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UNC vs. Syracuse: Three Things Learned

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NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

After a few games where Carolina fans had to hold on tight, it was nice to just have a good old-fashioned blowout. This game against Syracuse was over early, and that alone was a welcome gift to the sold-out Smith Center crowd who had only seen the Tar Heels play on Roy Williams once in the past month.

With the 36-point win that wasn’t even that close, the Tar Heels strolled to 5-0 in the ACC, avoided the potholes that other top teams in the country had hit during this week, and looked every bit like a national contender. So can one learn anything in a game that wasn’t competitive?

Oh yeah, we can learn things. In fact, here are three of them:

Hubert Davis knows he has a bench

Previous seasons has seen the Tar Heel coach criticized for sticking to such a small rotation, which arguably wore everyone out as the season rolled along and created a situation where by March, they couldn’t be relied upon down the stretch. The question was always whether he did this because he didn’t trust the players on the bench, or if it was just a philosophical decision.

This season before Saturday it seemed as if he was answering the question that it was the former more than the latter, as the bench had already contributed in spades. Yesterday, though, he absolutely understood minutes played now affect a team down the road. No one played more than the 27 minutes from RJ Davis, and only three others played more than 20. Noteworthy was that one of those players was NOT Armando Bacot. Bacot got his second foul with about 10 minutes left in the first half, and the Tar Heels just kept rolling on without him. He started the second half, rolled up a total of 16 points and 11 rebounds, and sat again with a tally of only 17 minutes played.

It truly looks more as if Davis has no problem using players off the bench as long as they can be trusted to do what he needs them to do, and on Saturday you saw that over and over. Once the clock went under 10 minutes in the second half, the starters were all on the bench with the exception of Cadeau just to get him some experience with different players. The offense stagnated a little with that, but fans in the Triangle still got to enjoy their two sausage biscuits for $1 anyway.

Eliot Cadeau is finding rhythm with his teammates

Last weekend it looked like Cadeau had started to hit his wall as he was up against tough teams that wanted to slow things down. Around the second half of the State game, though, there were signs that he had blasted through that wall and had started to figure things out. The no look bounce pass to Bacot almost through DJ Burns certainly didn’t hurt that confidence.

Cadeau played a solid game yesterday that showed what he’s capable of, and how much work he still has to do with his teammates. The gulf between him being able to make a no-look pass to Bacot and RJ Davis versus him having to do the same to Jalen Washington would require a bridge to cross, but it’s getting there. He also was also part of a beautiful tic-tac-toe play to Bacot that had everyone standing.

The other thing is that Cadeau scored six points, and in the last couple of games he’s felt more comfortable driving the ball to take that shot or to pass. That’s a nightmare for defenses that are starting to respect Davis’ shooting ability, because if help comes Cadeau will feed Bacot or a shooter. If it doesn’t, it’ll be two points, and as teams have to respect the ability of Davis to kill them with his shot, Cadeau is likely never going to see a team’s best defender. You can see he’s starting to realize this, and if it gets fully connected, look out.

The Tar Heels have offense

The last few opponents that played Carolina used a well-worn plan against the Tar Heels: hard and physical defense that slows them down and makes them work for the shot. The Tar Heels won those contests but there had been some concern over the fact that they couldn’t shoot very well in these contests, and perhaps they were limited offensively.

Not so much.

Carolina shot 48.1% for the game from the floor, including a blazing 51.4% in the first half. This also included 31% from three in the first half. Five Tar Heels hit double figures, led by Davis’ 22. What was really encouraging was to see the Tar Heels, in real time, figure out the zone that Syracuse tried to change things up with. It had been successful to whittle down a 27-point lead to 15 at the start of the second half before the Tar Heels scored an 8-0 run in 55 seconds to erase any doubt.

It’s not just about having an offense, but having an offense that will succeed despite what the opponent does to stop you. Since the loss to Kentucky, this team has done just that. The scary thing is that it could be even better, as the Tar Heels only went 3-20 behind the arc when you take out Davis’ 4-6 effort. Having one more consistent 3 point shooter to take advantage of open looks seems like the final piece of the puzzle, and you do wish someone like Cormac Ryan had been given a few more minutes to find his shot.

In the end, though, isn’t it nice to be quibbling over that?