Well, they did it: The Tar Heels finally recorded a Quad 1 win after an excruciating 0-7 record prior to yesterday afternoon’s game against Virginia Tech. There’s a fairly decent chance the win will hold by the time the regular season and the ACC Tournament concludes, so the NCAA Tournament committee will have quite a bit to think about assuming UNC doesn’t pull off a miracle win against Duke. Of course, that all goes down the drain anyway if they manage to lose against Louisville, NC State, or Syracuse, but we’ll at least for a moment pretend that it isn’t possible. Okay? Okay.
Anyways, let’s discuss the three things we learned from yesterday’s big win in Blacksburg.
The benefits of a strong first half
One of UNC’s biggest struggles this season in their losses has been the fact that they have gotten off to some really bad starts. It is something that has been made worse in the games when the Heels would get their act together and make a push in the second half, only for it to be too little too late. The reverse happened against Virginia Tech yesterday, as they finished the first half shooting 51% from the field and 46% from three. While at times they struggled getting a look at good shots, they found a way to knock down the tough ones in order to go into the locker room up 38-30.
However, things took a turn in the second half, which thankfully wasn’t that noticeable thanks to Virginia Tech’s inability to close the gap. The Heels ended up finishing the second half only making 36.4% of their shots from the field, and went 1-7 from deep. Armando Bacot and Caleb Love were the only players to score in double digits in the final 20 minutes, mostly thanks to some strong rebounding and getting to the free throw line. It was a little hard to watch at times, but thankfully UNC’s defense made it even harder to watch the Hokies.
When UNC gets off to a good start, everybody wins in Carolina blue. It sounds like a really simple thing, but truly there are some teams that can dig themselves out of some sizable holes. This team isn’t able to do that, so if going into halftime up by eight points means shooting sub-40% in the second, I’ll take that deal…if things are going well on the defensive end, of course.
UNC = Virginia Tech’s Kryptonite?
One of the storylines before yesterday’s game is that Virginia Tech and UNC were the first and second-best three-point shooting teams in the ACC. In saying that, one would think that UNC was the better team if the only sample provided were the two times these teams faced off, but one would also argue in that case that the Hokies were extremely overrated.
In the two meetings this season, the Hokies were able to make 38.9% of their three-point attempts in the first meeting, but yesterday they only made 19.2%. Perhaps the biggest reason as to why the Hokies were able to do as well as they did the first game is because Leaky Black’s assignment switched from Hunter Cattoor to Justin Mutts, which gave Cattoor the green light to knock down shots from deep. However, yesterday was a much different story, as Black guarded Cattoor all afternoon, which led to Virginia Tech’s best shooter only going 1-6 from the perimeter.
Overall, this was a pretty bad matchup for VT, and I’m sure they would love to not see the Heels again in the ACC Tournament.
I feel like I have mentioned this numerous times to this point in the season, which doesn’t necessarily make this a new thing that we’ve learned about this team. However, we do need to address this because it is extremely concerning now that we are in mid-February. Once again, Hubert Davis had each starter play close to the entire game, with the only significant exception being RJ Davis, who had to go to the bench to be checked out by Doug Halverson in the second half. Leaky Black also got a little bit of relief, but aside form those two players, Manek, Bacot, and Love played just about the entire game. It was especially evident that Manek was tired in the second half, as he once again looked completely gassed.
The reason Davis is playing his starters so much almost certainly has to do with his desire to win, but this is turning from weird and kind of annoying to pretty concerning. Sure, we’ve seen numerous Duke teams only play seven players in their rotations, but we’ve also seen those teams flame out by the time they get to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s pretend for a moment that UNC actually does make it: how are they going to have the legs to do…well…anything? It may be time that we flood Davis’ mailbox with our pleas to give Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn more minutes, because I truly don’t know how much longer this can hold up. Also if we really want to galaxy brain the situation, this likely contributes to some of this team’s sloppiness at times. I can’t prove it either way, but it’s certainly something to think about/keep in mind as we enter home stretch of the regular season.