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UNC vs. Portland: Three Things Learned

The Tar Heels avoid yet another upset.

Phil Knight Invitational - North Carolina v Portland Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

Honest question: how many of you started drinking a little earlier than you thought yesterday cause of this game?

The Tar Heels have yet to have a truly easy game this season so far, but just like the first four, they did just enough to pull out the win against the Portland Pilots. The Tar Heels now advance to play Iowa State today at 5:30 PM, which should be fun for those of you trying to figure out how to watch both basketball and football at the same time. Either way, yesterday’s game was telling for a lot of things going forward, so let’s pick out three quick things we learned yesterday.

Caleb Love is Fine

I mentioned this in something to watch, but Caleb Love’s three-point shooting had been off at the beginning of the season, yet he had been doing well in other areas. Still, folks were worried as to whether or not his three-point shot would come back.

Yeah, it came back.

Love lead the team in minutes yesterday and was the player that we all remember from last March. In short, he had a good day. He went 3-4 from behind the arc, with the only miss being a long distance heat check that probably wasn’t going to go, but considering he went 10-15 overall and had three steals, three boards, and 23 points overall, you can’t blame him for taking the shot. It’s the first time this season his three-point percentage was better than his overall percentage, and while he did most of his damage in the first half, it’s clear he hadn’t let his early season struggles get to him. It was good to see, and hopefully it’s the beginning of a good streak for him considering the schedule ahead.

Double Armando at your own risk

Portland decided they weren’t going to let Armando Bacot beat them. Just about anytime he had the ball down low, they sent a tight double team over to him, forcing him to throw the ball out and reset the offense. The defense ended up causing him to “only” score eleven points, but he still grabbed thirteen boards, and frankly had he not missed five free throws his line would have looked even more impressive.

In the macro, Armando is going to have to get used to this because teams that don’t have the size will see how he’s bothered with this tight defense. He’s a good enough player to adjust, but it’s clear that most teams see him as the focal point of the offense and want to take away that option.

The problem, of course, is that Carolina has a few other players on the court. The rest of the starters hit 52% overall, led by Pete Nance and Caleb Love since they had the room to operate. The whole team also hit a solid 50% from three, and still out rebounded Portland 39-23. The lesson: If you try to focus on just one guy on this offense, they are unselfish enough to move it around and find the right guy. The offense was not the problem.

The Bench is a real concern

This was the game where the bench really could have stood out. Indeed, the Tar Heels built an 18-8 lead before the first substitutions came in.

The lead disappeared and from there, the Tar Heels were never able to gain control of the game till after the final TV timeout. The bench gave the Pilots hope, and 100+ KenPom or not, when you have confidence and hit your threes, you’re going to be in for a fight.

Only D’Marco Dunn played more than ten minutes, and he had the only three bench points for Carolina. That was off 1-4 shooting by the way. Puff Johnson had nine, Seth Tremble had five, Tyler Nickel had two and just looked bad defensively, and Justin McCoy came in for the very end. The five starters? Even with foul trouble for Bacot and Black, they all had 33 minutes or more. If Hubert couldn’t trust the bench to play more time than they did in a game like this, and with good reason, are we just going to have to deal with a repeat of last year?

Once again it’s a clear fundamental different between Hubert Davis and Roy Williams. Davis prioritizes winning over everything else, whereas Roy wouldn’t have had a problem with the team losing a game by now because he’s aware that you’re ultimately judged by how you finish, and he’d rather have players learn as they go. The thing is, clearly Davis wants to develop his bench, but the drop off continues to be so severe when they come in it’s tough to justify keeping them on the court.

We may just have to get used to the idea of another Iron Five with a few contributions from the bench here and there. The thing is, maybe now that the competition ramps up, Davis would be more apt to using the bench because a loss to higher competition would be more...palatable...than it would have been before now? Who knows, but it’s clear that if this is how they’ll play from here on out it’s going to bite them, and soon.