There’s no place like home.
When things were getting pretty dire after back-to-back losses at Miami and Wake Forest, all Hubert Davis needed to get the Heels back on track was some home cooking. Wins against Virginia Tech and Boston College were a step in the right direction. Giving NC State a bare-bottom spanking in front of Roy Williams and the 1982 national championship team is a great leap forward. Particularly in the manner that UNC spanked the Wolfpack.
Here are three things learned from a thrilling (and perhaps season-turning) win over that team in red.
Rim protection improves
Ideally, Carolina would like to limit penetration off the dribble. Barring that, protecting the rim would be nice. Armando Bacot is a great rebounder, but he hasn’t been a great shot blocker the way John Henson or Brendan Haywood was. The team altogether averages just 3.8 blocks per game.
Against the Wolfpack—a team that earns a living getting to the rim—Bacot erupted for six blocks (the team had nine total). NC State only scored 22 points in the paint.
Moving forward, if Carolina continues to struggle containing guards that like to drive, it may want to focus on getting more blocks. Aside from RJ Davis, UNC’s starting line-up has good size, especially amongst the forwards. Puff Johnson has go-go gadget arms, and when Dawson Garcia returns, he has length to affect shots at the rim as well. If the Heels can’t keep offenses out of the paint, maybe they can block enough shots to make drivers hesitate.
When it rains, it pours
Coaches like to say “Defense travels,” since you can’t count on hitting three-point shots all the time. But when they’re going in early, they should go down often.
So it went for the Heels, who began the game on a blistering pace (10 for 15 made threes) and put the Wolfpack in quicksand. Davis, Love, and Manek are the usual suspects, but when Leaky Black starts hitting from deep (in consecutive games!) and Kerwin Walton hits them on the fast break, all of a sudden teams have a lot to account for in the scouting report.
Nobody is asking for Leaky to shot threes in volume, but if he’s open when the defense collapses on a Love/Davis drive or a Bacot post-up, it’s nice to know that he is willing (and able!) to hit that shot.
Having multiple deep threats on the court at all times is paramount to keeping a defense from consolidating in the paint. If Carolina wants Bacot to have room to operate down low, it’s imperative that they keep shooting well. Hitting 55.6% going forward is not likely, but it would sure be nice to approach that this Saturday.
Green shoots sprouting
Carolina fans have agonized over a lack of depth and bench production. Hubert Davis had the breathing room to get a little weird with his rotations, possibly to pay homage to Roy Williams on Roy Williams Day.
Puff Johnson, who has missed so much time with a variety of injuries, is starting to show some quality production to pair with his hustle and intensity. He participated in the first-half three-point barrage and finished the game with eight points and six rebounds. Compare that to when he scored two points in the Wednesday night win over Boston College—which was the bench total.
If Puff can spell Leaky Black or Brady Manek at the four spot against smaller lineups, it’ll give the team more juice as the season hits the home stretch.
Also catching the eye was freshman Dontrez Styles, who scored six points on 3/4 shooting, and should have had an offensive rebound put-back counted that was erroneously called a shot clock violation.
Dontrez has great energy and had a nice drive with a stab step into a nice jumper. He’s not shy, and if the Heels can beat up on some weaker ACC teams, he should be able to average 3-5 minutes per game going forward. His future is bright.