Well that was fun. Three days after North Carolina had a historically bad shooting performance, they treated the home crowd to a decisive victory against the visiting Michigan Wolverines. The final score may have been 86-71, but the Heels flirted with a 30 point lead early in the second half. The win pushed them to an overall record of 10-9 in the ACC/B1G Challenge, and they improved their overall record to 6-1. What else did we learn?
Zero Prima Donnas
Folks, this team is going to be just fine. They certainly have shortcomings that were exposed in the loss to Michigan State, but what team doesn’t have a few weaknesses? Especially in November?
After being dominated the way the Heels were, some teams might panic, point fingers at each other, and try to force something positive. Not this team, even with its mix of old and new players. Instead they responded by shooting 54.8% from the floor, and 46.7% from three.
Predictably, they were led by the upperclassmen. More accurately, ALL the upperclassmen. Joel Berry (17), Kenny Williams (12), and Luke Maye (27) all scored in double digits. Theo Pinson stuffed the box score with an 8/7/6 stat line.
And if you’re looking for signs of selfishness, you won’t find it in this box score. The Heels had 24 assists on 34 field goals. Before the game entered the final 10 minutes, and the game was wrapped up, that assist to filled goal ratio was even higher. Pinson led the way with six, and Seventh Woods and Berry had four apiece.
Roy Williams is a huge proponent of moving the ball through the post. That was an obvious point of emphasis against Michigan, where the Heels hit 57% of their two point attempts on 27-47 shooting. Of their 86 points, 40 were scored in the paint.
However, as we are becoming accustomed to this season, these shots are not coming from the traditional post-dominance that UNC fans have seen the last few years. Instead they are from an array of players and positions. Consider:
- Maye’s versatility consistenly draws his defender away from the basket only to drive by him for a lay-up. Or hit a three. Or find an open teammate
- Berry attacked the rim, and although he still is not consistently finishing, there is usually a teammate ready to clean up the glass or receive a pass.
- Garrison Brooks contributed 8 points and a couple of dunks thanks to Maye’s and Berry’s vision
- Pinson once again proved he is at his best when slashing or driving to the rim. His final stats aren’t flashy but they’re poised, stable, and consistent. Many fans will be happy he only attempted one shot from three.
- The multiple attacking threats mean UNC outshot their opponent at the foul line for the seventh straight game. The Heels were a pedestrian 11-16, while the Wolverines were an unimpressive 5-11.
UNC’s Scheduling Philosophy
You will be hard pressed to find many (any?) major conference programs that consistenly play a schedule as challenging and well-rounded as North Carolina. Seven games into the season, they have now played teams from the Pac-12 (Stanford), SEC (Arkansas), and Big Ten (Michigan State, Michigan). One of their opponents (Northern Iowa) has even beaten N.C. State. The Heels also still have a true road game at Tennessee and a neutral court tilt against Ohio State.
Sometimes it’s easy to get emotionally frustrated when the Heels hit an early season rough patch. As we have seen year after year, it’s part of Williams’ method to prepare the team for March. Sunday night was not a fun affair, but it’s (important)lessons from games like those, which make dominating performances like Wednesday so rewarding.
For context, prior to visiting UNC, Michigan’s highest rated opponent, according to Ken Pomeroy was VCU at 92, with four other opponents in the 200’s. They had yet to meet competition that resembled anything remotely close to UNC’s talent. Michigan State, however, had already played and lost to Duke. It’s fair to assume that game prepared them for UNC.
Comparitively, North Carolina has played one team in the 300’s (Portland). Every other opponent is in the top 101 (thank you Stanford for making that stat more awkward than it should be). There will be a few more rough performances, but if this team keeps responding the way they did on Wednesday, another Final Four run is more than just silly optimism.