A win against Virginia in John Paul Jones Arena was never a likely outcome, but Saturday’s loss deflated more than a few balloons in Tar Heel land. After a thrilling win over a subpar Duke team the previous weekend, Carolina had another extended break after video emerged of team members celebrating with some folks outside of their bubble, and the (likely?) home win over Miami on Monday was cancelled. This meant that UNC had another week off before going on the road like they did before the Clemson game, which ended similarly.
The entire team, starters particularly, did not play with juice. The starters and sixth man Day’Ron Sharpe all finished the game with single-digit scorelines. Starting swingman Leaky Black and zero points and didn’t balance out his boxscore with the usual assortment of blocks, steals, and rebounds that usually boost the team into the victory column.
There was one spark on the team, and that was freshman center Walker Kessler. A concerning note regarding UNC’s scoring against Virginia:
Walker Kessler led North Carolina with 9 points today.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 14, 2021
It is the first time North Carolina hasn't had a double figure scorer in a game over the last 25 seasons. pic.twitter.com/KYU3EGYfqP
That’s not going to cut it if UNC wants to make the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels will go as far as their offense can carry them, because the defense is such a mess. They have firepower that can carry the team, but if it coughs and spurts like it did against Virginia, Carolina may miss the postseason for the second year in a row.
Walker Kessler is my player of the game by default. He was aided by the fact that he only played 11 minutes. There’s every reason to believe that if he played heavier minutes, he would have fallen prey to some of the ills that afflicted the rest of the team. He was similarly poor on defense, getting put in the washing machine by the pick-and-roll/pop game between Jay Huff and Reece Beekman. He also got taken to the hole by Kihei Clark, a point guard that stands 5’9”.
On a positive note, Kessler provided scoring which was in short supply in Charlottesville. His 9 points on 3-5 shooting was efficient, and he hit his free throws at a healthy clip, going 3-4 from the line (let’s not discuss the one that he did miss). His five rebounds also helped contribute to Carolina’s +7 rebounding margin. He also was a source of energy and spark off the bench.
Walker Kessler is still fourth choice among Roy’s posts, but you can see the potential there, especially while he was getting worked by the senior Cavalier Jay Huff. Their bodies are remarkably similar, though Huff’s is stronger and more mature. Kessler, who had a long-range reputation in high school, could eventually become a pick-and-pop threat the way that Huff is (he led all scorers with 18 points on 3-5 three-point shooting) while still providing the rebounding that Roy Williams demands (Huff led all players in rebounds with 12). Hopefully he takes the positives away from this game and applies them to Carolina’s next opponent, whoever (and whenever) that may be.