The Tar Heels did what they were supposed to do last night and took down UC Riverside 77-52. There were signs of brilliance from Hubert Davis’ squad, but there were also signs of struggle that we will get into in just a moment. Though perhaps the highlight of the night was seeing Jalen Washington and Seth Trimble put on a show on the offensive side of the ball. There’s a lot of depth on this Carolina team, so it was good to see two guys that were basically non-factors last season remind us all of what they can get done on the court.
Let’s not delay things further and discuss three things that we learned from last night’s win.
The Heels’ defense looks really impressive
There’s a grain of salt to be had considering the fact that UC Riverside came into the game as one of the worst shooting teams in the country, but the Tar Heels looked really sharp on the defensive side of the ball regardless. Each player looked like they knew where they were supposed to be at any given time, they were switching effectively on ball screens, and we even got to see some pressing and traps periodically. It really seems like Hubert Davis wants to keep teams on their toes this season rather than only using certain defenses in certain situations, but we’ll have to see how things actually play out next week.
Perhaps the most impressive player of the night on defense was Jae’Lyn Withers, who finished the night with three blocks and a steal. We haven’t seen much from the Louisville transfer on the offensive side of the ball, but he has consistently made his presence felt on defense so far. Armando Bacot also had a strong defensive performance, finishing his night with two blocks and a steal. Truly I could keep going, which is a breath of fresh air considering some of the defensive struggles that the Heels last last season. A really good defense can cover up bad offensive nights, so hopefully UNC can keep this up. Speaking of bad offensive nights…
Things are still gelling on offense
Prior to last night’s game, things were looking pretty good on offense mostly thanks to Armando Bacot and RJ Davis. Against UC Riverside, however, Davis had an off night by his standards, and while Bacot was able to score 21 points, it still feels like he left some points out on the floor because of how the Highlanders were double-teaming him. Harrison Ingram also has been a solid scorer, but he finished his night only making four of his 11 field goal tries. To put it simply, there’s a lot to work on before the trip to the Bahamas next week.
One can only hope that what’s going on is related more to shots just not falling than any schematic issues. Scheme-wise, UNC looks like they are finding decent shots, but of course there’s always that room for improvement. But when you factor in Cormac Ryan going 1-6 from the floor, Davis and Ingram’s struggles, and Paxson Wojcik still not doing much of anything on offense, it keeps a game that should’ve been an even worse blowout from being just that. If readers are looking for some silver-lining, it is what I mentioned earlier about Jalen Washington and Seth Trimble, who both are playing with a lot more confidence than last season. Elliot Cadeau also looked a lot better shooting the ball (3-4 FG) than he did against Lehigh. There’s definitely been some fun moments on offense for the Heels, but they have to find a way to knock down shots before next week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
UNC’s bigs may finally be able to stretch the floor
Before Jalen Washington arrived on campus, Hubert Davis praised how good of a stretch big he was. By now we are all familiar with why we hadn’t seen a lot of that before this season, but last night we caught a glimpse of what the sophomore can do. Washington finished his night against the Highlanders with 11 points, and went 2-2 from three-point land. He looked really comfortable shooting away from the rim, and it really does feel like the team will be that much harder to guard when he is on the floor. Washington still isn’t playing a ton of minutes off of the bench, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see that change as the season progresses. Hubert Davis utilizing the depth on this team is going to help a lot in March, and Washington is more than capable of keeping things afloat while Bacot is resting on the bench.
Speaking of Bacot, Washington wasn’t the only big to knock down a three-pointer last night. Bacot took advantage of the Heels’ 30-point lead by knocking down a shot from deep in the final minutes of the second half. He attempted another one shortly after, but unfortunately was unable to get that one to fall. It’s hard to tell if perimeter shooting is something we should seriously expect from Bacot this season, but it also wouldn’t be the craziest thing to see him take them every now and then either. The Tar Heels become a much more difficult team to deal with when all five players on the floor can knock down threes, so hopefully we will see more perimeter activity from both Bacot and Washington in the coming weeks.