Well, they did it: the Tar Heels earned a win over not only their second AP top 25 team of the season, but it was their first against a top-10 team. There was a lot to like in this game, but if we’re being honest, most of that was in the first half. Tennessee came out of halftime on a mission and ended up clamping down on the Tar Heels. That combined with some self-inflicted mistakes from UNC closed the gap significantly, but ultimately Hubert Davis’ guys came away with the victory.
This was UNC’s biggest test this season yet, and there was a lot that was learned. Let’s hone in on three things that we learned from their signature win.
Elliot Cadeau is figuring it out
Forget about how many points he scored: Elliot Cadeau had easily his best game in a Carolina uniform, and even more impressive was the fact that it was against a top-10 opponent. While he only scored five points in the game, Cadeau finished his night with 10 assists and zero turnovers, which is the most impressive performance that we’ve seen from a point guard in years from a facilitation perspective. The last point guard to pull this off was Marcus Paige against Florida State in 2015. Cadeau’s vision, passing ability, and overall intelligence was on full display, and even better was the fact that he spent most of the game with only two fouls.
Hubert Davis started Cadeau last night despite Cormac Ryan being healthy enough to play. It turns out that it was a fantastic decision, because he had a field day carving up Tennessee’s offense, especially in the first half — in the first 20 minutes of action, he managed to record six assists. His shot will fall eventually, but Carolina has been in desperate need of a true point guard for a couple of years now, and the freshman star is starting to show that he is indeed that guy.
Yet another player on the opposing team had a career game
I don’t know what it is about UNC this season when it comes to allowing opposing players to have career games, but tonight’s lucky winner was Tennessee senior guard Dalton Knecht. He finished his night with a 37 points off 13-17 shooting, and he went 50% from the three-point line. His 37 points tied the highest point total any opposing player has ever achieved in the Dean Smith Center. He wasn’t the only Vols player to have an impressive game, but he was by far and away the best out of the bunch. As a team, Tennessee made 56% of their shots from the field, which would’ve spelled tragedy for last year’s Tar Heels team.
However, we all know that nobody should receive a gold star for allowing that many points and coming away with the win. When it comes to Knecht, he is the third player in a row to have a career game against the Tar Heels, which is a very troubling stat. I don’t know what changes Hubert Davis needs to make on defense, but it probably isn’t sustainable to keep allowing this to happen. Maybe Florida State won’t have as good of luck, but if they do, don’t be surprised.
Armando Bacot stepped up
After some sub-par performances during the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, Armando Bacot had a much better performance against Tennessee. He finished his night with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and was sent to the line to shoot 13 free throws. The Vols are well-known for their defense, but more specifically they are known to be really physical in the paint. Bacot was able to handle this arguably the best that he has handled it all season, and it paid off big for the Tar Heels.
Not to keep pulling out this card, but it’s worth noting that the difference between a bad game for Bacot this year and a bad game last year is that the Heels have a lot of good pieces around them. They were able to stay afloat against Northern Iowa and Arkansas, but they felt his lack of production in the loss to Villanova. While the luxury of Bacot being able to have a bad game is nice, things look much much better when he is playing like himself. Hopefully he can repeat his performance against Florida State, because as is usual for a Leonard Hamilton team, they will be one of the bigger teams that the Heels will face all season.