Leading up to last night’s game against Virginia, there was a more than reasonable theory that the Heels would come out a bit flat following their win against Duke. I still think that was probably true, but here’s the thing: it really didn’t matter. UNC still had enough in the tank to dominate the Cavaliers, and send them home for what is likely the rest of the season, as their NCAA Tournament hopes are basically over. As for the Heels, they have moved on to the semifinals to take on Virginia Tech.
Let’s discuss three things that we learned from last night’s showdown in Brooklyn.
Virginia just isn’t Virginia this season
Anybody that knows me knows that I really do not like Virginia basketball. Their slow pace, their celebration of forcing shot clock violations like someone knocked down a three-pointer, and how they move within the college basketball universe in general just isn’t for me. It is what it is, because everyone likes different schemes and styles of play, and that’s okay! Tony Bennett is still a really good coach at the end of the day, Virginia won a national title in 2019, so clearly it is all working for them. Well, that is with the exception of this season.
Here’s the thing: this team was never built for the kind of success that we’ve known to expect from the Cavaliers on a year to year basis. Their firepower has almost completely left the program, with the only really threatening player remaining being Kihei Clark. It reminds me of the solo London Parrentes season, when UNC also had no problem demolishing the Hoos. The secret to Tony Bennett’s success is that he constantly needs future NBA players on his roster. There’s no other way his teams are competitive in the ACC otherwise, and last night was just further proof of that fact.
Leaky Black is too much for Kihei Clark
I think I speak for everyone when I say that Leaky Black not winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year will always sting. I’m not going to say he was robbed or that Mark Williams didn’t deserve it, but I do feel like Leaky’s defensive abilities are underrated. Being able to guard 1-4 is not easy, and I’d be hard pressed to believe that many players in the league can do it and do it extremely well. Black has been one of the most important players on this team, and last night he proved it again by taking on Kihei Clark.
Hubert Davis put Black on Clark for most of the game, and the results were excellent. In the first half, Clark finished 0-4 from the field and didn’t get to the free throw line. Black never let Clark drive to the rim, prevented him from getting good passes off, and he also logged three steals. It was only so much better in the second half for Clark, as he finished the game with seven points off 3-9 shooting. Considering how down bad Virginia has been this season, it’s hard to say what Clark would’ve been able to do if Black wasn’t on the floor, but thankfully we’ll never have to know.
Brady Manek is on a mission
When Brady Manek made the decision to come to Carolina, I often had dreams of him catching fire from three in big games and doing things that other teams’ players normally do to the Heels. Lately that dream has come to fruition, as Manek has been on a tear over the last three games. His 21-point performance is the third time in a row that he has scored 20+ points, and he did so while going 3-7 from deep.
What was really impressive about Manek’s performance is that most of it took place in the first half. His 19 points in the first 20 minutes of the game not only exceeded Virginia’s entire point total of 13, but it matched the Cavaliers’ first half field-goal percentage. The Oklahoma transfer has been playing his heart out as of late, and has even shown a lot of toughness on the defensive side of the ball. I’m still working on finding a loophole that would let the Heels keep him for one more season, but I’m not having any luck. If anybody has access to the NCAA rule book, please do reach out.