The Tar Heels have finally completed what turned out to be a taxing, painful stretch of their early basketball season. The team hasn’t played at home since November 20th, and if you really think about it, haven’t really been home much either. Now that the loss to Virginia Tech is over with, they will have the rest of the week to get ready for Georgia Tech this Saturday.
Whenever a team goes on a four-loss losing streak, it’s really hard to think of what we could’ve possibly learned this time compared to the other three games. Let’s take a stab at it anyway.
I’m glad Justyn Mutts is finally graduating
When it comes to players that have weirdly good games against UNC, there’s a longstanding debate when it comes to why that happens. Some people will argue that players elevate their game when playing the Tar Heels because they want to make a statement, and others will argue that the Heels simply aren’t good enough defensively against some players. Where Justyn Mutts falls in all of this is as debatable as any other player, but all I know is this: he has been objectively a thorn in the Heels’ side during his tenure at Virginia Tech, and yesterday was no different.
Mutts dominated Pete Nance all afternoon long, finishing the game with 27 points of 12-16 shooting. He also pulled down 11 rebounds, which was likely easier to do with Armando Bacot sitting on the bench. To be quite honest, Nance looked uncomfortable dealing with Mutts, and it really felt like Mike Young was fully aware of this and made sure that Mutts got as many touches as reasonably possible. To add insult to injury, that was Mutts’ first 20+ point game of the season, and it was also his first since January 15th, 2021 against Notre Dame. We can debate how much of this was UNC’s fault and how much of this was Mutts low-key smelling blood whenever he plays the Heels, but all I know is this: I’m ready for him to go away.
Where’s the assists?
There has been a lot of discussion about the play of Caleb Love and RJ Davis, particularly when it comes to scoring. Undoubtedly both players need to produce at a higher level for this team to be successful, but there has also been another huge issue, and that is ball movement.
This of course isn’t to say that players aren’t passing the ball, but the Heels haven’t been able to productively pass the ball since their four-overtime loss to Alabama, and one could that even that number was inflated by the fact they played what was essentially an entire second game. UNC finished yesterday’s game with just six assists, which looks even worse when you factor in the fact that they turned over the ball 10 times. The Hokies, however, had 16 assists in the game, but they didn’t manage to turn the ball over the same amount as the Heels.
For what it’s worth, it’s not that players aren’t looking for each other, but it does seem like they end up in situations where they feel like they have to make plays themselves. Things have to start with Love and Davis being better facilitators, but truly I think the challenge for this team should be to never have a sub-10 assist game again for the rest of the season. Playing one-on-one basketball against team defense will fail more times than it won’t, and we’ll only see more losses until things get better in this department.
The Armando Bacot situation may be worse than we thought
After suffering a shoulder injury in the game against Indiana, Armando Bacot sat out against the Hokies. I personally was happy to see this, because he also dealt with an ankle injury prior to hurting his shoulder, and it just seemed like he needed a game or two of rest before getting back on the floor.
Unfortunately, I may have misread the situation.
Inside Carolina got to talk to Bacot following the game, but it is this tweet from Adam Smith that raises cause for concern:
Armando Bacot says there isn't a clear timeline on his return. https://t.co/eYWBKzrHNv— Adam Smith (@adam_smith_IC) December 5, 2022
Perhaps this is a mountains out of mole hills take, but it’s a bit unsettling that Bacot is in enough discomfort to not have an idea of when he might return. This definitely doesn’t mean that he will be out long-term, but what it does mean is that there is a lot of uncertainty going into the remainder of the December schedule. The important thing is that he gets healthy, but in the meantime the Heels were out-rebounded by Virginia Tech 25 to 39, and they didn’t pull down a single offensive rebound in the first half. If things were already this bad against the Hokies, I can’t imagine how things will go against teams that have more size.
Let’s hope Bacot has a speedy recovery, because if he doesn’t, things will get out of hand in a hurry.