Anyone who has watched this UNC team all season knew not to get too excited after the blowout win over Clemson on Saturday. Despite how well things seemed to go, the Tar Heels had left themselves such a small margin of error that instead of being able to allow for a tough loss on Monday night, they couldn’t afford to add another L to the resume. Plus, they needed to prove that Saturday wasn’t just an exception, but the new rule going forward.
Sadly, it’s looking like it was an exception.
Let’s just jump straight into the three things learned here, cause at this point I think we all know what they’ll be:
You can’t leave points on the floor.
The Tar Heels shot an embarrassing 5-31 from behind the arc, and 9-15 from the free throw line. That was the game. Forget defense, assists, forget anything else — in a game that was only an eight-point margin, you cannot shoot 16.1% from three, and you can’t miss about half of your free throws. You just can’t.
You can rightly argue that at least in the second half a lot of the threes were poor attempts, a trait that we’ve seen time and time again where the shot isn’t falling and players try to will the ball into the basket. The problem is, it doesn’t account for the 1-11 shooting from three in the first half that saw the Tar Heels move the ball on offense like they did against Clemson, pass up decent shots for better shots, and then saw the ball clang off the rim. It wasn’t even guys you hated taking the shots: D’Marco Dunn, Puff Johnson, RJ Davis and yes, Caleb Love all had great looks from three that just bounced off the rim and wouldn’t go in.
All of the balls that were going into the basket on Saturday weren’t on Monday, and it completely changed the complexion of the game. To Carolina’s credit, by the end of the first half they realized that they just weren’t getting the ball in the hoop from deep, and used Armando Bacot to create a seal over and over again, allowing for driving to the basket. Unfortunately, some questionable calls put Bacot in foul trouble quickly in the second half, and that put Carolina’s offense out of sync. The shots continued to clang off the iron, and not until they were in desperation mode did some shots finally fall.
To succeed, the Tar Heels have to at least shoot about 30% from deep. It’s the only way to pull defenses out of the middle and give Bacot a chance, otherwise you’re going to have games like Monday where he gets frustrated and ends up only playing 33 minutes due to foul trouble.
Puff Johnson for Pete Nance is not that simple
There’s been a lot of hay made over the idea that, due to how Pete Nance has been playing in recent days and how Puff Johnson has seemingly come back from injury, it’s time for Puff to get the lion’s share of Nance’s minutes.
The problem is, Puff didn’t exactly show he was an obvious starter. In his 14 minutes he only shot 1-6 overall, 0-4 from three, had one rebound, and three fouls. Nance, meanwhile, was 1-5, had six rebounds, 0-3 from three, and didn’t have any fouls. He did turn it over twice while Puff didn’t.
There is very little question that Nance just doesn’t look comfortable out on the floor. He still seems like he’s trying to figure out his place, his shot is still off, he doesn’t have the same speed as Puff, and the hesitation he shows is maddening. Unfortunately, because of Bacot’s foul issues, he ended up having to play more out of position for a good chunk of the game and it’s very possible that hampered him even more.
If Puff is, say, 2-4 from three instead of 0-4, you have a better argument that he should start over Nance. The Tar Heels also likely win as some of his misses came when Carolina would have been able to build more momentum against the Hurricanes.
Ultimately, neither of them helped Carolina much on Monday as 68 of Carolina’s 72 points came from the other four starters.
There is no tomorrow
Last week after the Wake Forest loss, I noted that Carolina was not an NCAA Tournament team. After that loss, however, Joe Lunardi still had Carolina in the field of 68. It mostly speaks to just how poor the rest of college basketball is right now, but clearly a win over one of the top teams in the league would have really helped the resumé.
Now, that razor thin margin they were apparently operating with is completely gone. There are five games left: at NC State, at Notre Dame, home against UVA, at FSU in a Saturday/Monday turnaround, and Senior Night against Duke. When you look at each game, you can understand why the Tar Heels have to win each one. Maybe...maybe...you can drop one to say you won four of your last five going into March, but really you need to act as if your margin of error is gone and win them all.
Based on Monday night, you’d be right to be pessimistic about that happening.