UNC got a huge bounce by scheduling Northeastern once it was clear that they would lose a home game against Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels looked their best all season against Louisville in part to the momentum they could sustain by not suffering a mid-week pause.
That thinking got turned on its head when 10-12 Marquette strolled into the Dean Dome and beat the breaks off of Carolina. Forgive me for sharing my tweets, but I think this best sums up Tar Heel Nation’s thoughts after the final horn of the 83-70 shellacking below:
Carolina basketball going back to never schedule the Marquette game: pic.twitter.com/0OmX8FXZoo— Michael McKay (@LABMcKay) February 25, 2021
Here are three things learned from a night we’d rather forget.
First Half Funk
Something wasn’t right from the get-go. Carolina lacked juice from the word “Go!” and after a great driving layup by Armando Bacot to open the scoring, they didn’t notch their second basket until the 15:34 mark. That 2-0 lead was UNC’s only lead of the game. When the Heels hit their third basket of the game at the 12:20 mark, they were down by 10.
Like Red told Andy Dufresne in the Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a dangerous thing.” Marquette is a 33% three-point shooting team. When you let them go 6-15 in the first half, with Greg Elliot going 3-5, you lift them up. They begin to believe. And when they believe, they hurt you. Marquette shot the ball (51.8 / 37.5 / 83.3 split for the game) the way Dufresne did his time in the hole after playing his Mozart record on the loudspeakers; with a smile on their faces.
There are four key statistics that I look at after every Carolina game: three-pt %, FT %, turnovers, and rebounding margin. In Carolina’s eight losses this season, a pattern emerges.
When Carolina is red in three of the four categories, defeat is assured. In the NC State and Georgia Tech losses, the margin of defeat was slim. In the Florida State loss, UNC had a catastrophic rebounding margin, something that cannot happen if the Heels hope to win.
Roy Williams has made the conscious decision to stick with two low-post bigs in the lineup, despite the college game’s steady march to NBA-style positionless, drive-and-dish shooting, rapid movement basketball. For UNC to accept the defensive liabilities that come with putting two big men in space, Carolina must maintain a decided advantage in rebounding.
Despite a size advantage in the post, the Tar Heels finished with one more rebound than Marquette. One. And while that was going down, Dawson Garcia, a 6’11” stretch forward that Roy recruited after failing to land Matt Hurt (and his chin strap) to become the next evolution of Luke Maye, torched Carolina for a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds.
The turnovers appear set in stone. The three-point shooting has the widest variance; Kerwin Walton had a tough shooting night and declined to put up shots he’s made regularly when the Heels needed a lift. The free throw shooting is inexplicable. The rebounding shouldn’t ever be an issue. But it was last night. And guess who’s next...
Caleb Love not point-guarding
The last time I covered “Three Things Learned” for the Northeastern game, I had a section for Caleb Love point-guarding. Tonight, it went the opposite way.
Love had a tough time getting the Heels offense into gear. If he was driving a Formula One racecar against Louisville, he was driving this car against Marquette:
The post was crowded and many of the entry passes became turnovers. Turnovers into fast break points were non-existent. Love continued to improve his assist to turnover ratio with seven dimes versus two turnovers, but he finished the game with one point. One.
In a game that was screaming for a hero to make shots against a team that sagged into the paint, Caleb could have helped out a lot more with his perimeter scoring. It was too congested to get good looks at the rim, but Caleb has proven himself capable of hitting mid-range jumpers off the dribble. Two or three would have gone a long way towards opening up space for Bacot, Sharpe, and Kessler to get better looks at the rim.
I don’t want to single out Caleb Love. Most of the Heels were just as culpable in this loss. But for Carolina to have a chance against Florida State and complete the season sweep against Duke, Caleb is the one that can carry Carolina to the Promised Land.