Bacot was 1-3, and Brooks was 1-7. At points during the game, it looked as though the interior pass was forgotten. And when the ball did get inside, the big guys could not find a way to finish.

The other factor is R.J. Davis and Caleb Love must find a way to break their cold streaks. The freshman duo were a combined 2-14 from the floor against Miami, and did not have a single free throw attempt.

As been discussed throughout the season, the young guys need to work on shot selection. Both Davis and Love have demonstrated they can take it to the rim. Some more interior penetration from these guys might build some confidence while keeping the outside open for the hot shooters of Black and Walton.

The Tar Heels are still leading the conference in rebounding. If the frontcourt can start cashing in on some of those second chance points, their confidence could start to snowball.

Can Brooks End His Slump?

Brooks, the Preseason ACC Player of the Year, was held out of the starting lineup versus Miami for the third straight game. Brooks struggled from the field, but he was still trusted by Williams at the end of the game even with his four fouls.

He stepped up, and nailed two free throws to put the Tar Heels ahead by two. The confidence from his coach, and his ability to deliver when the team needed it, may be what it takes for Brooks to break his slump.