Tag Archives: Kentucky Wildcats

Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Florida State

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 77-59 home win over Florida State on Saturday afternoon.

Highlights:

  • Hangover from Duke game? Nah. If anything, the Heels were even more focused. Perhaps they were desperate to prove that Wednesday’s result wasn’t just some aberration due to Zion Williamson’s absence. Besides, in the Roy Williams era, Carolina has never (NEVER) lost the game after the first Duke game. After today’s win the Heels are now 16-0 in those games. So what was there to worry about?
  • It might not seem like it to casual fans, but given the circumstances, this might have been the biggest win of the season. Carolina is coming off the emotions of the Duke game. FSU was on an 8 game winning streak. The stakes were high given the ACC standings and the need to keep pace with Virginia and Duke, while keeping Florida State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Louisville at bay.
  • This is back-to-back Saturdays in which Cam Johnson had a big game coming off an ankle injury. Last week he dropped 27 on Wake Forest, including seven made threes. Today he got his second double-double of the year with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
  • By the way, is there a more underrated player in the country than Cameron Johnson? Is it because of the legend of Luke Maye? Or perhaps the hype given to freshmen Coby White and Nassir Little? Hopefully Johnson will begin to get the national attention he deserves based on the year he’s having.
  • Staying with the theme of working back from ankle injuries, Nassir Little has appeared to still be hampered by his even though he has been playing. Today, however, was a different story. Little attacked from the second he got on the court and wound up making more free throws than anyone else in the game attempted. In fact, Little had two monstrous dunks. One came in the first half when he drove and dunked over one of the Seminole behemoths inside. The other was on a put-back when nobody bothered to box out the most athletic man on the court. Little finished tied with Johnson for a game-high 18 points. Here’s both dunks:
  • Those 18 points, along with production from the rest of the bench were hugely important against a deep Florida State team. You think Roy Williams plays a lot of people? Leonard Hamilton plays a lot of people. Nine Seminoles made it to double-digits in minutes. And although the Seminoles led the bench scoring category, as expected, Carolina kept it to a respectable 33-24.
  • Against Florida State, Carolina often struggles with length and athleticism. And yet today Carolina dominated the interior numbers. After what many considered to be an aberration on Wednesday night due to the Zion Williamson absence, the Heels proved they score in the paint with anyone by leading that category 28-12 over the Seminoles. Additionally, thanks to a strong gang rebounding effort, the Heels topped that category 47-32 (including a 13-6 lead in offensive rebounds).
  • Florida State makes a habit of living at the free throw line. A big question coming into the game was, “Can Carolina stay out of foul trouble and keep the Noles off the line?” By way of answer, the Heels made 18 free throws and FSU attempted 16. Sooooo….”yes”.
  • The three point shooting got off to another sluggish start. Carolina hit two of 11 in the first half, but finished a respectable 7-for-20. Early in the season, the Heels really struggled to win games where they didn’t shoot well. This week they beat the number one and 16 teams in the country while shooting a combined 9-for-40 from three. Good for the Tar Heels. Bad for the rest of the country.
  • After these most recent two wins, the Heels are 7-3 against ranked teams this season. Importantly, after a 2-2 start in those games, Carolina has won five of the last six.

  • Coby White played a sluggish first half but came out and scored six of his 10 points early in the second half to help push the three-point halftime lead out.
  • Thanks to the results of Saturday’s other games, the top three ACC teams (Carolina, Virginia and Duke) are each 12-2 and hold a three game lead over the next closest teams in the standings. Additionally, if Carolina beats Syracuse on Tuesday, they’ll have locked up no worse than the third seed and a double bye in the ACC Tournament.
  • Thanks to yet another strong defensive showing, Carolina’s defensive efficiency is now catching up to the offense. The Heels are just one of five teams nationally in the top ten of both offensive and defensive efficiency in KenPom. They are seventh in offense and tenth in defense. The other four teams are Virginia, Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky.

  • Garrison Brooks continues to grow in his discipline as a player. In other games this season, two first half fouls would have completely taken him out of his game. Today he didn’t commit any other fouls and in fact was responsible for drawing the third fouls on both Seminole big men in the second half.
  • Brandon Robinson didn’t have a huge statistical game, but he did have an important stretch midway through the first half. He also snatched a BIG TIME rebound away from 7’4” Christ Koumadje a couple minutes later in the first half.
  • Florida State hit a three with 10:36 remaining to cut the lead to four. This was as close as the game had been since just after halftime. Over the course of the next 90 seconds Carolina went on an 8-0 run, which included two Luke Maye threes. The run extended out to 16-1 and Florida State didn’t hit another field goal until 1:57 remained in the game.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Syracuse on Tuesday, February 26. Tip is at 9:00ET on Raycom and WatchESPN.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Miami

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 88-85 home win over Miami on Saturday afternoon.

Highlights:

 

  • Hard to believe, but 9-1 is Carolina’s best ACC start under Roy Williams. This is the best start for the Heels since the 2000-01 team lead by Brendan Haywood and Joseph Forte started 11-0.
  • The end of regulation felt very similar to last year’s home loss to Miami. A Tar Heel senior hit a game-tying three pointer in the closing seconds. The difference is that last year Miami hit a miraculous shot to win, while they missed the game-winner this year and the game went on to overtime.
  • Roy Williams made a brilliant play call for Luke Maye’s game-tying three. Coby White had been so hot that both Miami players went with him off the Maye screen. White made the mature decision to throw the ball to a wide open Maye who tied the game. Here’s the shot:

  • With just over 7:00 remaining in the game Miami held a seven-point lead (61-54). Then Coby White happened. Over the final 7:03 of the second half, he shot 5-for-5 from three and assisted Luke Maye on the game-tying three with 0:12 left in regulation. He then went on to assist or score on seven of Carolina’s 11 points in overtime. For the game, White tied his career-high of 33 points (11-16 FG, 7-10 3FG) and had six assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Here’s a glimpse of White’s day:
  • Carolina had just 10 turnovers today. Four of those 10 were in the first 5:30 of the game. Three of those four were credited to Coby White, but he didn’t turn the ball over the rest of the game.
  • Of all the unusual stats today, Miami out-rebounded Carolina 39-32. Only twice previously this season was Carolina out-rebounded. The first two were the losses to Kentucky and Louisville.
  • The first half was a string of runs. Carolina had three separate runs of 7-0. Miami mixed in their own run of 9-0.
  • It was a quiet offensive game for Kenny Williams, who finished with just five points on two made baskets. However, each of the five were important. His first bucket came off a steal and fast break layup. The second bucket was a three pointer in overtime, which gave the Heels their first lead of the extra period. Williams also added his usual defensive impact including a block, two steals, and a drawn charge.
  • Once again, Brandon Huffman scored a first half bucket and played solid defense on a post entry pass in the final minutes of the first half.
  • Carolina had a great sequence in the last minute of the first half. Cam Johnson knocked the ball away on defense. The ball wound up in Nassir Little’s hands who threw ahead to Johnson. Johnson found a slashing Luke Maye for a dunk in traffic with an and-one tacked onto the back end. Here’s the play:
  • Speaking of Luke Maye free throws, he had hit 15 in a row before missing two with 11:01 left in the second half.
  • Carolina started off shooting lights out in the second half. They hit their first six shots, including two threes and two completed and-ones. The problem is that Miami was also shooting really well. After missing their first two shots, they hit seven of their next eight (plus two free throws). On the back end of the Hurricane’s hot shooting, they went on a 13-0 run to take control of the game. They wouldn’t relinquish that lead until the teams traded blows in the final 3:30.
  • Here’s an example of the hot shooting for both teams in the final 25 minutes of game time. Miami shot a blistering 12-for-20 (60 percent) from three in the second half and overtime. However, Carolina shot an even better percentage, knocking in 10 of 15 (67 percent) during that same portion of the game.
  • Not sure why Miami waited so long to foul at the end of overtime. After a made three with 28 seconds left, they were down by a point and had to foul or Carolina could just run out the clock. Finally, with 12 seconds remaining they fouled. And with all that time to foul whomever they wanted, they fouled Cam Johnson. Advantage Tar Heels.
  • It was important that Miami wasn’t in the bonus at the end of OT when Carolina held a three-point lead. Rather than just giving the fouls, the Tar Heels aggressively went for steals and Miami never got a shot off. Curiously, Miami elected not to foul Carolina at the end of regulation, and Maye was able to tie the game.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

 

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Virginia on Monday, February 11. Tip is at 7:00ET on ESPN.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Kentucky (CBS Sports Classic)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 80-72 loss to Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in Chicago at the CBS Sports Classic.

Highlights:

  • For those of you traveling for the holidays that missed the game, you probably enjoyed the time you spent talking with your awkward aunt more than those of us who watched the game. It was painful. Here’s a microcosm that sums up what you missed: 54.3 seconds left. Carolina down eight. Kentucky’s Reid Travis misses front end of 1-and-1. P.J Washington was the only Wildcat lined up for the free throws. All 5 Tar Heels watch as Washington tips out the miss for an offensive rebound.
  • Both teams came into the game as dominant, top-level rebounding machines. Whichever team controlled the glass figured to be in position to win the game. Kentucky finished with a plus-10 margin (43-33) over Carolina. The typically offensive-rebound-happy Tar Heels only managed one in the first half and five total for the game. This marks the first time Carolina’s been outrebounded this season. The teams were close in just about every other stat. These rebounds tell the story of the game.
  • Turnovers, the live ball variety in particular, continue to be a bugaboo. Each time Carolina would get close to Kentucky, someone would commit a silly turnover leading to a run-out for the Wildcats. This happened frequently also against Gonzaga, but the offensive outpouring that night covered a world of sins. At some point, the horizontal, top-of-the-key live ball turnovers have to stop.
  • Cameron Johnson, who once again paced the team in scoring with 17, was the main turnover culprit (five). In fact, the starters combined to commit 14 of the 17 turnovers.
  • Kentuky’s Ashton Hagans is a blur and a disruptive defensive force. He finished with as many steals as points (seven). Hagans rolled his ankle midway through the first half, but was thankfully able to return. While we want to (thoroughly and soundly) beat all our opponents, we never want to see them injured.
  • Speaking of a blur, Coby White can seemingly get to the rim whenever he wants.
  • The game had an incredible pace to it early on. The teams were up and down the court.
  • Carolina had no answer for Stanford transfer Reid Travis. He finished with 16 points…in the first half. Brooks played him pretty well (particularly early in the second half) but there was a noticeable defensive drop-off when Manley subbed in.
  • Great energy from Seventh Woods early in the second half cut the lead down to four (47-43). After securing three offensive rebounds, Kentucky hit a three to immediately push the lead back to seven. Carolina never again got that close. Each time the Tar Heels began to cut into the lead, Kentucky responded with a bucket or a steal. Case in point: Carolina cut the lead down to six with just under seven minutes remaining. The Heels secured a defensive rebound but Hagans stole the outlet pass, which eventually resulted in a Wildcat three and a nine-point lead. From there, Carolina committed a live-ball back court turnover, resulting in another Kentucky breakaway lay-up.

  • A positive to walk away with: This was about as poor a performance as is seemingly possible from this group. Against Kentucky. And yet, the loss was only by eight points. What’s the take away? Clean up four or five of those lost possessions, and this is a different ball game.
  • Please keep in mind: Roy Williams teams have a proven track record of growing by leaps and bounds over the course of a season. Be patient and enjoy the evolution.
  • As well as this team typically scores, if they can hold on to the basketball, they should have a successful ACC record. If this team can’t learn to value the basketball, it will be a brutal ACC season. Back to the drawing board.
  • That said, whether it was Kentucky’s disruptive defense or just lack of precision, today’s offense was not marked by the usual certitude and team play. There was a lot of isolation and a lot of standing around. Baskets often felt lucky, rather than the foregone conclusions that they typically are.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Davidson on Saturday, December 29. Tip is at Noon ET on ESPN2.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Gonzaga

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 103-90 home win on Saturday night over #4 Gonzaga.

Highlights:

  • What a big-time win in an incredible environment. Yes, Gonzaga is missing a starter and another key player, but they’re still good enough to be top five in the country. While you would love to add win over Kentucky to the résumé next Saturday, taking at least one of these two games is encouraging.
  • Welcome to the 1,000-point club Luke Maye! Maye becomes the 78thTar Heel to reach that milestone. The 1,000thpoint was a free throw tacked on to a dunk that put Carolina over the century mark. In fact, Maye was 7-for-7 on free throws, with the first six coming after being fouled while shooting three pointers. This was not only the Heels’ first signature win of the year, but also Maye’s first signature game: scoring 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.

  • While on the subject of Luke Maye, it is being said around basketball that his production has “really dropped off from last year”. He’s currently averaging 14.3 points to last year’s 16.9 when he neededto shoulder a bigger portion of the scoring load. He’s currently averaging 10.0 rebounds per game as compared to last year’s 10.1. While his field goal percentage (48.6 to 45.0) and three-point percentage (43.1 to 31.3) are down, his free throw percentage is up almost 20 percentage points (62.4 to 79.5). All that to say – Luke Maye is going to be juuuuuuust fine.
  • With a sample size of 10 games (roughly one quarter of the season), we can legitimately begin to look at season stats. Cameron Johnson is shooting 49.1 percent from deep, exactly 15 percentage points better than last year’s 34.1 percent. Johnson had an absurd night, leading all scorers with 25 on efficient shooting. While his six threes (including a shot-clock-ending desperation heave) were impressive, it was this dunk that was the most memorable:

  • Seventh Woods had a career-high 11 points – by halftime. The junior finished with 14 points. Woods made two three pointers, the first time he’s hit multiple in a game. In fact, two three pointers ties the number he hit in his first two seasons combined. Woods went on a personal 6-0 run over the last 1:16 of the first half to stretch an eight point lead back out to 14.

  • Coach Williams wants to dominate the glass, and dominate the glass the Heels did – 42-21. Additionally, Carolina had 14 offensive to Gonzaga’s five and outscored the Bulldogs by an overwhelming 27-0 on those second-chance opportunities.

  • The Tar Heels had to be that good on the boards to win because they coughed up a season high 23 turnovers, which led to 29 Bulldog points and kept Gonzaga in the game.
  • On several occasions Gonzaga out-Carolina-ed Carolina by getting pitch-aheads to a man streaking down the court behind the defense. This will no-doubt be a point of emphasis in the film room.
  • Much like the UNC-Wilmington game, the Heels showed much better defensive desire and did some things well, while others have room to grow. The want-to seems to be there, and that’s a step in the right direction. That said, as I predicted the final score resembled the UNC-Kentucky regular season game from 2016-17 in which the Wildcats won 103-100 behind 47 points from Malik Monk. In fact, Carolina finished with that exact same total tonight. Let’s just hope this season doesn’t wind up for the Heels the way that season wound up for Kentucky. But just for a reminder of how that season ended for Kentucky:
  • On five occasions in the second half, Gonzaga cut the lead to single digits. But on all five of those instances Carolina responded by scoring the next basket to push the lead back to double-digits. The Bulldogs are a team that can score in bunches, so maintaining the double-digit threshold provided security for the Heels. Although, once again, avoiding live ball turnovers and Carolina-like-run-outs would have placed an even larger cushion between the two teams.
  • Roy Williams has been saying how good a shooting team this is and that it would eventually break out. 13-for-25 (54.7 percent) from deep is a great example of that. Shooting that well from outside on a consistent basis will cover a multitude of sins in other facets of the game.
  • Leaky Black, who is dealing with patellar tendinitis, only played three minutes. But in that time he used his go-go-gadget arms to steal a pass and head in the other direction for an electrifying dunk. Sterling Manley also only scored two points, but it was a nice turnaround jump shot early in the second half.

  • I must unfortunately leave you with a sour taste in your mouth: The execution after the final media timeout left much to be desired. The play included several turnovers, some fouls and some missed clutch-ish free throws. Thankfully, the cushion in this game was large enough to absorb these gaffes, but that won’t always be the case.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago against Kentucky on Saturday, December 22. Tip is at 5:15ET on CBS.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. UNC-Wilmington

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 97-69 home win on Wednesday night over UNC-Wilmington.

Highlights:

  • There are scoring runs and then there are scoring runs. Luke Maye picked up his fourth foul with 17:16 remaining in the game and the Heels up 48-41. You might have been concerned. I was concerned. Should we have been? Nope. The Heels immediately went on a 16-0 run, which extended to an absurd 30-3 run. When Maye checked back in with 9:12 remaining the lead had ballooned from seven to 31 (75-44). Here’s Kenny Williams talking about the 53-point second half explosion:
  • The big concern of late has been the Tar Heels’ (lack of) defense. For the game, Carolina held UNC-Wilmington to 35.5 percent shooting, forced them into 25 turnovers, and scored 34 points off of those turnovers. It remains to be seen whether the defense was legitimately better, or just a product of playing (with apologies to UNC-Wilmington) an inferior team. We’ll get quick answers with the next two games being against Gonzaga and Kentucky.
  • After exploding out of the gate, Cameron Johnson’s scoring has tapered off the last couple games. He rebounded nicely tonight, leading all scorers with 21 points (ties his season high). Here’s Johnson talking about the game:
  • Coby White and Brandon Robinson both sat out the game with injuries. Despite missing those two regulars, nine different players played double-digit minutes. As has often been the case this season, no player played 30 minutes or more.

  • Seventh Woods earned his first career start in White’s absence. He had three assists and three turnovers, a wash. Woods’ biggest contribution was his aggressive play to help grow the lead immediately after Maye went to the bench with his fourth foul.
  • In addition to Woods’ three turnovers, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye, and Nassir Little each also had three. These key players will need to curtail their sloppiness with the ball. The good news is that after nine first half turnovers, the first turnover of the second half didn’t occur until six minutes in.
  • With White out, Leaky Black also played more than usual. He quietly had a rather effective showing – four points (on 2-for-3 shooting), three assists, zero turnovers and two steals. That type of steady play will be important for Carolina throughout the season.
  • Kenny Williams really has become an assist machine. Despite his three turnovers, the senior racked up eight assists. He is averaging 4.9 assists per game this season. For reference to a recent non-point guard playmaker, Theo Pinson averaged 5.1 assists per game last season. As a team, Carolina assisted on 23 of their 37 made baskets tonight.
  • Devontae Cacok is Wilmington’s leading scorer (15.9) and the nation’s leading rebounder (12.3). As you are aware, the Heels pride themselves on rebounding as well. Carolina held Cacok to just six points and six rebounds, as well as just 21 minutes of game action due to foul trouble. It was a classic case of the Heels working to get an opponent’s dominant big man in foul trouble. Overall Carolina won the rebounding battle 49-36.
  • The Tar Heels enjoyed a lopsided 50-16 advantage on points in the paint. Big men Garrison Brooks (seven), Sterling Manley (eight), and Brandon Huffman (seven) each had a meaningful contribution to that tally. Manley also came away with double-digit rebounds (10).

  • Wilmington overcame a 7-0 UNC lead to take a 24-22 lead just over midway through the first half. Carolina responded with a 10-0 to take a lead they would never relinquish.
  • KJ Smith desperately tried to get a three in the closing seconds in order to help Carolina hit the century mark, but couldn’t get one to stick. No biscuits. They’ll have to wait for another day.

Roy Williams postgame press conference (make sure to listen to the story at the end about former President George H.W. Bush who recently passed away.):

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Gonzaga on Saturday, December 15. Tip is at 7:00ET on ESPN2.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. UCLA (Las Vegas Invitational)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 94-78 victory on Friday afternoon over UCLA in the Las Vegas Invitational.

Highlights:

  • I must be honest, during the first half I was prepared to say that this game was essentially just a continuation of all the same issues from the Texas game (and the first half was). I could have said, “I don’t need to write Quick Hitters tonight, just re-read last night’s.” I had the early season tournament cliché all lined up: “It’s always said of these mini tournaments that a really good team is going to leave 0-2. Unfortunately in this instance, that team was Carolina.” But then the second half happened and I had to scratch all of that.
  • I was curious to see how Coby White would follow up his big night. Was the 33-point explosion just a foreshadowing of things that would come later in the season or the new normal? White responded by scoring 10 of Carolina’s first 17 and finished with 19 total points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-7 from three. While 19 is certainly less than 33, this was a more impressive performance because he didn’t just create for himself but also dished out eight assists to teammates (against only two turnovers). This balance of scoring and assisting is exactly what Coach Williams will be looking for. All-in-all a great two game stretch from the freshman point guard.

  • The one thing White struggled with was foul trouble. Seventh Woods was still out with a concussion, so Leaky Black once again handled the back-up point guard minutes. Thursday night, the offense severely bogged down with Black running the show. While his stat line wasn’t gaudy against UCLA, he didn’t turn the ball over, had two assists and scored five points on 2-for-3 shooting. Black is gaining valuable experience and looking more comfortable running the team. His best play came early in the second half. With UNC up 55-54, Black blocked a shot (the ball hit the backboard first; it was an obvious goal tend…shhhhh don’t tell anyone), corralled the loose ball and threw a court length bounce pass to Kenny Williams for the fast break layup. Here’s that sequence:

  • Carolina has committed double-digit turnovers in every game thus far, including 18 and 17 in the previous two games. White turned the ball over on the first possession of the game and we appeared to be headed for more of the same. However the Heels committed only four more the rest of the half and just one in the second half for a season low of six.
  • The senior trio of Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cam Johnson struggled mightily shooting against Texas. Those woes carried over into the first half of the UCLA game. However in the second half they shot a combined 10-for-12, totaling 30 of Carolina’s 53 points.
  • It’s been well documented that Kenny Williams has been struggling with his shot this year (although had a great shooting performance against UCLA). Rather than sulking, he’s found a new way to contribute offense by turning himself into Theo Pinson-type play maker. Prior to this year, Williams averaged 1.6 assists per game. This year he’s averaging a career-high 4.7 assists per game and 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. Here’s to hoping there will be a lot of Tar Heels pointing at Kenny Williams throughout this season.

  • Johnson was on fire after halftime, scoring the Heels’ first nine points. The most impressive of which was his second bucket. After burying a three on the previous possession, he could have easily decided to hoist another, but wisely chose to drive baseline for a lay-up. He followed up that play with a steal on UCLA’s next possession, which he quickly returned to Carolina’s basket for two more points. Here’s all three of those plays:

  • UCLA’s 7’1” freshman Moses Brown has had an impressive start to his college career. There was some concern how Carolina’s bigs would handle Brown’s presence. Cutting to the chase, Brown fouled out with 7:40 remaining having only played eight minutes.
  • Garrison Brooks had two under-the-radar-but-very-important plays that you might have missed. One showed up in the box score, the other didn’t. First, UCLA had the ball, up seven, with about 5:30 left before halftime. Brandon Robinson got a steal and Brooks somehow slapped the ball ahead to Coby White for a fast break dunk. No box score assist to Brooks (that went to Robinson for some reason), but a huge play and UCLA never pushed their lead back to double-digits. The other notable play was Brooks’ only two points of the night. The Bruins had cut Carolina’s lead down to seven and fouled Brooks with 7:40 remaining. He stepped to the line, a career 59.5 percent free throw shooter, and calmly sunk both free throws to push the lead back to nine. Here’s the “slap-ahead”:

  • Defense still needs to be cleaned up. The Heels allowed UCLA to hit their first seven shots and nine of their first 11 shots. The Bruins’ first miss came almost five minutes into the game. Once again, staying in front of the ball is of the utmost importance. Carolina played much tougher and attentive defense in the second half, even securing a shot clock violation at 12:19.
  • Nassir Little was in much more intentional attack mode this game; not settling for jump shots. The highlight of the game was his go-ahead dunk at the 12:00 minute mark of the second half, after which the Heels never again trailed. Here’s the dunk:
  • A stat it would be easy to miss, part 1: Brandon Robinson had four assists and zero turnovers.
  • A stat it would be easy to miss, part 2: reserve KJ Smith has scored in every game in which he’s played so far this season.
  • The Las Vegas Invitational promised to teach us a lot about this team. And it did. But there’s still a lot to learn. How would these games have looked with Seventh Woods in the mix? How will the freshmen respond to a true road environment against a strong defensive opponent (Michigan)? Stay tuned because games against Michigan, Gonzaga and Kentucky over the next several weeks will be revelatory.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a road game against Michigan in the ACC / Big Ten Championship. Tip is on Wednesday, November 28 at 9:00ET on ESPN.

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The Road Less Traveled

As you look at North Carolina’s 2018-19 men’s basketball schedule, something curious jumps off the page about the first two games. The Tar Heels are beginning their season by playing back-to-back true non-conference road games – against Wofford (who won in the Smith Center last year) and Elon.

“What is Roy Williams thinking?” you ask yourself. “Major programs like Carolina don’t have to take road games. They can get anyone they want to come to Chapel Hill.”

Here’s the thing: playing away from home in the non-conference part of the schedule actually isn’t a strange phenomenon or outlier for Coach Williams and the Tar Heels.

But just how does Carolina’s scheduling stack up against programs of a similar ilk?

Why go on the road?

Of the country’s historically successful major college basketball programs, most only venture away from home when they absolutely have to. Some coaches will argue that conference and NCAA Tournament games are all played on a neutral court, so it’s pointless to schedule true non-conference road games.

To only look ahead to postseason tournaments, however, is to miss the mark. Half of the regular season conference match-ups are true road games. The results of these games play a huge factor in conference seeding, which ultimately helps determine a team’s seed in the NCAA Tournament. To fail to test your team on the road in the non-conference portion of the schedule is to set them up for failure when they go on the road in conference games.

Criteria

To determine how the Tar Heels compare to other programs in this metric, I examined the 10 winningest programs of all time. I looked at the past 10 schedules for each of these programs (from the 2009-2010 season through the upcoming 2018-2019 season) to determine which teams were willing to go prove themselves outside the friendly confines of their home gym. To be included, a team had to have been in a BCS / Power 5 conference for each of those 10 seasons. This stipulation ruled out Temple (#5), St. John’s (#9), BYU (#12) and Utah (#14).

The list is therefore whittled down to these 10 (in order of all-time wins):

  • Kentucky (#1 | 2,263 wins)
  • Kansas (#2 | 2,248)
  • UNC (#3 | 2,232)
  • Duke (#4 | 2,144)
  • Syracuse (#6 | 1,884)
  • UCLA (#7 | 1,870)
  • Notre Dame (#8 | 1,866)
  • Louisville (#10 | 1,825)
  • Indiana (#11 | 1,817)
  • Arizona (#14 | 1,796)

Which teams are willing to consistently schedule true regular season non-conference road games?

What do the schedules reveal?

After studying each program, one team stands out above the rest. Below is the total number of true non-conference road games each of the programs scheduled during the 10-year period evaluated (from most to least):

  • North Carolina – 24
  • Arizona – 19
  • Louisville – 17
  • Kansas – 16
  • Kentucky – 13
  • Indiana – 11
  • Syracuse – 10
  • Duke – 9
  • UCLA – 9
  • Notre Dame – 7

Additionally, there are interesting takeaways concerning these blue-bloods and their scheduling of true non-conference road games (or lack thereof) strewn throughout the research.

In the 10-year span…

  • Carolina is the only team of the 10 to have multiple true non-conference road games in each of the 10 seasons.
  • Carolina is the only team to amass more than 20 true non-conference road games.
  • Carolina has four seasons (including each of the last three) with three true non-conference road games. No other team on the list has more than one.
  • In five of the 10 seasons evaluated, Duke and Notre Dame have scheduled precisely 0 (ZERO!!) true non-conference road games.
  • For the past eight years, Duke has only voluntarily scheduled two true non-conference road games. Those were both at Madison Square Garden, which only technically counts as St. John’s second home arena.
  • Notre Dame has by far the most putrid total of true non-conference road games with seven. Of those seven, only four were voluntary. The other three are all Big 10 / ACC road games.

Take Aways

Last season, I wrote a piece about Carolina’s road success in conference games over the previous seven years. Prior to last year’s 4-5 conference road record, the Heels had recorded seven straight seasons of a winning conference road record. Meanwhile, the rest of the conference fell miserably short of that level of success.

Think that type of achievement is pure happenstance? Think again. The road to success in conference road games is paved in the non-conference portion of the schedule. By exposing his team to hostile road environments early in the season, Roy Williams is preparing them to succeed away from home when it matters most – on the road in the country’s most difficult conference. The road to success is a road less traveled.

For reference, below is a table with each team’s true non-conference road games over the past 10 years:

Quick Hitters – Kentucky

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Justin Jackson reacts to a go-ahead lay-up with under 1:00 left in the game, that gave the Tar Heels a 100-98 over Kentucky. Unfortunately, this was not the last big image from the game. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.

Quick Hitters from Saturday afternoon’s 103-100 neutral site loss to Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic.

  1. First off, you never like to lose, and especially not to Kentucky, but this looked like the team that was playing in Maui, not the team we’ve seen in the four games since – an encouraging sign. The trick now is becoming that team always. This game had the feeling of a game in March or April and will pay dividends for both teams throughout the season.
  2. I think Joel Berry is going to be all right. With a player coming back from a lower body injury, you always wonder what their first game back will be like. Berry’s return was reminiscent of Marcus Paige’s first game last season against Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. The key is not having the let down that Paige had after that. Berry’s line from Saturday: 23 points on 9-15 shooting, 3-5 on 3s, 2-2 FTs, 5 R, 7 A, 3 TO, 2 S in 34 minutes. Also, Berry fell to the court after getting his shot blocked less than two minutes into the game. While you hate to see him fall, it’s nice that he was able to get right back up.
  3. The pace of this game was incredibly fun to watch. Two deep and athletic teams who like to run. And yet they take care of the ball really well – both teams finished with single digit turnovers.
  4. Speaking of pace, both teams scored 50+ points in the first half. Kentucky had 56, which is the most given up in the Roy Williams era in the first half. In the end, both teams finished with over 100.
  5. Justin Jackson missed more free throw in this game (five) than he had the rest of the season combined (four). Coming into the game he was 25-29 (86.2%). On the other side of the coin, Tony Bradley, who was shooting 30-50 (60%), went 6-6 in this game to balance out Jackson’s misses.
  6. Speaking of Justin Jackson, he’s getting to the line so much because he is attacking and aggressive. This is a good sign. Jackson finished the game with a career-high 34 points.
  7. Great close to the first half. The Heels closed the lead to as little as four after being down 12, and finished the half down five.
  8. Understatement of the season: Malik Monk is good at basketball. A couple of great defensive possessions against him in the closing minutes of the first half were what helped Carolina close the gap.
  9. That said, you know who would’ve done a great job guarding Monk in this game? Theo Pinson. Not saying Pinson would have completely shut Monk down, because he was hitting everything in sight. However, his lankiness and athleticism certainly would’ve bothered Monk and lowered his point total. Thanks to my man Carter Gilchrist for pointing this out!
  10. Speaking of Pinson, the Heels only got two points from the 2-guard spot today, and you’ve got to think that Pinson would’ve contributed more.
  11. Luke Maye had some important contributions. He had to HUGE 3s down the stretch as the Heels were fighting back. He also had a big time tap out on a missed Justin Jackson free throw that gave the Heels a chance to go up two possessions with under one minute left. Unfortunately, Joel Berry missed a shot and we know what happened next. Maye finished with a career high 11 points.
  12. Foul trouble hurt the Heels in this game. Berry, Isaiah Hicks, and Kennedy Meeks each were playing with four fouls down the stretch. Meeks fouled out, but both Hicks and Berry played smart to stay on the court down the stretch and impact the game in big ways. (Berry did ultimately foul out, but it was on the last meaningful play of the game).

 

 

The Path To Houston, Part 1

The Path To Houston, Part 1

The path to March Madness glory is rarely paved with chalk. But what if it was? These are the teams the Tar Heels would play:

Round 1: Florida Gulf Coast

  • 21-13 (8-6)
  • 3rd in Atlantic-Sun

Round 2: USC

  • 21-12 (9-9)
  • 6th in Pac-12

Sweet Sixteen: Kentucky

  • 26-8 (13-5)
  • 2nd in SEC

Elite 8: Xavier

  • 27-5 (14-4)
  • 2nd in Big East

Final Four: Virginia

  • 26-7 (13-5)
  • 2nd in ACC

National Championship: Kansas

  • 30-4 (15-3)
  • 1st in Big 12

In the meantime, this is the first (of hopefully 6!) part of The Path To Houston, looking at the teams UNC will play on the road to Houston. First up, Florida Gulf Coast:

  • 21-13 (8-6)
  • 3rd in Atlantic-Sun
  • Mascot: Eagle
  • teamrankings.com gives UNC a 95% chance to win this game
  • UNC is favored by 22.
  • You might recall that in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, FGCU, as a 15 seed, beat Georgetown (#2) and San Diego State (#7) before losing to Florida (#3) in the Sweet Sixteen. That team was coached by Andy Enfield, who is now at USC, a potential 2nd round match-up for the winner of this game.
  • Interestingly, FGCU averages more possessions a game (73.3), than does UNC (72.4). Should be a fun, fast-paced, up-and-down game. Afterwards, we’ll probably hear Roy say something about the discrepancy in talent between the two teams.
  • Adjusted Offensive Efficiency
    • FGCU – 102.8 (179th)
    • UNC – 119.6 (5th)
  • Adjusted Defensive Efficiency
    • FGCU – 103.1 (163rd)
    • UNC – 93.8 (12th)
  • FGCU strengths
    • Defensive Rebounding
    • Shooting Accuracy
  • FGCU weaknesses
    • FT shooting