UNC’s been no stranger to un-pretty victories lately, after having started January with a triad of rockfights on the road before coming back home to demolish Syracuse on all fronts last weekend. Staying at the Dean Smith Center to host the ACC’s cellar-dwelling Louisville Cardinals, things got a little ugly again, but the Heels were able to put together enough offense to put Kenny Payne’s team away, 86-70. Here are some takeaways from a game the like of which UNC hasn’t really played since the turn of the new year:
1. Basketball continues to be “a game of runs”
It’s a refrain we haven’t been able to use or hear much in recent years in Chapel Hill, because the teams haven’t been offensively or defensively consistent enough to put together the types of runs that get pundits, coaches, and players to say it. This year, with a team that looks a little more like the UNC teams we’re used to seeing, the nature of the basketball they play is a little more familiar, too. Eighty-six points is a normal, if above-average, amount of points to score in a college basketball game, but it’s pretty wild to accomplish that while going through two separate 4-minute field goal droughts. The Tar Heels were able to do this by surrounding those droughts with absolute blitzes, including at least three different 3-minute stretches where they scored 9 points and held Louisville to under 3 — that’s the difference in the game, right there. Any time they needed to and a few times when they didn’t, UNC was able to put the pedal to the floor and score enough to at least give themselves breathing room in a game where they weren’t at their best. On a bad day, coming out on the good side of those runs is how you remain a great team, and the way in which it happened looked awfully familiar.
2. Ball movement can be trusted
On a day when, again, a lot of what the Tar Heels were doing looked sloppy and unfocused, coinciding with Louisville being the beneficiary of the inevitable positive regression for opponents shooting against the Heels (Skyy Clark came into the game shooting 27% from distance, so of course he was 4/5 in Chapel Hill), UNC needed something to hold onto as the key for them not to lose their heads entirely when the game got closer than it probably should have in the second half. That thing, unsurprisingly, was quick, unselfish, and creative ball movement, leading to easy shots and fouls to offset all the decent-but-not-great looks that had dried up. Nineteen of UNC’s 29 made field goals were assisted, three Tar Heels had 5 or more assists, and none of them was named Elliot Cadeau (he had 3) — that points to UNC just hunkering down and running good offense when they needed to in addition to having a bit of the playmaking flair that has characterized this season with Cadeau at the reins. It’s a good identity to have, and it’s no more clear than in this still, where a wide-open Harrison Ingram receives a cross-court pass from Jae’Lyn Withers after an outstanding individual effort by Withers to keep his dribble off-balance through contact, and the entire UNC bench points at an even more open R.J. Davis in the corner. Ingram had a good shot, but gave Davis a better one that effectively ended the game. (Hat tip to Michael McKay for pointing this out)
3. Elliot Cadeau can dunk?!
I guess this wasn’t necessarily a secret if you watched his high school highlights, and apparently he had dunked once in a UNC uniform before the Louisville game, but I’m pretty sure that one came on a pick-6 where he didn’t have anybody in front of him. I’m not sure any of us knew he could semi-catch a body like this, no less off one foot:
It’s a welcome sight during a season where the biggest thing we have to complain about might be the team’s relative athleticism (and I say this fully understanding what a luxury it is that such a thing could even qualify as our biggest worry). Here’s to more posters!