Welcome to 2019, Tar Heel fans! As we all reflect on the year to come, let’s all cross our fingers and hope that late 2018 Cam Johnson is still with us and that we left those pesky turnovers in yesteryear. The Heels have one more non-conference game left on the slate before the start of ACC play; the Harvard Crimson. Here are three things to watch for when Roy Williams’ squad rings in the New Year.
Bigs Get A Chance To Shine
The ongoing development of the Tar Heels’ frontline will doubtless continue as a major storyline in 2019 (and, let’s face it, probably 2020 and 2021 as well). But Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley have an opportunity to make a statement to ring in the New Year against the Crimson.
In particular, Garrison Brooks will be one to watch. Without knowing how Garrison chose to welcome 2019, one might hazard a guess that among his New Years’ Resolutions was the following: Stay Out of Foul Trouble! As Jake noted earlier this week, Garrison has been a very efficient player for UNC this season...when he’s been on the floor. He’s hauling down 5.9 rebounds per game in just 19.0 mpg. He’s shooting 57% from the field and at times has flashed some midrange potential. But he still can’t stay on the floor consistently.
Against Davidson, this was all on display: Brooks wound up in foul trouble early but still finished with 11 points on 5-10 shooting (the most shots he has attempted since the season opener at Wofford). Against Harvard, whose best big man is Chris Lewis (a solid veteran but no one’s idea of a world beater), Brooks will have opportunities to make a strong impact, provided he shows the discipline necessary to stay on the floor for 20+ minutes.
Coby White’s Continued Playmaking
The freshman point guard has seen his shot cool off significantly since the trip to Vegas, but against Davidson he had one of his strongest all-around games. White ripped down 7 boards (a career high) and dished out 7 assists. Though he only went 1-7 from the field, he still played an effective and level-headed floor game that helped the Tar Heels secure a bounce back win after the frustrating loss to Kentucky.
In Vegas, we saw what Coby White became in high school: A shoot-first, dynamic scorer who can light it up from deep and off the dribble. That’s how he set the North Carolina high school all-time scoring record. This UNC team doesn’t need that (though it sure could come in handy at some point down the road); they have plenty of scorers. What they need is a floor general who can get the rest of the team going in addition to creating their own shot if called for.
Coby is no ballhog, but he is still developing as a facilitator (after all, not everyone can be Ed Cota or Kendall Marshall, who were just born to pass the ball). The Davidson game looked like a step in the right direction. Look to see if that’ll continue against Harvard.
Kenny Williams’ Shooting
One person who sure could benefit from some facilitation is Kenny Williams. Oh Kenny, Kenny. To no one’s surprise, Kenny has been a terrific defender so far this season, and to the surprise of some (mine, anyway) he has led the Tar Heels in assists through the first 12 games of the season.
But then there’s his shooting. Kenny was a very good shooter last year, averaging 49% from the field and 40% from 3. This year, his shot looks much the same...except it’s not going in the basket. His form has been consistent, his looks haven’t been forced, and he doesn’t appear to be rushing his shot. He’s just on a cold spell. A long one. He’s shooting 37% from the field and 26% from three.
The good news? We’ve been here before with Kenny. In January of last season he went on a stretch where he was 5-27 from beyond the arc over a seven game span. He snapped out of it with a solid shooting night against Pitt and then hit 6 threes in the win over Duke in Chapel Hill. As Yogi Berra would tell us, “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.” He just needs to see the ball go in the net. If things start getting breezy for the Tar Heels, don’t be surprised to see Roy run some sets to get his senior shooting guard going before the start of conference play.