The Tar Heels finished up non-conference play by steamrolling Charleston Southern 105-60, earning them their ninth win of the season. RJ Davis had yet another 20-point game, but threw in 10 assists and zero turnovers for good measure. Even better is that Elliot Cadeau, Armando Bacot, Harrison Ingram, Seth Trimble, and Jalen Washington all scored in double-digits as well, resulting in easily the most dominant performance of the season. Truly this is what Hubert Davis, as well as fans, envisioned for this season in regards to so many Tar Heels contributing to wins, but things could still trim down once conference play begins. More on that in a moment.
Let’s dive into three things that we learned from last night’s win, and briefly discuss the road ahead.
We need more of aggressive Jalen Washington
It goes without saying that Jalen Washington has had one of the more frustrating starts to his college basketball career. None of it is his fault, because ultimately his injury recovery hindered a lot of his early development. Now that he is finally healthy, we’ve seen glimpses of just how good he is, but last night his skills were on full display.
Washington finished his night with 17 points, 7 rebounds, and two blocks. He also went 2-3 from three-point territory, flexing his ability to stretch the floor whenever he is in the game. The best part? He accomplished all of this in just 16 minutes. While it was enjoyable seeing Washington beat up on an inferior team, one has to wonder if he will be able to have this kind of game once ACC play started. There have been times this season where it has felt like he’s being overpowered in the paint, but perhaps Hubert Davis needs to make more of a point to get him involved in some pick-and-pop action. Washington could be a huge positive off of the bench for the Tar Heels, and perhaps we will see next week if he’s ready to do so.
Add Elliot Cadeau to the list
Piggybacking off of the idea that Jalen Washington needs to be more aggressive, freshman point guard Elliot Cadeau finds himself in a similar predicament so far in his Carolina career. We have witnessed games like last night where Cadeau remembers just how good he is, and does things like scores 13 points in a half. Then there are games like he had against Kentucky where we only saw him take one shot all night.
While one can argue that his 43% shooting on the season could be why he’s hesitant, I actually think the issue is two-fold. One: I think he is more focused on being a facilitator and passes on a lot of shots. The second problem is that I don’t think he realizes that his game translates to college better than he realizes. Cadeau is a low-key dangerous player when he is attacking the rim, and if he doesn’t make the shot at the rim he usually gets the foul calls he should. He also is a good catch-and-shoot player from the perimeter, which if he makes opponents respect his existence behind the arc it opens up opportunities for him to either drive or find someone who is open.
It’s been discussed all season that one of Cadeau’s biggest flaws is that he tends to put his shooting prowess on the back burner, but while that isn’t the worst flaw to have, him being consistently more aggressive could make this team more of a second weekend contender than I would consider them right now. Last night was a good start, now let’s see if he continues to attack against the Panthers.
We have a good idea of who will get the most minutes off of the bench
A lot has been made of Hubert Davis’ usage of the bench to begin his head coaching career, and with good reason — in his first two seasons we saw players like Dontrez Styles, Tyler Nickel, Seth Trimble, and D’Marco Dunn ride the bench more than they probably should’ve. This season, however, the Heels have the kind of depth that is hard to keep on the sidelines, which is something that Davis has mentioned a few times. Of course the question now is what does a tighter bench look like? Who are likely the odd men out when it comes to adjusting things for ACC play?
I am not Hubert Davis, but I can say confidently that we should see a healthy amount of Jalen Washington and Seth Trimble throughout the season. Both players have proven that they can be a positive whenever they are on the floor, and Trimble in particular is an excellent perimeter defender that can also attack the rim. Behind those two guys, Davis has liked going to Jae’Lyn Withers, but we really hadn’t seen much from him offensively until last night against Charleston Southern. It’s likely that we will continue to see him, but how many minutes he will actually play per game is anybody’s guess.
As far as the rest of the bench goes, I feel like we will probably see one or two more guys take the court on any given night depending on how things go during practice. Paxson Wojcik has struggled mightily so far as a Tar Heel, but he does give good energy off of the bench. Zayden High is in the same boat, and one could argue that maybe he needs to dial things back just one of two notches sometimes (last night’s technical foul was a good example of that). It really feels like Hubert Davis would be content with playing an 8-man rotation on a nightly basis, which while that seems like a small number, it actually feels about right for this team. Any more players earning playing time would be a happy bonus.
If we’re being honest, though, we’re going to learn everything we need to learn about Davis’ plans in these first three games of the resumed ACC season, all of which are on the road. First, the Heels will travel up north to take on Pitt, a team that they have struggled against quite a bit lately. Then they will travel to South Carolina to take on #18 Clemson, who might be looking the best we’ve seen them look in a while. Finally, they will come back to the Research Triangle to take on NC State in Raleigh. It will be one of the tougher stretches for any team across the ACC, but this is a really tough Carolina team. Let’s hope they have what it takes to make it back to Chapel Hill with a 4-0 conference record.