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ACC Tournament: Three things learned

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The Tar Heels exited earlier than most expected, but a lot was learned.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-North Carolina vs Duke Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels only ended up playing two games in the ACC Tournament, despite being the number one overall seed. The first game was decent, with Carolina pulling away from Miami in the second half to win big 78-53. The second game was miserable, with Carolina leading the Blue Devils by as much as 13 before losing 93-83. Here are three things that we learned about the Heels from the Tournament.

Joel Berry II is key

The Tar Heels were leading by eight with 15 minutes left in the semifinal against Duke when Berry was called for his fourth foul on a very questionable reach-in call. Berry would then sit for the next ten minutes, during which Duke went on a run to take the lead 68-65 with eight minutes left. Carolina tied it at 70 with six and a half minutes left, but by the time Berry came back in, Carolina was down 77-70 with only five and a half minutes left. Nate Britt just couldn’t efficiently run the offense like Berry can, and this game certainly proved that.

Of course, this is something that we’ve known all season. Even when Berry isn’t playing at his best, his presence just seems to calm the other players’ nerves. It is very important going forward that Berry can stay out of foul trouble, or else we might see another game like last night.

Hicks is peaking at the right time

Isaiah Hicks over the last three games has averaged a very impressive 19.7 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. Hicks was expected to have a breakout season like Brice Johnson did last year, however that never came to fruition. Hicks has “only” averaged 12.3 ppg and 5.7 rebounds per game so far this season, although if the last three games are any indication, Hicks might be choosing the right time to finally break out. With a great Hicks coupled with a non-foul troubled Berry and good Justin Jackson, Carolina is hard to beat. If Hicks can maintain anywhere close to the numbers he’s put up the last three games then Carolina might be poised to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

The Officials must really hate Carolina

This might sound like a whiny point; I always hate when people blame the refs for losing. However, in this case it’s justified. North Carolina was called for 28 fouls last night. Let that sink in. 28 fouls. Duke was called for 20, however, Duke shot 37 free throws compared to just 18 for Carolina. Berry, Britt, Jackson, and Hicks all had four fouls, and Luke Maye fouled out with five. Thanks to statistics from Jim Skillen, UNC had 28 fouls on 50 field goal attempts for Duke. This means that fouls were called 56% of the time that Duke attempted a field goal in a possession. Compare this to Duke being called for a foul just 25.6% of the time that Carolina attempted a field goal on a possession. Add to that the fact that Duke was +19 from the stripe and we can see where things went wrong.

But it’s not just this game. In the three games where Carolina has played Duke, a foul has been called on UNC 71.5% of the time that the Blue Devils had the ball, compared to only 36.8% of the times that Duke fouled Carolina when they had the ball. Duke was also +34 from the free throw line during these games. With these numbers, it’s a miracle that Carolina didn’t get swept.

I won’t get into all the reasons why I think this is. As much as I want to rant about K working the refs, that claim cannot be proven. Neither can the theories, that I believe in, that the officials are biased against Carolina due to the NCAA investigation or that ACC officials are pressured to call fouls to keep games close. While any or all of these might be true, as I said, they cannot be proven. Duke being the massive beneficiary of poor officiating can be, however. That was shown by the above statistics.

Carolina will see what seed and region they will be later today, and Carolina will likely play their first game next weekend, time and TV channel to be decided. Let’s hope that they can use Friday’s game as motivation during the Tournament and remember that the ‘05 and ‘09 National Championship teams didn’t win the ACC Tournament. Go Heels.