After four disappointing losses in a row, the Tar Heels were finally able to turn things around against Georgia Tech. We’ve talked a lot about how they need to play 40 minutes of quality basketball, and I would say that this is the closest they’ve gotten to it so far in this young season. They looked intentional in what they wanted to do on the floor, filled up the stat sheet, and didn’t let the Yellow Jackets get much going on offense. It definitely wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was the kind of performance that reminds us that this team has a lot of potential and could do some damage in the NCAA Tournament if they stay the course and get better every game.
With that said, let’s discuss three things we learned in the Heels’ win in the Dean Dome.
The Heels controlled the stat sheet
One of the bigger challenges that the Heels faced during their four losses was that they struggled to win various battles in the stats sheet. Points off turnovers, rebounding, bench points, and second chance points have all had a negative impact on the team, with rebounding perhaps being the most concerning stat of them all. Thankfully they were able to turn things around against the Yellow Jackets.
The Heels out-rebounded Georgia Tech 43 to 22, had 12 offensive rebounds to Georgia Tech’s one, won the second-chance points battle seven to one, and had 14 more fast break points. Perhaps most importantly of all, UNC had 15 assists for the game, which has been a major pain point. We finally saw really good ball movement against the Yellow Jackets, which was needed considering the fact that multiple defensive schemes were thrown at them. My apologies of this sounds corny, but for the first time this season it felt like the Tar Heels were playing Carolina basketball instead of playing NBA 2K with a controller that has a few buttons missing. Hopefully they build on what they did moving forward.
Caleb Love’s misfortune was Seth Trimble’s fortune
Caleb Love has had a rough stretch of games, and things weren’t a whole lot better in the first half of this game. To be fair, he was part of the good ball movement in both halves, and he did finish the game with five assists. However, we did see the usual questionable shot selection, four turnovers, and some overall bad three-point shooting from the junior guard. It is for this reason that Hubert Davis pulled Love in the first half, and Seth Trimble went out there and caught fire.
If you focus on Trimble going 0-4 from the floor in the first half, then you are absolutely focusing on the wrong thing. Trimble played extremely hard on the defensive end on the floor, created some fast break opportunities, logged three assists in nine minutes of action, and overall just played clean basketball. Trimble and RJ Davis played really well together in the final few minutes of the half, and Caleb Love saw every minute of it. Love came back out in the second half and scored eight points off 3-8 shooting, and played a bit more in control than what we’ve seen so far this season.
I think Hubert Davis pulling Love sent the message to him that he needed to start falling more in line with what Davis and Trimble were doing on the floor, and for the most part it worked. I’m constantly reminded of how hard Roy Williams was on certain players because he knew that was their style of learning, and I think this may be the case with Love as well. Hubert Davis may have to keep a short(er) leash on Love, and maybe we will see the NCAA Tournament version of Love show up soon. Maybe.
Thank God Armando Bacot is back
It likely goes without saying that UNC missed Armando Bacot in a big away against Virginia Tech, but the win over Georgia Tech really drove home that sentiment. Bacot played one of his best games so far this season, finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds, an assist, and a block. In the first couple of minutes of the game, Bacot was reaching for his injured shoulder quite a bit, and one had to wonder how long he’d be able to play. However, he eventually forgot all about his shoulder, and instead he bullied the Yellow Jackets in the paint and showed all of us why he is the Preseason ACC Player of the Year.
One thing that I noticed in previous games is that Bacot eventually called for the ball less and less in the paint because of what was transpiring in the front court. It’s hard to fault him for that, but against Georgia Tech we saw him get quite a few touches and he attacked the rim every chance that he got. Hubert Davis said earlier in the season that he felt like this team goes as far as RJ Davis takes them, but I truly think that Armando Bacot makes or breaks this team. Until threes finally start going in, the Heels need to feed Bacot as much as humanly possible. If they don’t, I’d expect to see more of what we saw in the previous four losses.