Carolina beat Florida State on Saturday in pretty impressive fashion to improve to 16-3 on the year. In a basketball season filled with parity, good wins will carry a lot of weight with the NCAA tournament committee come march. Make no mistake: Florida State is a good team with a lot of talent. A couple of things didn’t go their way yesterday, but they didn’t rattle off 12 straight wins and three straight top 25 wins by getting lucky. The good news for Carolina is that they didn’t snap that win streak and hand the Noles their second loss of the season by getting lucky either. The Tar Heels, widely regarded as a national contender, showed everyone that they can perform in big games. What else did they show us? We have your three things learned from yesterday’s big win below.
1. This team is tough
This game contained plenty of aspects that Carolina needed to overcome. For starters, Tony Bradley was out with a concussion, leaving the Heels with just three big men. What resulted was some smaller lineups going head to head with some huge FSU lineups. If healthy, Bradley would have provided a boost inside with his defense and rebounding. However, the Heels found a way to out rebound the Seminoles by 22. That doesn’t happen for a smaller team without effort.
Many were worried before the game about the depleted UNC big men getting into foul trouble. Not only did they, but everyone on the floor was picking up fouls left and right. Every Carolina player over 6-6 had three fouls, and Florida State wasn’t safe from the whistle either. Many times the Heels were visibly frustrated with the officiating crew, who seemed to call at least one foul on every possession. However, it is Carolina’s response to being on the bad end of some questionable calls that exudes toughness. UNC didn’t get distracted at all, and managed to keep everyone from fouling out.
Toughness comes in a few forms for basketball teams. Making plays under pressure, overcoming adversity, and gritting out wins are what characterize resilient teams. Carolina exhibited all of those abilities yesterday.
2. This team is well-rounded
One of the biggest story lines from yesterday is the fact that Carolina had three 20+ point scorers for the first time since 2011. That stat line pretty much says it all about how the Heels can score. Point guard Joel Berry II had 26, and went 50% from three-point range. Isaiah Hicks had 22 points, and delivered from the line by shooting 12-14. Then Justin Jackson, basically a mix between the two, also had 22 with three threes. Roy William’s teams have been quite deep over the past two years in terms of a lot of guys getting quality time. Not only that, but the Heels don’t rely on one player (or even a couple) for scoring. They’re dangerous from the front court and back court. Certainly being a well-balanced team will minimize Carolina’s risk down the stretch.
3. This team is much better with Theo Pinson
We learned this last week, and also on Wednesday, but I don’t think we really enjoyed the fruits of what Pinson had to offer this year until yesterday afternoon. Theo Pinson had 12 points, 10 rebounds, and a team high three assists in 24 minutes. That’s the obvious contribution that he made against FSU. However, this team is also dependent on him for this:
The Heels don’t do a lot of yelling. Jackson, Berry, Hicks, Britt, are all guys who like to keep things low-key. That’s a really good thing, until you have a team filled with guys who don’t get fired up at all. Theo Pinson changes that. Everyone saw his emotional and vocal leadership on the bench while he was injured. Now, he can bring that same attitude to the floor and lift the Heels when they need it. It got close, but the Heels didn’t trail the rest of the game after they stole the lead back with five minutes left in the first half. Things were going pretty well for most of the game. It will be interesting to see if Pinson can rally Carolina when things are going horribly. Those periods will definitely come, because: College Basketball.
North Carolina is back in action tomorrow when they take on Syracuse. The Heels will try to make it five straight at 7:00 on Big Monday.