On Monday night, the Heels dispatched the Stanford Cardinal rather easily. In what was the first true road test of the season, and a warm-up to this weekend’s PK80 tournament, North Carolina put on an impressive scoring display. More accurately, Kenny Williams and Joel Berry displayed a memorable shooting performance. Their combined 49 points (33 from three) set the tone, and Stanford didn’t have enough firepower to answer. While that was obvious to anybody watching, three additional takeaways are below.
Freshmen Pass the Test. Barely.
After two surprisingly productive performances, Monday night was the three freshmen post players first tough test of the season. A true inside-out team, the Cardinal were looking to exploit a noticeable advantage inside. Entering the game, they had scored 50.5% of their points from two point field goals.
That trend stayed consistent as 34 of 72 of Stanford’s points (47%) were scored inside the arc. Of their 17 two-point field goals, only three were outside the paint. That focus on down-low scoring had a noticeable impact on UNC’s front line.
Manley, Huffman, and Brooks all finished with four fouls as they struggled to maintain defensive position throughout the night. By my count, that included three offensive fouls when battling for position in the post. Those fouls added up to Stanford finishing 17-28 from the foul line, . The inability to convert from the foul line helped make this game seem less competitive than it was or could have been.
However, despite those 12 combined fouls (which can arguably be considered to be a strength for this team), Huffman/Manley/ Brooks still finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds on 5-7 shooting, and a perfect 5-5 from the foul line. This trio is evolving into a three-headed monster with different but complementary skillsets. They also limited Stanford big men Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, who entered the game with a combined average of 19 rebounds per game, to a total of 10. That kind of effort should keep North Carolina competitive every night.
Luke Maye’s Versatility
Maye struggled from the floor. After his red-hot start, it was bound to happen. Yet, he still finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and led the team with 5 assists. He only attempted (and missed) 2 three-point shots. In fact, all of his points came from 0-4 feet away from the basket. Luke Maye is a bona fide inside-outside threat.
Despite not having his best shooting night, Luke never got dejected, panicked or hunted his shot. Instead he played within himself and found different ways to produce. The following sequence unfolded over four possessions in the second half.
Possession 1: Maye makes a lay-up on a pick-and-roll with Kenny Williams
Possession 2: Made jump shot by Isaac White
Possession 3: From the elbow, Maye chases down an offensive rebound under the basket. As he’s falling out of bounds, he throws it out to Joel Berry at the top of the key, who drainsthe three.
Possession 4: Maye takes a charge
Anyone who thinks Luke is strictly a stretch four, or only has value pulling the defense away from the basket better fix themselves. Maye is turning into one of the most versatile players that Roy Williams has ever recruited in Chapel Hill.
Multiple Scoring Threats
It’s only three games, but North Carolina already has had six different players (Berry, Maye, Pinson, Brooks, Williams, Manley) record double-digit scoring totals. That by itself isn’t fascinating. However, the way the points have been scored should be noted.
This time it was Kenny Williams and Joel Berry putting on a WWE styled tag-team performance in the first and second half. Last game it was Theo Pinson attacking the rim and Sterling Manley flashing a turn-around jumper. Before that it was Luke Maye exploding for 26 from every inch of the court. This is all without expected starter Cam Johnson, who won’t even appear until January.
Coming into the season a major concern was who would replace the more than 60% of offensive production that departed over the summer. Specifically, who would ease Berry’s burden? Three games into this season the answer appears to be “everyone”. There has not proven to be one workhorse the way Justin Jackson so often was expected to be.
As the season continues and rotations become more predictable, that may change. For the moment, however, everyone is chipping in without being selfish or disrupting the offense. Even though the Heels only accumulated 15 assists on 37 field goals (well below their normal ratio), that was more attributed to the shooting efforts of WIlliams and Berry than offensive inefficiency. That ability to keep defenses guessing has turned UNC into a “pick your poison” offensive team. That may be the biggest surprise in the infancy of this season.