Leaky Black had often been the target of some criticism in his first three seasons for North Carolina. While his defense was never in question, his offensive output led him to be the target of, sometimes harsh, scorn.
After after the 2021-22 season and the Tar Heels’ NCAA Tournament run, there can be no doubts about what he brought to the team. While Black became way more efficient on offense, on the defensive end he truly showed what he could do. He was honored as a member of the All-ACC Defensive Team and gets our UNC Defensive Player of the Year award for his performances this season.
One of the most tangible bits of evidence of Black’s defense you can easily see is by just taking a look at the box scores from UNC’s three games against Duke.
In the first of the season in Chapel Hill, the Blue Devils’ AJ Griffin was the key difference maker in the game. That day, Griffin went off for a season-high 27 points, going 11-17 from the field, including 3-6 from three.
While that was happening, Black spent a lot of time covering Paolo Banchero as UNC had to change their matchups on the fly after Armando Bacot got in early foul trouble. Black did an admirable job on Banchero, who scored just 13 points on 14 field goal attempts on the day. However, the fact that Duke had a second option available to truly go off allowed them to jump on the Heels early and never look back, winning 87-67.
Flash forward to a month later in Durham. While Black was again tasked with guarding Banchero at points, he also spent a decent amount of time on Griffin. In the second matchup, Griffin scored just five points, going 2-5 from the floor. Banchero ended up having a much bigger day, but you can deal with that from someone talented enough to possibly be the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. However, with a more potential perimeter option locked down by Black, Duke had fewer feasible scoring outlets. As a result, UNC pulled off an extremely memorable 94-81 win.
The Heels replicated a similar strategy when the teams met a couple weeks later in the Final Four. While Banchero again got his, Black again held Griffin in check. In the third meeting, Griffin went 1-7 and 0-4 from three, scoring just six points. In the two games where Black when the primary defensive option on Griffin, the potential NBA Draft lottery pick went 3-12. Meanwhile, UNC flipped their fortunes, going from getting crushed to winning both games.
If you just look across Carolina’s late season run, you can see Black’s defensive imprints on a lot of wins.
One of the stories of Saint Peter’s magical Elite Eight run had been the hot shooting of Doug Edert. When UNC met the Peacocks, Edert looked a bit shook on the occasions Black got matched up against him, and scored just two points, both coming at the free throw line.
Against UCLA, Jaime Jacquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang both had sub-50% field goal nights. Kansas managed their big rally in the Championship Game at least in part because Black was limited in the second half because of foul trouble. His value to the team as they caught fire was immense.
Theoretically, Black could return for a fifth bonus year, thanks to the one everyone was granted because of COVID-19. If he does, then we could all get to enjoy him seeing him lock up opposing wings and give them fits again. If he doesn’t, then he deserves nothing but thanks for being a critical part of one of the most fun UNC runs in recent memory.