On Tuesday night, the North Carolina Tar Heels lost for the first time since mid-December. The one-point loss to Georgia Tech was Carolina’s first ACC loss this season.
A lot went wrong in that road loss, and UNC still had a chance to win.
Perhaps it was a trap game or just a Yellow Jackets squad that worked harder against an elite opponent.
Either way, Tuesday is done. Now, it’s time to wipe the slate and focus on hosting their archrivals tomorrow night.
Here are a few things to watch when Duke visits the Smith Center Saturday evening.
Find Some Buckets
One of the more bewildering parts of Tuesday night’s loss was Carolina’s inability to find the bottom of the net.
In a close loss, one always looks to the free throws.
UNC hit just 52.9 percent from the charity stripe, the lowest free throw percentage since hitting 38.9 percent of their attempts in a 99-54 victory over Louisville in February 2021. The abysmal free throw performance was certainly one of the differences in the game, especially for a team that is hitting over three-quarters of their attempts this season.
From the floor, Carolina was much worse. The team had a 36.7 field goal percentage against Georgia Tech, their lowest of the season, in what was not the greatest defensive effort this team has faced this season.
The concerning part is that if you take away RJ Davis’s 11 buckets, UNC only has 17 made shots.
Harrison Ingram and Cormac Ryan were both 3-14 versus GT. Simply put, the shot selection from these two must be better tomorrow night.
There were a lot of open looks and high-percentage shots that did not fall. This cannot happen against the Blue Devils.
Duke has done well this season in scoring defense but is 11th in the ACC in field goal percentage defense.
If you look at the number of possessions and tempo rating, there are far fewer attempts by Duke’s opponents, meaning the half-court offense becomes the focal point.
The pace of play will be a key battle between the two teams. So, if the Tar Heels are not playing at their preferred offensive tempo, shot selection in the half-court offense becomes so much more important.
Bacot Back in the Picture
In direct correlation with the point above, Armando Bacot is an essential piece of the half-court offense.
However, Bacot’s ability to change the game over the past few games has been limited.
Everyone has grown accustomed to Bacot tallying a double-double. He has not done so since the Syracuse game on January 13.
In the last three games, Bacot has only registered single-digit efforts in both points and rebounds.
As seen throughout the season, the half-court offense is much more effective when it works inside-out through the post. And even more so when Bacot makes a touch.
The big guy has fought double and triple-teams this season, and tomorrow night will be no different. But he has to find a way to make a big impact.
Historically, Bacot has done so.
In all nine games against Duke, Bacot has scored in double digits. He has registered a double-double in four of those games.
According to reports, Bacot was one of the players who led the team meeting upon the Heels’ return to Chapel Hill after the Tuesday night loss.
Let’s see if tomorrow night is one of those classic Bacot games.
Another difference against Georgia Tech was Carolina’s defensive pressure, or lack thereof.
The Tar Heels struggled with the pick-and-roll and got lost in some of the coverages.
And as Ingram commented after the game, “They just wanted it more than us.”
The want has to be there against one of the best offensive teams in the country.
Duke focuses on outscoring teams rather than relying on shutdown defense, as seen by their snapshot of defensive statistics.
The Blue Devils have the second-highest scoring offense in the league behind the Tar Heels. However, they are first in scoring margin, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and assists.
Carolina needs to regain some of that defensive mojo that made this team unstoppable for nearly all of January. I think the Smith Center crowd will help in that mission, too.