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UNC vs. Duke: Player of the Game - Brady Manek

He’s not the hero we wanted, but he’s the hero we deserve.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody’s feeling great today in Tar Heel Nation. Yesterday’s 20-point beat down by Duke was humbling. As fans we can be impossibly optimistic. When the rest of the world can see the mismatches and overwhelming odds, we only see that small sliver of sunshine, a tiny chance that if everything goes right, we can pull off the upset of a decade.

Yesterday, Brady Manek was that one ray of sunshine. A combination of poor play, bad matchups, head-scratching coaching decisions, good shots not dropping, bad shots being hoisted, and every bounce going Duke’s way doomed Carolina. But if they were ever going to win, Brady Manek had to have a great night shooting. At times, he was the only thing that kept the Tar Heels within shouting distance.

Manek was always going to have a bad defensive night. He’s shown throughout the season that he doesn’t have the footspeed to close out on shooters, nor can he recover when those shooters put the ball on the deck to drive. He lives in the in-between and usually has to hope that whoever he covers has a bad night shooting.

Where Manek helps the team is with his offense, especially his shooting, since he spaces the floor to give Armando Bacot to operate inside. With Bacot on the bench for such a large chunk of the first half with two fouls within the first three minutes, Manek suddenly found himself as the biggest defender UNC had.

Manek did not sit at all during the first half and scored 15 points when Carolina could only muster 28. When the final horn sounded, he scored 21 points on 6 for 10 3-point shooting. His only other field goal was this breath-taking dunk, with space created by the danger his shooting posed:

Manek eventually ran out of steam in the second half. Without Dawson Garcia, Carolina still doesn’t have a credible replacement for him on the floor, and Justin McCoy had to sub in for Bacot in the final minute of the first half because of his foul trouble.

In the rematch in Durham on March 5th, if Manek can shoot like he did last night, Bacot doesn’t match-up with Paolo Banchero again, Love and Davis shoot like they’re capable of, and Dawson Garcia returns from Minnesota and plays like he did against Purdue... maybe, just maybe Carolina can ruin Coach K’s penultimate Farewell Tour night at Cameron. But that’s just the optimist in me speaking.