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UNC vs Pittsburgh: Three things we learned

Noon Saturday road games aren’t that bad.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

UNC shook off their past noon struggles on the road and clinched a share of another ACC regular season title.

Roy Williams is a dadgum good coach

There, I said it. Feels good to get that off my chest.

He gets a ton of criticism from the national media, and even his own fanbase. He is stubborn. He won’t embrace modern offense and recruiting strategies. Why won’t he use a timeout?!? There isn’t a coach in America of his caliber that is consistently written off and ignored like Williams. Yet time and time again, he proves those doubting him wrong.

There are few (if any) coaches in the country who could take a team that lost two of the best players in program history and somehow improve. But lo and behold, UNC has clinched the top seed in a historically great ACC with two games to play and seems primed for another deep tournament run.

Ol’ Roy has zagged when others have zigged and taken the 25th-60th ranked players in each class and turned them into a consistent title contender. He hasn’t had a top two class since that Harrison Barnes/Kendall Marshall/Reggie Bullock group, but he still finds ways to have the team consistently nationally competitive. The player development on a year-to-year basis is both a joy to watch and a testament to his abilities. As a result, Carolina has clinched their seventh ACC title (six of which were solo) in the last decade (for reference, Duke has one shared title in that time period).

UNC imposes their will

The reason ACC schools seem to be so primed for March is because they’ve seen it all in conference play. There is the 2-3 zone from Syracuse. You’re going to get teams that slow it down and make your eyeballs bleed like Virginia. You’re going to see teams shoot a million threes like Duke. You’ll even see whatever the hell they call basketball over at NC State.

Pittsburgh’s style of play is predicated upon slowing tempo and spreading teams out. There was a slight hamper to that strategy as Sheldon Jeter must have gotten too close to Isaiah Hicks and caught something from him because he was hampered by foul difficulty all afternoon. Despite that, Pittsburgh’s zone and deliberate tempo mucked up the game enough in the first half to make it close.

The Heels were having none of that.

Methodically, Carolina got out in transition, found good shots in the halfcourt, and forced Pittsburgh out of their comfort zone. In the first half, Carolina had fourteen field goals. Thirteen of those were assisted and the one that wasn’t was due to Kennedy Meeks missing a layup on a Justin Jackson feed before tipping it in. The Heels finished with 85 points, which was the most points Pitt allowed in ACC play (non Louisville division).

Carolina has faced a variety of defenses over the last couple weeks and has been unrepentant and brutally efficient in making sure their style sets the tone.

Justin Jackson is the ACC Player of the Year

I’m not 100% sure this is something we learned this game. It has been building for awhile now for those that have been paying attention. But in this game, he essentially locked it up.

One of the best things about Carolina basketball under Roy Williams has been the player development. Last year, Justin Jackson appeared to have his ceiling capped at a nice contributor and nothing more. Jackson put in the time and work to shoot past that ceiling. He has improved his 3-point percentage from 29% to 39% while simultaneously doubling his attempts. Once a player who was third or fourth on the scouting report, he now is the center of a potent and efficient Tar Heel offense.

He’s even getting a bit more fiery, as evidenced by his dunk and brief stare-down of the man who ate Beejay Anya, Rozelle Nix.

Duke’s putrid performance at Miami coupled with Luke Kennard’s sub-par shooting day puts Jackson in firm control of the ACC POTY race. A new jersey in the rafters is incoming despite how absurdly improbable it seemed just a few months ago.