March Madness is already here in Chapel Hill as the Tar Heels remain in tournament mode. A loss against Virginia, Florida State, or now Duke could spell doom for Carolina’s at-large bid chances, so Hubert Davis and crew need a tournament mentality as they look to avenge the loss to Duke back in February.
Can it be done? Duke has been hot lately, with their only losses being a questionable one at Virginia and a surprising annihilation at Miami. They are healthy and clicking. In Durham, the Blue Devils managed to get Armando Bacot in foul trouble and generally frustrated him with a mix of double/triple-teaming and Dereck Lively playing defense like an absolute maniac. Can the suddenly capable perimeter shooting of Pete Nance, Leaky Black, Caleb Love, and (hopefully finger-strong) RJ Davis capitalize on the available space? Here are three things to watch as Carolina takes on Duke on Saturday night.
Dereck Lively was a man possessed in the first matchup, nearly notching a rare block/rebound double-double (14 rebounds, 8 blocks). What makes this performance even more interesting was his four points. You’d think this level of domination in the post would lead to more scoring. Alas, that is not what Lively is here for. Put-back dunks cannot be avoided sometimes, but what can limit Lively on the offensive end is not allowing guard penetration down the middle of the paint, forcing Bacot to help off. Caleb Love has to do a better job of getting through screens or switch quicker.
On the defensive end, it was interesting seeing NC State’s DJ Burns back Lively down five or six steps and get into the shots he wanted to take, especially in the first half. Burns and Bacot don’t take the same type of shots, and Bacot’s are more likely to get blocked, but Bacot must have watched Burns operating one-on-one with deep envy.
If Carolina finds their perimeter stroke early, it could give Bacot a chance to go one on one and inflict pain. If Lively gets whistled early and Ryan Young goes in, Bacot could feast.
Leaky to the front
I need to put my hand up and apologize to Leaky Black. After the NC State game when I named Leaky Player of the Game, I said that “...if UNC wants to make the NCAA Tournament and make any noise, he cannot win anymore Player of the Game awards.” I wasn’t trying to bash Leaky for his perceived shortcomings, I just said his low usage made him an unlikely accelerant to UNC’s winning formula on offense.
But look at these shooting numbers at Florida State: 6-8 FG, 3-4 3PT, 3-4 FT, 18 points
That dog’ll hunt!
Depending on his matchups and opportunities, Leaky has shown that he can be a viable weapon. Hopefully he has the confidence (warranted by statistics) to catch and shoot open three-pointers, and the courage in his heart to dunk on top of whoever is under the rim when he gets a lane to the hoop. It’ll be his last time playing in front of a Dean Dome crowd, so why not go out with a bang?
Caleb Love: Duke Killer
It hasn’t been the season we were hoping for, that’s certain. Caleb has never been the personification of shooting efficiency, but some of the numbers he was putting up were just awful.
Since the Duke loss, he seems to have found his 3-point stroke. He’s actually shooting a higher percentage from outside the three-point line (39.7%) than inside it (38.9%). I don’t expect Love to try and flip that around against Duke.
Both Jeremy Roach and Tyrese Proctor are good enough defenders, but even if Love gets around them, he’s got Lively and Kyle Filipowski waiting for him at the rim. Unless he’s on a fast break, don’t expect clean looks in close. Instead, you can expect some floaters (not the worst, not the best) or hopefully open three-pointers he can step into.
Carolina needs to hit threes at a decent clip and at volume to beat Duke. Take a look at these three-point stats as a barometer for UNC’s success:
#UNC men are 11-1 when they score at least eight 3-pointers, 8-10 when they don't and 1-4 when they shoot less than 20% from outside the arc. Heels are 10-0 when shooting at least 34% from 3-point range.— R.L. Bynum (@RL_Bynum) March 1, 2023
Armando will have bodies draped over him, so counting on him for 32 points is likely going to be a bridge too far. UNC showed incredible balanced scoring from the perimeter against Florida State, and when Bacot was reinserted into the lineup after sitting out with foul trouble, some of the spacing got messed up. Let’s hope for another good night shooting, with Caleb front and center.