An overpowering first half of basketball in Chestnut Hill secured the Tar Heels their school-record 15th ACC win of the season. That’s six in a row for UNC and the 13th of their last 14. They will go into their regular season finale against Duke on a roll and made easy work of an injury-riddled Boston College team. Here’s what we learned from Carolina’s 79-66 win on Tuesday night:
This Team Is One of the Best Road Teams In UNC History
For the first time in Carolina history, the Tar Heels finished 9-0 on the road in the ACC. That’s the first undefeated road season the Heels have had since Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and company went 8-0 in 2007-08. On top of that, the Heels finished 11-1 on the road (their only road loss coming at Michigan back in November) in all competitions and are the only team with 11 road wins in any of the Power conferences.
To reach that goal, the Tar Heels defeated a top-ranked Duke team, a 15th-ranked NC State squad, a 15th-ranked Louisville team, and a surprisingly plucky Wofford team on opening night (a win that looks better and better now that the Terriers are ranked #22 and undefeated in the Southern Conference). Spare us all the Zion Williamson/favorable schedule excuses. Only truly elite teams can run the table on the road in this league, especially with the expanded schedule. This Carolina team has done just that.
Cameron Johnson Is An All-American And A Future Draft Steal
The latest Mock Draft on NBA.com had Cam going early in the 2nd round of the NBA Draft. Let’s be abundantly clear: Any NBA team that takes Cameron Johnson with a second round pick is getting an absolute STEAL. His well-rounded game, composure, and size all should translate at the next level. Nights like Tuesday are a reminder of what a player he is when he is fully healthy, as he has been this season.
Cam’s line last night has characteristically well-rounded: 22 points on 9-18 shooting, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, one steal, one block, and only one turnover. Throughout the 2018-19 season, Cam has been UNC’s best and most consistent player and he has shown a massive expansion in his game at both ends of the court. His shooting prowess is well documented, but he also is able to attack off the dribble, has improved as a rebounder, and his (healthy) lateral movement and instincts have made him a strong defender as well.
Johnson was brought to North Carolina in the hope that he could serve as something of a Justin Jackson Lite. Jackson was fresh off a first-team All-American, jersey-in-the-rafters season and had cut down the nets in Arizona. No way Cam can match him, right? Well...here’s how Cam’s 2019 matches up with Jackson’s 2017 without Tuesday night’s numbers included:
Johnson: 16.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.3 spg, 52% fg, 48% 3-pt, 79% ft
Jackson: 18.3 ppg 4.7 rpg 2.8 apg 0.8 spg 44.4% fg, 37% 3-pt, 75% ft
Those numbers are basically a wash and Justin Jackson won ACC Player of the Year. That won’t happen for Cam (Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett both have stronger claims), but if that’s what first-team All American looks like, Cam darn sure better make the dadgum third-team.
The Flagrant Foul Rule Is The Worst
For the second time in as many weeks, a Tar Heel player was called for a Flagrant 1 foul that just...shouldn’t have been a flagrant foul. In the game in Cameron, Seventh Woods was dinged for a flagrant when he inadvertently made contact with Javin DeLaurier’s face late in the second half. Woods was turning up court after a Duke turnover and looking to break, when DeLaurier stepped in a fouled him in an attempt to stymie the fast break. Woods wasn’t even looking at him and was drawing his arm back in a running motion.
On Tuesday night, Sterling Manley was whistled for a Flagrant 1 after making contact with Nik Popovic after an offensive rebound by the Heels late in the game. Once again, Manley wasn’t looking at Popovic and the elbow was incidental; his elbow came down after he swiped at the rebound.
The NCAA rule states that a Flagrant 1 is assessed when a player “swings an elbow and makes illegal, non-excessive contact with an opponent above the shoulders.” This can be called despite the foul “not being malevolent or unsportsmanlike.” Simply put, by the letter of the law both of those elbows ABSOLUTELY qualify as Flagrant 1s. And that, forgive me...is trash.
It’s basketball. Accidental elbows happen all the time. You don’t see that called when a pivoting offensive player has the ball and catches a defender in his space with an elbow. Nor should that be called. Why? Because the offensive player has a right to their space. And yet, they’ve still accidentally struck a player above the shoulders with an elbow.
We can talk player safety until the cows come home (and I do miss them so...) but there’s no scenario where players don’t take an inadvertent elbow to the chops once in a while in a basketball game. If a (usually overlong and extensive) replay can’t establish malevolent or deliberate intent, it shouldn’t get a team two shots and the ball. /rant over