There were a lot of familiar sights during last night’s game in the Dean Dome: A sloppy first-half effort against an inferior opponent, a dominant stretch in the second half to restore our collective sanity, and a frantic Blue Steel finish to try and deliver the crowd their well-beloved biscuits (darn it KJ!).
But despite the ho-hum nature of the predictable outcome (yay covered point spread!), there were several takeways from the game that could be of importance down the road.
R.I.P. Halftime Layup Lines
For the fifth game in a row, UNC’s halftime was spent almost exclusively in the locker room. The Tar Heels returned to the Dean Dome floor with about 30 seconds to spare before the horn sounded for the 2nd half. This was the case in Ann Arbor and in both games in Las Vegas.
As we are all aware, Roy Williams is not a man afraid to take his time to make a point. Subtlety has never been his favored approach. And with the way Carolina has been starting out games lately, you can bet that Ol’ Roy got his money’s worth on each and every occasion. Halftime is not for limbering up and shooting layups; it’s time to listen learn. This semester’s class? Defense and Turnovers 101.
UNC has been plagued by turnovers over the last four games and they have been poor defensively in six of the last eight halves (second halves against UCLA and last night’s game being the exception). Should those problems persist with Gonzaga and Kentucky looming, you can bet that those seminars will continue at the current length. An encouraging sign, however, was how well UNC bounced back in the second half against the Seahawks, though they are admittedly an inferior foe.
When Seventh Woods is Aggressive, Good Things Happen
After said extended lecture from Roy Williams, the opening minutes of the second half were the turning point in the game. UNC seized control, running out a 30-3 run over about 7 minutes of gameplay. The instigator of that run was Seventh. He attacked the basket off the dribble, he hit from long range, he ratcheted it up on defense. In short, he did everything that you would want a veteran guard to do in that situation.
With Coby White sidelined with an ankle injury, Seventh got the start and, throughout the first half, he was his usual mistake-free, efficient, game-manager self (though he skied a couple of his passes early on). But at the start of the second half, he went on the attack on both ends of the court. He may not have lit up the scoreboard (he finished with 7 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals) but make no mistake, he was the key in those pivotal minutes.
That’s what it needs to be from now on if Carolina is going to make noise this year the way we all hope they do. UNC gives up very little defensively when their second unit is on the floor (more on that in a second), but they lose a huge chunk of offense. A veteran backup with a nose for the hoop can go a long way towards changing that. The first five minutes of the second half showed that Seventh can be that guy.
Luke Maye’s Defense Is A Problem
There was also a less enjoyable reason for Carolina’s surge in the second half and that was that Luke Maye went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. It was no accident that UNC completely choked off UNCW’s offense when Luke, who had once again been struggling defensively, took a seat.
(Insert necessary reminder that there is not a man or woman among us who wouldn’t step out into traffic for Luke Maye)
Luke poses a real puzzler for UNC this year. He is a versatile and explosive offensive player and a terrific rebounder, but his defense has been dreadful thus far and doesn’t look to be getting better any time soon. UNC’s best scoring lineup would place Luke at the 5, but he is too undersized to be an effective rim protector. We all realize that and that’s no fault of his.
What IS a larger concern however is his spatial awareness whether he is playing the 5 OR the 4. Over and over again we see Luke beaten on screen and rolls, slips, and backdoor cuts. Teams have figured out how to attack him and basically dare Carolina to put him on the bench in place of a better defensive player. And how can they? If Luke goes to the bench, you’re losing a major threat on offense and relying on either a freshman (albeit a supremely talented one in Nassir Little) or a sophomore big who struggles offensively (Brooks or Manley).
The Heels could get away with having their preseason All-American on the bench last night. They were playing UNC-Wilmington. Against Gonzaga, against Kentucky, and against the hellish gauntlet that is the ACC, they won’t be able to. Much like a defensive coordinator has to scheme to hide a vulnerable cornerback, Roy Williams needs to find out a way to accommodate and/or fix Luke’s defensive deficiencies, and figure it out soon.