For the first time in eleven days, the Tar Heels took the court in a game that counts. It’s important to remember that the game counted because, well, it was apparent after the second TV timeout that this was not going to be a good result for Boston College.
Trying to pick out things learned from this is going to be difficult, but we can pick up a few things. Thus, let’s dive right in.
It’s tough to play well when you don’t play
The first four minutes of the game were horrendous to watch, on both sides of the court, because of the long layoff for both teams. Boston College hadn’t played since December 13th, and the Tar Heels hadn’t played since December 21st. The rust showed as both teams couldn’t hit shots and looked just out of sorts.
Of course, the difference then showed as the Tar Heels have actually been able to play three games since the Eagles last played, and on top of that have actually been able to practice as the Tar Heels have mostly managed to avoid COVID (for now). Before the first TV timeout, the Tar Heels’ rust had been knocked off, the ball movement was crisp, shots started going in, and the game was effectively over by halftime if not before.
All of that is to couch the rest of our lessons here, because Carolina should have beaten up on the Eagles with the talent deficiency and severe rust, but there’s also a good chance this won’t be the last time the Tar Heels see a team coming off a COVID pause like this. There’s good chance for a lot of bad basketball in the next few weeks.
Carolina isn’t playing down to their competition
Rising to the level to play teams above them is another story-see Purdue, Tennessee, and Kentucky, but in terms of teams that they should beat, the Tar Heels have improved from the beginning of the season when they let bad teams hang around for too long. This is especially apparent on defense.
Since giving up 83 to College of Charleston, the Tar Heels are giving up only 57.9 points a game in their wins. For a team that had given up 83 to CoC and 87 to Brown, this is a remarkable improvement. Considering the state of the ACC, it’s also a good sign of success for the rest of the season as the vast majority of the teams in the league just aren’t very good. Yesterday also produced a first half that saw BC shoot 16.7% from the field overall.
It’s easy for this to get lost in the bad losses against Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as the poor defense against Purdue, but the more these guys play together the better they seem to be getting on defense. The next step is rising to that level against the likes of the top tier of the ACC, because with the way the league is shaping up Carolina is going to need something like a 15-5 record or better in the league to even be in the discussion for a top five NCAA seed.
Hubert Davis is aware he has a bench
The Tar Heels suffered a loss early when Dawson Garcia banged his head on the court thanks to being sat on, so to some extent Davis was required to go into his bench early. That said, the Tar Heels didn’t miss a beat, and for the first time all season no one tallied 30 minutes played in the game. After such a long layoff to be able to ease guys back into playing shape is huge, and it should pay dividends on Wednesday when the Tar Heels face off against a Note Dame team that’ll have sat for a week thanks to a postponement of their game against Duke.
Davis was also able to play around with his lineups, giving guys like Anthony Harris and Kerwin Walton some extended minutes and giving them some more potential depth they can use to save some wear and tear on the starting five. It’s also good for more players to get experience as Covid could run through the locker room at any time, and even though the CDC has shortened the time asymptomatic players can sit out, with Justin McCoy sitting today even having to miss five days could be two games, and the depth will be needed.
That said, Armando Bacot and Caleb Love still played deep in the second half — though that may have had more to do with Brad Stevens sitting on the sideline watching the game than anything else. The two showed out in front of the President of the Boston Celtics. Love nabbed 22 points on 7/11 shooting, 4/6 from three, two assists, a steal and no turnovers. Bacot, meanwhile, scored yet another double double with 18 points and 11 boards, was 1-1 from three, perfect at the stripe, and had three steals. You can bet Stevens took note.
Bonus Thing Learned: The Tar Heels have a sweet bus
If you’re someone who can’t help but to pay attention to the little things like how uniforms look, your Twitter feed is going to come up with tweets like this:
@UniWatch @PhilHecken TIL UNC's basketball team has a branded team bus. https://t.co/jJ5KNjVTR3— James #GTFV Gilbert (@jamesleegilbert) January 2, 2022
I had wondered whether the Tar Heels actually drove all the way up to Chestnut Hill (which is in Newton, MA, NOT Boston by the way), but it was pointed out to me that there had been posts of the team getting on a plane. Thus, the Tar Heels have a bus there to meet them and take them around as opposed to chartering local. It was the first time that I...and anyone...had seen this ride, and Gilbert decided to ask the God of UNC Information, Steve Kirschner. He, of course, had a quick answer:
This was the first time the bus had the Carolina Basketball wrap.— Steve Kirschner (@UNCKirschner) January 2, 2022
So, now it looks like when the Tar Heels are on the road you’re going to be able to tell when they are arriving at the arena. Pretty cool, honestly, and it’s a nice touch that elevates the look of the program.