The North Carolina Tar Heels are now 5-0 in the ACC for the first time since 2015-16, having rattled off six straight double-digit victories. It feels like a long time since the level of optimism has been this high in January, but this group has worked and fought hard to earn its current standing. Lots of guys have stepped up in different ways to help fuel the Heels’ current run. Most recently, it’s been the emergence of Elliot Cadeau that has given the team an extra gear.
For starters, to everyone who thought Cadeau should stay in his class, hopefully you get it now. This particular group has a chance to be something really special, and I don’t know if I’d be saying that without Cadeau in the mix. Not only was he more than ready for the college game but he has an opportunity to be a catalyst for a team with championship aspirations. Although it’s fun to look forward to March, it would be foolish to not stop and smell the roses as Cadeau and the Heels are playing such a tough and exciting brand of basketball.
The first time he stepped on the floor, Cadeau’s physical capabilities and basketball instincts were apparent. As is natural for a freshman, there have been some learning moments as he adjusts to this level. After showing off his quickness and play-making ability through the first few games, Cadeau had a wake-up call in Carolina’s first loss of the season against Villanova. The big and physical Wildcat guards exploited his lack of size defensively and never allowed him to get comfortable with the ball. Though he did manage five assists, Cadeau played just 17 minutes in that one.
Cadeau had a coming-out party of sorts with a 10-assist performance at home against Tennessee. The fact that he managed to have such a positive impact despite not making a shot (0-5) perfectly encapsulates his value as a player. While it looked like that was a turning point, the Heels still had some tough games away from home for Cadeau to continue to establish his footing.
It didn’t take too long for Cadeau to enter the starting lineup. However, he has seen his minutes limited in multiple big games, whether it be due to foul trouble or Coach Davis opting for a more experienced option. Despite his vital contributions to the team, Cadeau has seemingly been managed with some caution. With his confidence on the rise, though, the training wheels are coming off.
Over the past two games, specifically, things have really started clicking for Cadeau. After his first career road games against Pittsburgh and Clemson were stymied by foul trouble (under 20 minutes in each), Cadeau found another gear in the 67-54 win at NC State. He recorded a season-high 33 minutes while notching 11 points and six assists (4-8 from the field). Cadeau’s level of comfortability, especially given the environment, was striking. The Wolfpack struggled to find a body that could stay in front of him as he and the Heels carved up their defense, especially in the second half.
Cadeau followed that up with another impressive performance against Syracuse, as the Heels put on a 103-67 shellacking. Though his stat line wasn’t as notable (six points, three assists, two rebounds, one block), he again played with great control and energy. It was probably the first game this season where he was actually content to come out.
While his skills are apparent, Cadeau’s mental fortitude can be attributed to his recent uptick. As a team-first guy, his desire to make positive plays has always been there, but understanding when to take those opportunities takes time. Little by little, we’ve seen Cadeau grow and learn from mistakes he’s made previously. Now, we are seeing the game slow down for him in a way that is potentially very scary for the rest of the country.
Another reason for Cadeau’s success on the floor is that he’s actually been able to stay out there. Although I’ve been just as perplexed as he was about some of the ticky-tack fouls called this season, there’s no question he’s done a better job of avoiding them. Cadeau has been smarter about his aggressiveness and appears fully engaged with what the Heels want to do defensively.
With roughly two months until the tournament starts, there’s still plenty of basketball to be played. Both Cadeau and this Carolina squad have made great strides since the season started. If that trajectory continues, we’ll be in for a fun conclusion.