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UNC Basketball vs. Indiana: Three Things Learned

Carolina’s tough stretch is going rough. Can the Heels pull it together as ACC play starts this weekend?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 30 North Carolina at Indiana Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was another rough day at the office, as Carolina lost at Indiana 77-65. The Tar Heels had great difficulty getting into an offensive rhythm, as the Hoosiers swarmed them on every possession. Pete Nance had another “dude” performance, Bacot may have suffered another injury, and Caleb Love and RJ Davis had their toughest game point-guarding since last year’s loss to Kentucky in Las Vegas. Here are three things learned from Assembly Hall.

Bench contributions improving

Last season’s magical end was powered by the famed “Iron Five” and their ability to play heavy minutes. Hubert Davis conceded that it’s one thing to ask his starters to shoulder such an enormous load in February to get the team off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament, but UNC can’t expect to do that again. Not all the way back in November.

But the starters are still playing heavy minutes. Not only that, the bench wasn’t giving the team much punch in the early season. The return of Puff Johnson has begun to fix that. The junior wing had 10 points against Alabama (the rest of the bench only had four, including two free throws from Will Shaver in his first-ever minute of action). Against Iowa State, the bench chipped in 10 points, and against Portland, a D’Marco Dunn three-pointer was all that kept the bench from being skunked.

In Bloomington, Coach Davis went to the bench early and often, and they continued to make positive contributions. Together, they combined for 14 points, but more importantly, they helped keep the ship from taking on too much water while Armando Bacot was out. Bacot played a season-low 28 minutes while he dealt with an apparent shoulder/pectoral issue.

Going forward, HD will have to cobble up some line-ups that can 1.) spell Bacot in the event of injury or foul trouble (both Bacot and Nance ended the game with four fouls) and 2.) rebound better when one of the traditional posts is on the bench. Carolina was only out-rebounded by one (40-39) at Indiana, and especially in the first half, it was their ferocious offensive rebounding that kept them in shouting distance when they just weren’t hitting shots. How the Tar Heels rebound with a smaller line-up will be key for periods of the game when Bacot and/or Nance are out.

Ball security

We have not returned to Roy’s final season where freshmen guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis were turning over the ball at an alarming rate. But we are a long way away from that magical night in Cameron Indoor last season when RJ had the ball on a string and the two sophomore guards had nine assists against just three turnovers.

Indiana came out aggressively on defense, pushing UNC’s offense back out of the paint and beyond the three-point line, grabbing on every cut, and looking to jump passing lanes. They forced 10 Tar Heel turnovers, and turned those into 17 points. Some turnovers were from great Hoosier hustle plays, but some of them were from either bone-headed passes or getting stripped on the dribble.

One of the worst cases was when ball-handlers had the ball poked backwards towards Indiana’s basket, leading to uncontested lay-ups.

Final margin was 12. Points off turnovers was 17. It’s not hard to see how important it is to not lose the ball or to gift teams free points.

Leaky needs to assert more

In year five, we know what to expect from Leaky Black: lockdown defense, a third ball-handler, and points where we can find them. It’s been a reliable enough formula now for years. But zero points on a night when the Heels struggled to score is not enough.

Leaky was 0-2 shooting, and in both instances, Carolina needed him to be more assertive. On the first possession in the second half, Leaky gets isolated with Miller Kopp, rejects a screen to his right and drives to the hoop going left. Kopp was beaten and Leaky went up with two hands, but instead of dunking it, finger rolls the ball right over the cylinder for an air ball.

At the 16:48 mark in the second half, RJ Davis attacks the rim from the right wing, collapsing four Hoosiers into the paint. Bacot is lurking on the right block, keeping Jackson-Davis near him, and Love and Nance are both beyond the top of the key. Leaky is planted on the left corner, all by himself. When Davis makes contact with Race Thompson just below the foul line, he throws a skip pass to Leaky. Instead of catching and shooting, Leaky starts to back down Miller Kopp, but can’t get close to the rim, instead shooting a fadeaway from the foul line that’s well short.

Leaky will not turn into Brady Manek all of a sudden, but in the periods that he gets the ball and doesn’t make the smart play, it’s just as good as a turnover. The more he’s willing to take (and make!) the open corner three, the more room Love and Davis will have to penetrate, and Bacot will see less harassing double-teams in the post. Leaky has got to strike the right balance of assertiveness to help Carolina’s offense get into second gear.