After scoring a season-high 91 points (on 53% shooting, 67% from distance) in a win over Duke, Carolina’s offense got stuck in pack-line quicksand against Virginia. Offensive struggles in Charlottesville are nothing new to the Tar Heels, but the offense wasn’t poorly schemed. The Tar Heels just shot a putrid split of 34.5 / 12.5 / 50.0, losing the game by 12 in a contest where Virginia only made one more field goal than UNC.
The key difference? The Cavs hit 10 of 22 threes, and Carolina missed a ton of bunnies.
Contested layups are one thing, but missing clear opportunities at the basket against a stout Virginia defense is another entirely. Escaping Charlottesville with the dub means that shots at the rim must count. This season, Carolina has been diabolical in this regard many times. If the Tar Heels committed themselves to powering into the rim and dunking rather than laying the ball up, my non-scientific analysis says that their average ppg would increase by at least 15.
Here are some examples of bunnies that Carolina missed against Virginia.
14:50 (2-6): Carolina is overloaded on the right wing and Leaky Black swings the ball from the top of the key to left wing where Armando Bacot is guarded by Jay Huff, sitting back in the pack-line. Once Bacot receives the ball, he drives hard to the left block and gets leverage on Huff, who is sliding his feet well for a 7-footer. Sam Hauser rotates to help, but is well underneath the hoop and not in position to block a shot. Bacot explodes up and has a good layup attempt that does not have any hands near it to block. This has to be a make at the very least. Optimally, it would have been a Hansbrough-style dunk that would have humiliated and demoralized Virginia’s entire starting frontcourt.
14:29 (2-6): Same possession as the previous play after Virginia poked the ball out of bounds. After some helter-skelter ball movement around the perimeter, including a loose handle from Caleb Love, Carolina finds itself with five seconds left on the shot clock. Leaky Black feeds Garrison Brooks on the right block with a good bounce pass that allows him to gather and spin over his left shoulder towards the basket around Hauser. Jay Huff is lurking and watching the entire time, ready to double-team, as Virginia does frequently.
Day’Ron Sharpe sees Huff cheating towards the double-team and fills the vacated space in the paint, putting his hand up to let Brooks know he’s open and ready to receive the pass. Brooks spins and Huff commits to the double-team with Hauser, both players standing tall with both hands up. Brooks goes up as if to shoot the hook shot, but passes to Sharpe. The pass is a bit behind Sharpe, who still manages to gather the pass and goes up without a post defender in front of him.
He attempts to half lay in, half finger roll the ball in, and the ball rims out. Sharpe had time to catch, explode, and thunder dunk like Amare Stoudemire used to, pre-microfracture surgery. That dunk would have been over Huff and Hauser, likely humiliating and demoralizing them five and a half minutes into the game.
0:43 (18-27): Day’Ron gets the standard double-team when he gets the ball on the right block and flings a cross-court pass to a wide open R.J. Davis. If that pass, while admittedly difficult, hits Davis in the breadbasket, that’s a catch-and-shoot three. Instead, it bounces right in front of Davis’s feet, wasting precious moments to gather cleanly, and the open jump shot is squandered.
Davis drives on Reece Beekman, who rushed out to contest the shot, spins back towards the middle of the court, and puts up a contorted lay-up. As soon as the shot goes up, Day’Ron Sharpe, who was directly underneath the net when the shot went up, just absolutely boxes out Jay Huff out of the charge circle and gathers the rebound like a man. Huff knows that when Sharpe goes back up and dunks, swinging through on the rim like Shaq, Tony Bennett will call timeout to yell at him. Instead, Sharpe lays the ball up against the backboard too far to the right, and the ball hits the outside of the rim and bounces out.
As the second half starts, ESPN announcer Bob Wischusen tells Dick Vitale, “They’re right in this game still if the just knock a couple of shots down.” From your mouth to God’s ears, Bob.
18:09 (18-29): Post feed action off the primary break. Leaky feeds Brooks on the left block with Hauser guarding from behind, but trying to leak over Garrison’s left shoulder to swat the ball away. Huff is not set to double-team as Virginia has been doing yet, as Bacot was still trailing on the break. When Hauser fails to deny Brooks the ball, he crouches to go up to the rim. Huff bails on guarding Bacot, who is diving the rim now. Brooks misses the bunny, possibly blocked, at least bothered, by Huff. A dunk attempt there would have at best been two points in the bank, more humiliation for Hauser, a possible chance at a three-point play; at worst a trip to the line on a foul by Huff.
16:54 (20-32): Caleb Love is guarded on the left side of the “V” logo by Kihei Clark. A simple between-the-legs crossover gives Love leverage and he barrels downhill, slicing into the middle of the paint thanks to a screen at the top of the key by Brooks on Hauser in the horns set. Huff did not stay close to Bacot, so the screen was unavailable, and he is monitoring Caleb’s drive to the hoop.
If Caleb just goes straight and uses his left hand, he has a layup that Huff would have to goal tend to keep out. If he had the bounce in his right leg, he might be able to dunk it on Huff the way he did to Brakefield at Duke. Instead, Love gathers, switches to his right hand to go up-and-under, gets BODIED by Huff and hits the deck, does not get love from the refs, and Huff says some presumably rude things to the freshman point guard as Virginia heads the other way, launching a full-court pass the Trey Murphy who dunks unopposed. This is a four-point swing.
14:35 (24-36): R.J. Davis and Walker Kessler run some pick-and-roll action, using Day’Ron Sharpe as a pivot. Davis begins on the right wing guarded by Kihei Clark. Kessler screens Clark on his right shoulder then rolls to the basket. Huff, who was guarding Kessler, hedges on Davis, who dribbles towards the top of the key and passes to Sharpe on the left elbow.
Hauser, who is guarding Sharpe, camps in the middle of the paint, but per his pack-line defense principles, pounces on his man upon receiving the pass. Sharpe is too quick, though, and barely has the ball in his hands before he sends a near perfect lob to Kessler at the rim, over Beekman, who has cheated off of Anthony Harris to cover the basket.
Beekman is in classic Leaky Black position, ready to get dunked on while offering help on defense. Instead, he bothers Kessler at the rim and then fouls him on the follow-up. Beekman thanks his lucky stars that Kessler caught that lob and not John Henson, or else he would have been humiliated and demoralized. Because Beekman jumped, it would have been an And-1, as well.
1:45 (44-58): More Davis/Kessler pick-and-roll action. R.J. initiates the primary break with Sharpe streaking to the basket and Kessler trailing. Davis floats towards the right wing, and Kessler sets a pick by the three-point line for Davis to work back into the middle. Huff hedges hard again, and Kessler dives to the basket. Davis cannot even see him at this point. When Davis turns the corner, Kessler has a good three steps on Huff, who actually runs into Beekman as they reset, and Davis throws a poor lob to Kessler, well short of the rim. Instead of high-pointing the ball, slamming it home, then running back on defense doing the Sam Cassell gorilla nuts dance, Kessler has to catch and shoot a layup that rattles out.
The difference in the game if these examples were converted (assuming no fouls on the dunks) would mean a tie-game in regulation. Obviously the game would have been played differently at crunch time by both teams if this were the case, but I’m not as discouraged after this loss as I was with say, Clemson. Virginia continues to be a bugaboo team to the Tar Heels (in all sports, really), but they did not dominate Carolina as much as the Heels shot themselves in the foot.