Carolina’s ACC Tournament run in 2021 was better than last year’s capitulation. By leaps and bounds. The Tar Heels thrashed Notre Dame, tamed a sporty Virginia Tech team, and nearly pulled off a second second-half comeback against a very talented and deep Florida State team. If a few more shots went in, if a few TERRIBLE referee decisions went UNC’s way, or if Duke managed to stay healthy and forced FSU to play on Thursday, who’s to say things wouldn’t have turned out differently? The margins were razor thin.
With all that said, today’s “Three Things Learned” will read more like “Three Things That Went Wrong,” but it’s not all doom and gloom. Carolina’s floor has remained constant. Turn the ball over and shoot poorly against any team in the tournament, and the Heels can pull a Coach K and go home in the first round. But some of the displays in the ACC Tournament, particularly the second halves of all three games, showed that the ceiling... could be the roof.
Free Throw Shooting is ESSENTIAL
This was a rough and tumble game. Florida State didn’t play dirty, but they clearly got the memo after Walker Kessler’s breakthrough against them in the Dean Dome that they couldn’t let Carolina operate comfortably in the paint. FSU outscored the Heels 36-24 in the paint, and UNC was only +3 in rebounding, which should be counted as a win in Leonard Hamilton’s book.
So if Carolina wasn’t generating points in the post or from penetration, where does that get made up? In the home win, that came from the charity stripe. The Tar Heels shot an ASTOUNDING 90% (27-30 FTs). Fouling for fouling’s sake wasn’t an option for the Seminoles that day. But yesterday? Carolina shot a putrid 56% (14-25). On a poor shooting night, those empty trips to the line were absolutely killer. UNC can’t be expected to hit 90% of their free throws consistently, but let’s say they made 75%. Rounding up, that’s 19 made free throws compared to the 14 they hit last night. That wins the ball game by two points.
Three Blind Mice
I will not accuse the refs of being bent or corrupt. I won’t even say they were biased. I think they were just incompetent and bad at their jobs.
I will buy the TopShot of these tweets for $3million https://t.co/lvHlxInCo1— Mark Armstrong (@MarkPArmstrong) March 13, 2021
You can always expect a few 50/50 calls to go against you in any particular game, and the limits on physical play will change from crew to crew. That kind of referee influence is baked in the cake. But the black and white “rules of the game” calls that Florida State benefited from absolutely made a difference in this contest.
I mean, what is a travel? What is a goaltend? What is the point of the baseline if not to determine where play is in or out of bounds?
Subjective calls can affect a game, particularly with fouls. Carolina and Florida State are equipped to deal with those because of their depth. But poor referee decisions in this game directly led to two points not being posted for UNC, and two being given to FSU. That four point swing could have given the Heels a one-point victory. So it matters.
It takes mental toughness to move beyond bad decisions, true. But Carolina was visibly deflated after the goaltending non-call. Florida State went on a 7-0 run after that. If this sort of thing happens again, it may be worth it for the classy, gentlemanly Roy Williams to take a technical foul to 1.) get in the refs’ heads and 2.) fire up his team. Giving up two free throws to prevent a future 7-0 run may be worth it.
March Basketball and a Shorter Bench
In case you forgot, that double-bye in the ACC Tournament is really important.
Roy did a great job in the first two games against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech of spreading minutes out to keep the team fresh for the individual contests. The Heels got into Blue Steel territory with several minutes left in the game, and the starters’ minutes compared to Virginia Tech’s made a huge difference in the second half as they Hokies ran out of gas.
The cumulative effects of those games, combined with an extra fresh Florida State team (thanks go out to Duke for withdrawing and giving the Seminoles a triple-bye) that goes 11-deep, were ultimately too much to overcome. It’s not all bad news, though. Roy’s substitutions and minutes were instructive for the team going forward, where they’ll play with a day’s buffer in between games, then hopefully four to five days until their next game.
With Garrison Brooks nursing an injured ankle, Bacot, Sharpe, and Kessler showed they were more than ready to carry the load in the post against Notre Dame. Depending on the matchup, they can do that again, especially in a first round matchup. And Andrew Platek’s minutes have gone down while Anthony Harris has seen his court time go up. Harris was especially influential against Virginia Tech and Florida State, handing out five assists in those games. As his knee feels more comfortable, Anthony Harris could be a real X-factor going forward.