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UNC Basketball: Was the Phil Knight Invitational the wake-up call the Heels needed?

The answer should be yes, but tonight will tell us everything we need to know.

NCAA Basketball: Phil Knight Invitational-North Carolina at Portland Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the 2022 Carolina basketball season has been interesting to say the least. After being ranked #1 in the country in the preseason, the Heels kicked off the season with closer-than-they-should-have-been wins against mid-major opponents, only to go to the Phil Knight Invitational and suffer two losses. Perhaps the most perplexing thing about this is that there isn’t really one big issue, just a lot of medium-sized issues. Why are smaller teams winning the rebound battle? Where is the consistent three-point shooting? What the hell were those plays during the overtimes against Alabama?

To make things worse, Leaky Black and Armando Bacot both suffered injuries during the game against the Crimson Tide, though Hubert Davis informed us all yesterday that both fully participated in practice and he expects them to be available against Indiana. This is good news, because Bacot’s absence was notable during overtime Sunday afternoon, and Leaky Black’s defense is needed if this team wants any chance of slowing down the Hoosiers. Now that we know they are at full strength, however, the burning question coming out of the Phil Knight Invitational is: what did the team learn from the weekend? It sounds like such a basic question, but we’ve seen teams not learn much until very late into the season.

The biggest lesson that should’ve been learned from losses to Iowa State and Alabama is that teams cannot wait to take down a team like Carolina, and that their intensity/intelligence has to match their opponents’ at all times. After re-watching some key plays during the overtime sessions against Alabama, UNC really should’ve been able to put them away, but there were too many little mistakes. There were players not committing hard enough on screens, guards not seeing players open, and yes, some questionable play-calling. I may never get over seeing 1-4 flat ISO in the first overtime with the ball in Caleb Love’s hands near the end of the first overtime, and while he could’ve been a hero yet again had the ball went in, it just didn’t seem like the play that was needed for that moment. This team isn’t without their flaws, but the good news is that just about every flaw right now is very fixable.

Tanya Anderson and Julius Manuel agree with this sentiment, as we discussed this and more on this week’s basketball episode of the What in Tar Nation podcast. You can check us out on the following services:

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Let’s hope the Heels bounce back and take down Indiana, or it may be a long, brutal December.