Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Panthers

Quick Hitters – UNC @ Virginia Tech

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 79-77 double overtime road loss to Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.

Condensed Game: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoH0leKhcvM

Highlights:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8trkNusECtY

  • Let’s start here: you just have to feel heartbroken for the players and coaches. They are working their butts off, but to no avail (at least on the scoreboard). Given the circumstances (road game, more injuries – including your senior leader, etc.), this was probably the grittiest showing of the season for Carolina. They just couldn’t make the plays down the stretch of regulation to pull out the victory.
  • The war of attrition continues in Chapel Hill. In addition to Sterling Manley and Anthony Harris, who are out for the season, and Cole Anthony, who is still out, Brandon Robinson missed the game with stiffness in his neck relating to his recent car accident. This is now 57 games (by seven different players) missed due to injury in the first 18 games of the season.
  • The lack of depth certainly played a role tonight. Only seven players saw the court, four of whom (Garrison Brooks, Andrew Platek, Leaky Black, and Justin Pierce) played 45+ minutes. Fatigue was absolutely a factor in the outcome. Here’s Justin Pierce talking about the team “running out of gas”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PEHM1uM1II

  • The loss marks the first time in program history Carolina has lost six straight ACC games.
  • Carolina has held a double-digit lead at some point in three of their last four games, only to lose each one. The Heels held a 12 point lead with 12:57 remaining and a seven point lead with 3:35 left, but just couldn’t hang on down the stretch.
  • Despite a size advantage for Carolina, Virginia Tech was able to keep the Heels relatively in check on the glass. Carolina won the rebounding battle, but just 43-39 and only had six offensive rebounds.
  • Unfortunately, free throws once again were a major factor in the loss. Carolina shot 8-for-8 in the first half and the overtimes, but just 6-for-12 in the second half. Amongst those six misses were two misses by Justin Pierce (which fed into an 8-0 Tech run), misses on the front end of a 1-and-1 from both Garrison Brooks and Andrew Platek, and a miss from Leaky Black with 19.9 seconds remaining in regulation which would have given Carolina a three-point lead heading into Virginia Tech’s last possession. A make on any of these five free throws would have been the margin of victory.
  • An unfortunate call that went against the Heels: With 1:35 remaining in the first overtime and Carolina leading 67-65, Leaky Black deflected a pass which Andrew Platek appeared to be on the verge of corralling possession. However, one of the officials blew the play dead, ruled a kick-ball, and awarded possession to Virginia Tech. Big momentum swing. If Carolina had scored there, they lead by four or five points with likely 1:00 remaining.
  • 18 games into the season, Carolina still has not shot 50% for an entire game. The first half showed promise, with the Heels recording a 50% mark in the first half for the first time all season (51.6% on 16-for-31 shooting).
  • For all the talk of the zone Carolina played Saturday against Pitt, the Heels stayed exclusively in their staple man-to-man defense.
  • Some individual performances deserve to be highlighted. First of which is Garrison Brooks. Brooks now has double-doubles in six straight games. He led the team in points (28), rebounds (13), and assists (six). Brooks scored or assists on Carolina’s final 11 points of the first half.
  • Carolina was able to go to Brooks at will in the first half (26 points in the paint), but Virginia Tech defended the interior much more strictly in the second half (just four points in the paint).
  • Another important individual effort was the play and scoring of Justin Pierce. Pierce scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Nine of these points came on three-pointers. His shooting, along with Leaky Black’s three three-pointers, helped to fill the void missing with Brandon Robinson out.
  • Nothing flashy, but Jeremiah Francis had two assists and zero turnovers. Francis also had four points on two nice lay-ups, but also missed another in crunch time.
  • Andrew Platek continues to dish out assists. In his three starts, he has 13 assists and just three turnovers.
  • Leaky Black opened the scoring in both halves of the game by burying a three-pointer. He also had another late in regulation to push Carolina’s lead back to six. If Black or Pierce (or both!) can join Brandon Robinson in making threes, it will free up the paint for Brooks and Bacot to operate.
  • In general, the offense appeared to move with more fluidity. Passes were crisper. The ball didn’t stick in any one spot for too long. As players wore down, this changed, but this movement was certainly true for the portions of the game where Carolina built its lead.
  • The highlight of the game came just before halftime. Carolina had a baseline out of bounds play under their own basket. Garrison Brooks got just the screen he needed and Leaky Black fed him perfectly for a monster dunk, plus a foul. Brooks converted the free throw to push the Carolina lead to 36-28. Here’s the dunk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_DBv1mVHPU

  • A big aspect of the second half struggles was Armando Bacot’s foul trouble. He picked up his third foul with 12:59 remaining and Carolina up 12. Tech immediately went on an extended 11-2 run. Bacot then picked up foul number four with 9:46 remaining in regulation. His absence, in a game where Carolina dominated inside, was likely a big part of the reason the Hokies were able to claw their way back and force overtime.
  • We could re-hash a lot of the plays from the end of regulation and overtimes. Suffice it to say that the exhausted Tar Heels had a lot of empty possessions. Garrison Brooks had a good look to win the game at the buzzer of regulation, but couldn’t get the drop. On the previous possession, Virignia Tech had a 56% free throw shooter go to the line and hit both. Bacot fouled out midway through the first overtime, another dagger in Carolina’s efforts to pull out a tough-earned victory.
  • Please keep in mind: these are young men trying their very best. They are working hard, playing through pain, and doing everything they can to win basketball games. It just isn’t happening right now. Will Cole Anthony’s impending return provide any kind of spark? Hopefully so, but we wait to see.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS1-B0SShI0

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Miami on Saturday, January 25. Tip is at 12:00pm ET on ESPN2.

Twitter: tarheelhoopblog
Twitter: isaacschade
Email: tarheelhoopsblog@gmail.com

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Quick Hitters – UNC @ Pittsburgh

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 66-52 road loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon.

Condensed Game:

Highlights:

  • Carolina has now dropped four straight to start the main body of ACC play. After losing 10 days ago to Pitt in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels once again fell victim to the Panthers and Coach Williams stays frozen at 879 victories.
  • Garrison Brooks is doing everything he can to put Carolina on his back. He now has five straight double-doubles (16 points, 13 rebounds in this one). On the season, Brooks is close to averaging a double-double: 14.4 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game.
  • Holding it down with Brooks in the front court, Armando Bacot also turned in a strong performance today. He totaled 12 points and 11 assists.
  • Two glaring statistical issues tell the story of the day; the first of which is turnovers. In the first half, the Heels committed 11 turnovers while making just eight field goals in the same time frame. Five of those turnovers came on five straight possessions midway through the first half. For the game, Carolina had more turnovers (16) than assists (11).
  • The second statistical issue is not a new story: free throw shooting. While difficult to believe, it’s true, Carolina shot UNDER 50 percent from the free throw line today (10-for-21, 47.6 percent). In a season where the team struggles offensively, leaving free points at the free throw line makes it even more difficult to win. Even Garrison Brooks fell victim, shooting just 2-for-8 from the charity stripe.
  • Andrew Platek has now started the past two games and has shown a real penchant for putting his teammates in position to succeed. In the two games he has totaled 10 assists versus just two turnovers, good for an absurd 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • An already depleted team had to finish without Brandon Robinson and Armando Bacot, who both fouled out.
  • The highlight of the day came just over a minute into the game. It was an unbelievably athletic play from Garrison Brooks for Carolina’s first bucket. He contorted his body to lay in an alley-oop from Andrew Platek while someone was undercutting him. Brooks missed free throw but Bacot tipped out the rebound. The ball came back to Bacot who found a wide-open Leaky Black for a three. The gave the Tar Heels a 5-2 lead (the only lead of the day).

  • The good news is that Carolina never stopped fighting and was able to cut Pitt’s lead to 10 with 1:49 left in the game. As we know all-too-well from the Clemson game last Saturday, 10 points in that amount of time can be overcome. Unfortunately, Garrison Brooks missed a wide-open lay-up which would have cut the lead to eight and Pittsburgh pushed the lead back to the final 14 point margin.
  • Some more potential injury concern: Justin Pierce limped off the court with some type of lower leg injury.
  • On the positive side of the injury epidemic: Brandon Robinson was able to start and play 32 minutes despite being involved in a car accident a week ago (although he missed the final 5:55 after fouling out). Jeremiah Francis, who missed the last game, didn’t start but was able to play 15 minutes. Here’s Robinson talking more about his accident:
  • Pittsburgh curiously piled up five fouls in the first 4:40 of the second half. However, even when the Heels got to the bonus, as you know from the previously mentioned free throw statistics, they couldn’t take advantage
  • Pittsburgh shot terribly in the second half: 22.7 percent on field goals and 10 percent on three pointers. Over the final 15 minutes of the game, the Panthers made precisely ONE field goal. Despite all of this ugly shooting, Carolina still only outscored Pitt by six in those 20 minutes.
  • Carolina shot 31.7 percent for the game. That now makes 17 straight games to start the season without shooting 50 percent for an entire game.
  • Curiously, KJ Smith didn’t play. He was in uniform and on the bench. He’s played in literally ever contest this year other than the season opener when he was sidelined with an injury. Is he suffering from an injury? Was it a conscious decision by Coach Williams to cut his minutes?

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 Virginia Tech on Wednesday, January 22. Tip is at 8:00ET on ACC Network.

Twitter: tarheelhoopblog
Twitter: isaacschade
Email: tarheelhoopsblog@gmail.com

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Clemson

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 79-76 overtime home loss to Clemson on Saturday afternoon.

Condensed Game:

Highlights:

  • An absolute soul-crushing disappointment in Chapel Hill today. The Tar Heels led by 10 points with 2:00 remaining, but managed to lose the game. The heartbreaking thing is that for 38 minutes, Carolina played tough, they were aggressive, they shared the ball, the defense looked a lot better, and everything seemed to be pointing to a historic win, but it was not meant to be. In a season full of low points, perhaps we have reached the bottom.
  • Unfortunately, this loss means that not only has Coach Williams still not passed Coach Smith for fourth place on the all-time Division 1 wins list, but that the unbelievable win streak in Chapel Hill against Clemson ends at 59.
  • In any game that goes to overtime (especially one in which you led by 10 points with 2:00 remaining), you will inevitably play the “what-if” game. Here are a few big ones:
    • With just seconds remaining before halftime, Armando Bacot tipped out a rebound in an effort to run out the clock, but the ball went straight to a Clemson Tiger who buried a three-pointer to cut the Tar Heel lead to 10. Without that shot, Carolina wins.
    • With 10:00 left in regulation, Armando Bacot got a steal leading to a monstrous fast break dunk to put Carolina up eight. Roy Williams was incensed, believing that a foul should have been called. Meanwhile, Clemson abruptly went to the other end and buried a three to pull the game back within five. If that foul is called (and Bacot hits the free throw), Carolina is up nine instead of five.
    • Up three points with 12 seconds remaining in overtime, the Tar Heels elected not to foul, which resulted in Clemson burying the game-tying three-pointer. According to Coach Williams in the post-game press conference, he forgot to remind the team to do so in the timeout before that play.
  • The injuries just keep mounting: Today, Jeremiah Francis was in street clothes due to concerns over knee soreness. Carolina has paid enough injury dues this season to last them the entire 2020-2029 decade.
  • Carolina’s turnover numbers weren’t all that glaring – 10. Curiously, they had committed just six with 2:00 remaining in the game, but coughed up three during those final two minutes of regulation. Clemson, meanwhile was busy hitting three three-pointers in that same stretch. Here are the turnovers:

  • Due to Francis’ injury, Andrew Platek got his first career start and made the most of it. He scored eight points and had career highs in both rebounds (eight) and assists (six). If you were to nitpick, you could certainly question some of his shot decisions (early shot clock threes down the stretch and at the beginning of overtime), but all-in-all Platek played admirably.
  • Carolina had uncharacteristically not made 50% of their shots in any one single game so far this season. Today was game number 16, and after Brandon Robinson’s three-pointer with 5:25 remaining in regulation they were sitting at exactly 50% (25-for-50) shooting. From there, the Heels missed their final six shots in regulation and shot 3-for-10 in overtime.
  • Armando Bacot seems to have emerged from his rough patch. Against Pittsburgh and Clemson, he shot a combined 13-for-21 from the field and 10-for-14 from the free throw line for a total of 36 points.
  • Despite a slow offensive start (two points in the first 25 minutes), Garrison Brooks scored 13 to extend his double-digit scoring streak to seven straight games and his 11 rebounds extended his double-double streak to four straight games.
  • For the second time this season, Justin Pierce has scored zero points in back-to-back games. Curiously, these most two recent performances come immediately on the heels of back-to-back double-digit scoring outputs against Yale and Georgia Tech.
  • Similar to Garrison Brooks’ performance against Georgia Tech in a losing effort, Brandon Robinson was absolutely sensational this afternoon. He scored a career high 27 points, hit two clutch free throws to put Carolina up three with 12 seconds remaining in regulation, carried the Tar Heels offensively in the first half with 19 points.
  • One curiously glaring number is that Clemson managed to match Carolina on the glass, 39-39. Watching the game, it was clear that Clemson was getting a fair share of rebounds (more so than the Heels usually surrender), but it still felt that Carolina won the rebounding battle. The numbers told a different story.
  • As previously mentioned, Carolina shared the ball more capably today than in recent games. The assist total was 18 (on 28 made shots). Interestingly, the Heels assisted on the first four made baskets of the game, the first three of which all went to Andrew Platek.
  • Credit to the big guys for staying out of first half foul trouble. Carolina was playing with an already shortened bench (which was made even shorter with Francis out) and Armando Bacot picked up a quick foul and Garrison Brooks got his second midway through the first half. Both players were able to stay away from adding to these totals, which enabled Carolina to keep the Tigers at bay in the first half.
  • Hard to know what to say and where to go from here. It’s obvious that the injuries (to players in street clothes and those who are still playing) are severely limiting Carolina’s ability to win consistently. How do you salvage this type of season? Are there moral victories? As coaches, do you start getting younger guys as much experience as possible for next year? With Carolina losing these three very winnable games, does Cole Anthony elect to not suit back up? Keep in mind – these are 18-to-22 year old young men. Continue to cheer them on, continue to root for them, continue to encourage them. Their worth as humans is not (or at least should not be) tied to their ability to put an orange ball through a hoop at a higher rate than their opponents. Chin up, Tar Heel fans.

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 Pittsburgh on Saturday, January 18. Tip is at 12:00ET on one of the ESPN Networks (TBD).

Twitter: tarheelhoopblog
Twitter: isaacschade
Email: tarheelhoopsblog@gmail.com

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Pittsburgh

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 73-65 home loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

Condensed Game:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCNsDmhpBYI

Highlights:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PJ_jTFJJiQ

  • We are now 15 games into the season and Carolina has failed to shoot 50% from the field in a single game.
  • With the win, Pitt breaks a 22 game ACC road losing streak. This was also their first victory ever in Chapel Hill (0-7 before this game).
  • In a reversal from the Georgia Tech loss on Saturday, this game had a rather promising first half. Carolina was hustling, the offense looked more efficient, and the defense held Pitt to 32.1% shooting, including just 1-for-10 from deep.
  • With the game tied at 14, Carolina took control of the first half when Xavier Johnson picked up his second foul and went to the bench. Carolina immediately went on a 13-2 scoring run to take a 27-16 led and eventually lead by as many as 14 points, before finishing the half up nine. The lead could have been bigger, but some careless turnovers (harbingers of what was to come in the second half) prevented that from becoming a reality.
  • The second half was a completely different story. It’s hard to put your finger on just one issue as the main culprit, but carelessness with the basketball is what seemed to prime the pump of Pitt’s comeback. Jeremiah Francis and Leaky Black handled the majority of the point guard duties and combined for seven of the 17 turnovers, many of which were of the live ball variety. KJ Smith also had a turnover in his three-plus minutes on the court running the point.
  • As Pitt’s confidence grew in the second half, so did their three-point shooting. The team that had just shot 1-for-10 in the first half from three suddenly went 8-for-12 (70%). That’s a better percentage from the three-point line in the second half than Carolina shot from the free throw line. Freshman Justin Champagnie led the Panther charge from deep, burying four threes over the course of just four minutes of game action.
  • While Carolina’s defense was once again struggling in the second half (the last two opponents have shot 63% and 58%), the offense was also losing its way. With no Cole Anthony to confidently run the point guard position, the offense looks discombobulated at times. The ball moves east and west around the perimeter several times before someone has to hoist a desperation three.
  • There is no question that this team struggles offensively; the statistics and advanced metrics bear out that reality. Therefore, in order to be successful, defense will have to be the calling card of this crew. Thus far, that has not been the case. Never count out Coach Williams’ ability to get his team bought in.
  • Garrison Brooks followed up his monster game against Georgia Tech with his third straight double-double and sixth straight scoring in double-figures. His tally for this game was 21 points (9-for-12 shooting), 10 rebounds, and interestingly, hit his first career three-pointer in an end-of-shot-clock situation.
  • Armando Bacot had a nice bounce back game, scoring 15 points (6-for-11 shooting), grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing out four assists (although he did have four turnovers). Bacot looked more aggressive and engaged throughout the first half and the beginning part of the second.
  • The Brooks / Bacot combination carried the offensive load, scoring 36 of the team’s 65 points. This is great news for a Roy Williams-coached team. Unfortunately, there is not currently a dynamic point guard in uniform to balance the front court and back court.
  • Brandon Robinson has scored in double figures four games in a row; the longest such stretch of his career.
  • It’s clear that Coach Williams is doing anything he can to find a nuance to help his team or throw off the opponent. At the beginning of the game, Carolina was trapping every ball screen they could. The Heels secured a turnover on the first possession of the game, but didn’t have as much success afterwards.
  • In this injury-laden season, it was a nice change to get Andrew Platek back on the court. He hustled and was aggressive, apparently trying to fill the void left by Anthony Harris. Shortly after checking in for the first time, Platek had a steal and ensuing fast break lay-up. At this point, you need all the bodies you can get to field a competitive team.
  • To that end, while no one left the game, Carolina continues to have injury concerns. Brandon Robinson had medical attention more than once on the bench. Garrison Brooks took a hard fall and on another occasion landed on his elbow going for a loose ball. Jeremiah Francis appeared to be hobbling at one point and was examined by Doug Halverson on the bench.
  • Every starter committed a turnover, and four of the five had at least three.
  • Free throws continue to be an issue. Tonight the Heels shot 10-for-17 (58.8%).
  • A positive take-away: eight of the nine Tar Heels who played scored at least one point.
  • Christian Keeling’s minutes continue to dwindle. Tonight was the fewest minutes he has played all season (6:00).

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVbsyF6pwDE

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is a home game against Clemson on Saturday, January 11. Tip is at 4:30ET on Regional Sports Networks.

Twitter: tarheelhoopblog
Twitter: isaacschade
Email: tarheelhoopsblog@gmail.com

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Georgia Tech

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 96-83 home loss to Georgia Tech on Saturday evening.

Condensed Game:

Highlights:

  • Not sure why, but Carolina came out completely flat. Was it the hangover from Anthony Harris’ injury? Was the team feeling the pressure of Coach Williams passing Coach Smith in career victories? Tough to say, but the first half effort was not nearly enough to win an ACC basketball game.
  • You’ve likely heard by now, but just to make sure: add Anthony Harris to the growing list of 2019-20 Carolina casualties. Harris tore his right ACL last Monday against Yale. He participated in few enough games where he should be able to receive a medical redshirt and still have four years of eligibility ahead of him.
  • Unfortunately it’s precisely the energy Harris has brought over the course of the past several games that the Tar Heels would have benefitted from in the first half.
  • Before looking at all the messy numbers, let’s start by celebrating a few bright points. First off, Garrison Brooks. Brooks made big play after big play and was the heart and soul of the team. He had a monster offensive game, setting a new career high in scoring (35), which eclipsed his previous high by 15 points (20). Brooks made 17-of-18 free throws and brought in 11 rebounds. Here’s a look at Brooks’ game:
  • Brooks has now scored in double-digits five games in a row, the longest such stretch of his career (previous high was three in a row). On the season, Brooks has scored double-digits in 10 of Carolina’s 14 games. All due respect to Brooks, it could also be said that the fact that Garrison Brooks is the team’s leading scorer (by total points scored) is not what anyone expected coming into the season and an obvious sign of Carolina’s offensive struggles.
  • Brooks’ 17 made free throws are the most since Tyler Zeller made 20 on 2/29/12 against Maryland (the most ever by a Tar Heel in the Smith Center). Brooks also ties Tyler Hansbrough (2/10/08 vs. Clemson) for the second most free throws ever made by a Tar Heel in the Smith Center.
  • Largely on the back of Brooks’ free throw shooting, Carolina went 23-for-27 (85.2%) from the free throw line. The only game they shot better this season was against Oregon (20-for-21, 95.2%).
  • Georgia Tech applied full-court pressure from the outset. Carolina handled the pressure well and didn’t turn the ball over once against it.
  • Unfortunately, while handling the full-court pressure well, Carolina turned the ball over 15 times, including the first three possessions of the game. Christian Keeling was the main suspect (four turnovers), while Brandon Robinson and Jeremiah Francis each had three.
  • 50% field goal percentage watch: We are now 14 games into the season and Carolina has yet to shoot 50% from the field over the course of an entire game.
  • Today marked just the second time this season the Tar Heels have eclipsed 80 points. Unfortunately, they surrendered over 90 points in both of those games (Gonzaga – 94, Georgia Tech – 96).
  • Armando Bacot is in a shooting slump. Over the last five games, he is shooting 9-for-38 (23.7%) from the field.
  • Solid effort tonight from Justin Pierce. The past two games is his first time scoring double-digits in back-to-back games as a Tar Heel. He also had three assists and no turnovers.
  • Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Carolina took forever to score. The first points came at 16:04 on two Armando Bacot free throws. The first field goal came 13:10 minutes into the game. In that stretch, Carolina missed their first 15 field goals. If this feels like déjà vu, it is. The first points against Yale were also Bacot free throws and the Tar Heels missed their first seven shots.
  • Many of the missed shots were long-range two-pointers, the least efficient shot in basketball. Carolina continues to struggle to find the types of easy, in-the-rhythm-of-the-offense shots that they are accustomed to.
  • After the ice cold start, Carolina did hit seven of their last eight before halftime and four of the first five after halftime.
  • While the Tar Heels were struggling to score, Georgia Tech built leads of 8-0, 19-2, and 27-4.
  • Things got so dire in the first half, that Shea Rush, Brandon Huffman, and Robbie O’Han all saw the court in an effort to find something, anything that would work.
  • Three different Yellow Jackets picked up three first half fouls, and leading scorer Michael Devoe went on to get his fourth less than two minutes into the second half. Unfortunately, Carolina couldn’t capitalize and none of these players fouled out.
  • Down 20 at the half (the biggest deficit EVER in the Dean Dome), Carolina came out swinging and reeled off a 9-to-1 run. They eventually got the lead down to nine, and 10 or 11 on several other occasions, but could never make the next big play. Every time the Tar Heels threatened, they would take a bad shot, turn the ball over, or fail to corral the defensive rebound.
  • Additionally, while the offense probably did enough in the second half to pull out a victory, the defense was porous and mitigated all the hard work on the offensive end.

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 Pittsburgh on Wednesday, January 8. Tip is at 7:00ET on the ACC Network.

Twitter: tarheelhoopblog
Twitter: isaacschade
Email: tarheelhoopsblog@gmail.com

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Auburn (NCAA Tournament – Sweet 16)

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 97-80 season-ending loss to Auburn on Friday evening in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Highlights:

  • What a fun season it’s been. This team really took us on a ride; rounding into form by winning 17 out of 19 games prior to this loss. That streak lead to a shared ACC regular season championship. The only two losses in those 19 games were to fellow one seeds Duke and Virginia.
  • The abrupt and harsh ending that the NCAA Tournament delivers is always jarring. The unexpected loss will put a sour taste in the mouth of Tar Heel fans for some time. Seeing Kenny Williams on the sideline in tears after checking out for the final time is one of the most heartbreaking images you’ll ever see.
  • Who would have thought that the unheralded class of Kenny Williams and Luke Maye would wind up as one of the most accomplished classes in the history of North Carolina basketball? But that’s where we find ourselves. This is a credit to the coaching staff. It’s high time that the college basketball world begins to fully appreciate Roy Williams for the coach that he is.

  • While not as talented as the 2012 team, the external injury circumstances that led to that teams’ demise seem to have struck again this year at just the wrong time in the form of Nassir Little and Cam Johnson’s illness, Coby White’s tweaked ankle, and Kenny Williams’ hamstring.
  • At the same time, those are excuses and take away from Auburn’s three-point barrage in the second half. Fully healthy or not, Carolina simply didn’t have the defensive answers to slow down what the Tigers did after halftime.
  • Going back to the illnesses / injuries, it was clear that Little and Johnson were not themselves on Friday night. Little did not have his usual otherworldly explosion to the rim – he was blocked twice on dunks that would never have happened on a normal night. Johnson, will still tying for the team lead in scoring and having three steals, seemed a step behind all night. After tweaking his ankle five minutes before halftime, Coby White stayed in the game but didn’t possess his usual blow-by capabilities.

  • By hitting two three-pointers in his final game, Cam Johnson finished the season with 96, the second most in a single season in Carolina history. What a pick-up he was for Roy Williams’ club over the previous two years. With all due respect to Pittsburgh and their program, Johnson is a Tar Heel.
  • The Tar Heels finish the season with 312 made three-pointers as a team, the most in program history for a single season.
  • Unfortunately, the story on this night was Auburn’s three-point shooting. After Carolina did a reasonable job guarding deep shots in the first half, the Tigers exploded for 12 threes after halftime (on just 18 attempts).
  • Coming into the game, rebounding appeared to be a plus for the Tar Heels, while three-point shooting was a plus for the Tigers. Curiously, Auburn matched Carolina in rebounds in the first half (21) while Carolina matched Auburn in threes in the first half (five).
  • With many players struggling to make baskets, it was great to see Kenny Williams shoot well in his final collegiate game. The senior finished with 10 points, including hitting two threes. The Tar Heels will struggle to replace his defensive grit and determination next season.
  • Hard to believe but Luke Maye finishes his career with the 10th most rebounds in Carolina history (942). He also recorded 377 rebounds this season, the seventh most in a single season in the Tar Heel record book. Maye is the only player in program history to have two entries in the single-season top 10 rebounding list. Maye finishes his career tied with Kris Lang for 39th on the all-time Carolina scoring list with 1392 points.
  • After dominating their first two NCAA Tournament opponents on the glass, Carolina could not take advantage of a poor rebounding Auburn team, only holding a 40-36 advantage in that category.
  • What contrasting styles between the North Carolina / Auburn game and the Texas Tech / Michigan game from Thursday night. The Heels and Tigers had combined for 14 points just 1:45 into the game. The Red Raiders and Wolverines took 10:39 to achieve the same.
  • Other than back-to-back ill-advised shots around the 6:00 mark, when Carolina seemed poised to make a last push, Brandon Robinson had another solid showing. He finished with nine points, hit two threes, grabbed four rebounds, had three assists, and zero turnovers (against a team build to force them). Robinson’s continued development over the summer will be an important key to Carolina’s success in 2019-20.
  • Carolina didn’t play a great first half, but did enough to put themselves in position to take over in the second half (similar to the Iona game). However, a 14-0 run from Auburn that spanned the end of the first half and beginning of the second half gave the Tigers a lead they would never relinquish. The Heels never again got any closer than six.
  • The part of the game that you hate to see: Auburn’s Chuma Okeke suffered a non-contact injury to his left knee with 8:08 left in the game. Okeke’s knee buckled as he drove to the basket. While he eventually hobbled off the court under his own power, the injury had the appearance of an ACL issue. Best wishes to Okeke in his recovery.

Roy Williams, Kenny Williams, Luke Maye post-game press conference:

While there will sadly be no more Quick Hitters this season, stay tuned throughout the off-season for updates on recruiting decisions, potential transfers, NBA early entry decisions, roster composition for 2019-20, and more.

On a personal note, thanks so much for continuing to read my work. I love getting to write about North Carolina basketball and would do it just for myself, but it’s an honor to do it for others as well. I’m so thankful for everyone who reaches out to say how much they enjoy reading. Your kindness is overwhelming.

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Quick Hitters – UNC @ Pittsburgh

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 85-60 road win on Saturday over Pittsburgh.

Highlights:

  • This was the start the Tar Heels needed in conference play. During the 2016-17 season Carolina had a similar start to the ACC schedule: back-to-back road games with the first against one of the presumptive bottom dwellers in the conference. That year, Carolina went to Atlanta and lost to Georgia Tech by 12. The current iteration of the Tar Heels would not suffer the same fate, by securing a dominant victory in Pittsburgh.
  • This game was Cam Johnson’s first return game to Pitt (Carolina played the Panthers only at home last year). Not a single player remaining on Pitt’s roster was one of Johnson’s teammates. Lots of players in that position of returning home try too hard or get too amped up. Not Johnson, who had another great game. He, along with Coby White, paced Carolina’s scoring in the first half. Johnson also tallied a season-high nine rebounds, had four assists and zero turnovers. Here’s Johnson talking about his homecoming:
  • This game was tied at 12. Carolina then went on an extended 26-5 run (including a 16-0 spurt) to essentially put the game out of reach.
  • Last season, Johnson fell well short of his three-point shooting expectations (34.1 percent). This year he’s up nearly 15 percent (48.6 percent), hitting 35 of 72 shots thus far. Literally one more made three would have him at 50 percent from deep on the season.
  • Garrison Brooks did a better job managing his fouls than he has of late. He didn’t pick up a second foul until just before halftime. This self-control allowed him to play 28 minutes, up from a 19.5 season average. The extra court time afforded Brooks the opportunity to have arguably his most productive game of the season – nine points on 4-for-8 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers, two blocks and two steals. In fact, he was the leading assist man on the team.
  • Carolina has now committed just 11 turnovers in back-to-back games. While any number of turnovers is undesirable, 11 is a palatable number for Coach Williams and his up-tempo style of play.
  • The Heels racked up 24 assists on 32 made buckets (75 percent). At halftime, Carolina has 11 assists and Pitt had precisely zero.
  • For the third game in a row, Carolina held their opponent to 60 points or less and under 40 percent shooting. Pitt only scored 23 points and shot 20.7 percent in the first half. Here’s an example of that solid defense turning into an assist from White to Maye:

  • Carolina hauled in 51 rebounds (17 offensive), led by Luke Maye’s 11. However, they allowed 46 rebounds to Pittsburgh. So the rebounding total is where it needs to be, but the rebound margin is less than the advantage the Heels usually enjoy.

  • Coby White’s shot might be back. He led the team in scoring with 22. He and Johnson each hit three first-half three pointers en route to the team shooting 10-for-24 (41.7 percent) from deep. Pitt, on the other hand, only buried two three pointers. Here’s White discussing his first ever ACC game:
  • Kenny Williams had a rough, foul-plagued game. He picked up his third foul with just over 8:00 before halftime and his fourth less than two minutes into the second half. Williams shot 1-for-5 from the floor, including 0-for-3 from deep. You have to feel for the senior.
  • Carolina employed a zone in the first defensive possession after the under 12:00 media timeout of the first half. They played six total zone possessions in the first half as well as several more in the second.
  • An area Carolina needs to continue to grow: the Heels let Pitt get into the bonus with 14:22 left in the first half.
  • It seems like at least once a game Nassir Little comes up with some type of highlight. He had a monster block with around 12:00 left in the first half and had a huge dunk later in the game.

  • The three freshmen (Nassir Little, Coby White, Leaky Black) were on the court together quite a bit throughout the game. Roy Williams’ willingness to trust his three freshmen in a line-up together in their first ACC road game says a lot about his faith in them.
  • The Heels had really active hands against Pitt; particularly from Brandon Robinson who finished with three steals.
  • It seems like more often than not, Carolina has a lapse just before halftime. Not so today. The first half ended with a wonderfully executed fast break. Leaky Black grabbed a rebound and pitched ahead to Cam Johnson who passed to Coby White for a lay-up as the buzzer expired. Here’s the play:

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 NC State on Tuesday, January 8. Tip is at 9:00ET on ESPN.

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Quick Hitters – UNC vs. Harvard

Quick Hitters from North Carolina’s 77-57 home victory on Wednesday night over Harvard.

Highlights:

  • Tonight was the final tune-up for the Tar Heels before ACC play commences on Saturday at Pittsburgh. It was a sluggish win for Carolina, but a win all the same. At the same time, the ugly win will not do much to inspire confidence heading into conference play. The 2018-19 Tar Heels are very much still a work in progress.
  • For the 13thseason in a row, Carolina has amassed 10+ non-conference wins.
  • Sterling Manley was out tonight with left knee discomfort. There is no current timetable for his return.
  • The Tar Heels only had four first half turnovers and finished with 11. Curiously, Cam Johnson was responsible for five of those. Harvard finished with 22 turnovers.

  • Carolina only out-rebounded Harvard 38-34 and had just eight offensive rebounds.
  • Garrison Brooks had another strong start but picked up two fouls before the first media timeout. This is the third game in a row he’s had two fouls in the first five minutes. Particularly with a thin front line further thinned with Sterling Manley’s absence, Brooks has to find ways to stay on the court longer.

  • Admittedly it has been against back-to-back mid-major teams, but the defense is trending in the right direction. Purely based off of shooting numbers, Carolina has held their last two opponents (Davidson and Harvard) to 33.9 percent (41-for-121) on field goals. Anecdotally, the team appears to be playing with more urgency, activity and cohesion on defense. Of course, there is still room to grow on defense. Here is Kenny Williams talking about that need for growth:
  • This defense uptick is fortunate because the Heels are struggling in half court offense and need the defense to turn into fast-break offense. A great example of the defense turning into offense came just before the under 4:00 media timeout of the first half. Kenny Williams grabbed a steal and pitched ahead to Leaky Black who assisted Nassir Little on an explosive dunk.

  • Sluggish and sloppy start to second half. Harvard cut the lead down to as little as 5.
  • If something seemed different defensively in the second half, that’s because Carolina started switching all their screens instead of the usual hedging out.
  • 19-22 from the free throw line for the Heels. Those are numbers you’ll take any night.

  • 5 different players hit double-digit scoring, led by Luke Maye’s 14.
  • For the first time all season, Kenny Williams didn’t record an assist.

Roy Williams postgame press conference:

Remember to check in for Quick Hitters after every North Carolina basketball game. Next up is the ACC conference opener on the road against Pittsburgh on Saturday, January 5. Tip is at Noon ET on Raycom. Here’s former Pittsburgh Panther Cam Johnson talking about tonight’s game, but also the impending match-up in Pennsylvania:

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Quick Hitters – UNC @ Pittsburgh

Quick Hitters from Saturday afternoon’s 85-67 road win over Pittsburgh:

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Tony Bradley dunks during UNC’s 85-67 victory over Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: J.D. Lyon, Jr.
  1. This was a big time road win for UNC. It’s always tough to play against a team on their senior day. And don’t forget, the Tar Heels only beat Pitt by two AT HOME earlier in the season. More importantly, the win assured Carolina of at least a share of the regular season ACC title as well as a top two seed in the ACC Tournament. If Duke loses to Miami later today, the Heels will clinch the number one seed in the tournament.
  2. Pitt’s frontcourt rotation is thin, and Carolina was able to take advantage by drawing two early fouls on Sheldon Jeter. Jeter eventually fouled out in the second half.
  3. With Jeter on the bench for most of the game (only played seven minutes), the Heels were able to do what they do best: rebound everything. Carolina had 48 total rebounds, half of which were offensive. By comparison, Pittsburgh had 28 total rebounds. As has been the case several times this year, the Tar Heels had more offensive rebounds (24) than their opponent had defensive rebounds (19).
  4. Here’s a number for you: Carolina was 33-73 on field goals, meaning they missed 40. Of those 40, we’ve already noted that they rebounded 28. That means the Heels rebounded 60% of their misses.
  5. Pitt got out to a 17-11 lead. This savvy and veteran UNC squad isn’t fazed on the road. They went on a 13-2 run to make the score 24-19. Pitt came back and made it 30-28 with 2:39 to go. Then the Tar Heels went on a 10-0 run to end the half, turning a close game into a 12 point halftime lead.
  6. In the first half, UNC assisted on nearly every made field goal. The Heels had 12 assists on their first 12 made baskets. They had 13 assists on 14 made baskets. The lone outlier would have actually been an assist, but Kennedy Meeks missed a lay-up, got his own rebound, and scored.
  7. Carolina only turned the ball over eight times. The first turnover didn’t occur until thirteen minutes into the game.
  8. Though Isaiah Hicks finished with four fouls, he picked up his first with about six minutes to go in the first half.
  9. One big lapse early in the second half: North Carolina turned the ball over on three straight possessions. This allowed Pitt to cut the lead to eight. The margin never got any closer though, and the Heels eventually pulled a way.
  10. Isaiah Hicks is so close to the 1,000 career points mark. He scored eight today and needs three against Virginia on Monday to join Kennedy Meeks, Justin Jackson, and Joel Berry as the others to do so this year.
  11. Justin Jackson is very likely going to finish this year holding the UNC mark for most made three-pointers in a single season. He hit five today, giving him 83 for the year. The record is 95, set by Shammond Williams in 1996-97. This also means Jackson could also be the first Tar Heel to reach 100 made three pointers in one year.

Worst-Case Scenarios & My Irrational Fears

I have a problem. As the events of a given day unfold, I often play them out to their worst possible ending point in my head. Here’s an example: One day in college, I was playing ultimate frisbee with some friends on campus. About 20 yards beyond one of the end zones that we had marked out with hats and tennis shoes, standing several feet out of the ground like a beacon of impending doom, was an old yellow fire hydrant. The terrible scene that played out vividly in my head? I saw myself streaking downfield to make a diving catch that Odell Beckham, Jr. would have been envious of. The problem was that as I came back down to earth, I impaled my face on the fire hydrant, shattering every bone on the front side of my skull. Gruesome, huh?

On another occasion, I was hiking up a mountain with some friends at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas. We came to a rocky overlook with beautiful surrounding scenery and asked some other hikers to take our picture near the edge. You can already guess where this is headed. The awful scenario that played out in my head this time? As we waited for the picture to be taken, a strong gust of wind pushed me over the edge where I hurtled to my death on the sharp rocks below.

This is my curse. The struggle is real.

Truth be told, I’m actually an optimistic, glass-half-full type of person. I look for the best in people and believe, perhaps naively, that the world is a good place.

My worst-case scenario, doomsday problem also plays itself out in the world of sports. Rather than being disappointed when my favorite college basketball team loses a national championship game on a buzzer-beating three-pointer (oh wait, that happened) or my favorite football team chokes a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl (oh wait, that happened too), I assume the worst – that the North Carolina Tar Heels will lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament or that the Atlanta Falcons won’t even make the playoffs.

With that said, we are coming down the stretch of the college basketball regular season. After every game, I like to play my “worst-case scenario” game with regard to where the Tar Heels could possibly end up in the ACC standings. Earlier this season, when they mathematically could not be passed by last place Boston College, I excitedly told myself, “Even if the Heels lose every game the rest of the season, the worst they can finish is 14th!”

After Carolina’s big win over Louisville on Wednesday night (and Syracuse’s upset of Duke a few hours earlier), I decided to investigate what the Tar Heels’ two game conference lead had earned them in terms of their worst possible seeding for the ACC Tournament.

I decided to investigate what the Tar Heels’ two game conference lead had earned them in terms of their worst possible seeding for the ACC Tournament.

First, some context: The main goal is obviously to win out, get the number one seed, and capture a convincing regular season conference championship. However, if the one seed can’t be had, teams want to achieve at least a top four seed. Doing so earns a double-bye to Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

Here is what my research uncovered: Every ACC team (except Syracuse, Wake Forest, and NC State) has three remaining games. The Tar Heels’ three games are at Pittsburgh, at Virginia, and home against Duke. For this worst-case scenario analysis, the assumption is that UNC loses all three games. Currently sitting at 12-3 in the conference, the worst North Carolina could finish is 12-6. This means that five other teams could potentially finish ahead of or tied with UNC. So we’ve solved it! That was simple. The worst UNC could finish in the ACC is 6th. Not too bad.

But wait, a closer look at the schedules reveals a different truth.

The five teams within striking distance of the Tar Heels are Louisville, Duke, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Miami. The current tiebreaker scenarios concerning Carolina and those teams (ACC tiebreakers are first based on head-to-head matchups, which solves each of these):

  • North Carolina holds tiebreaker over Louisville, Florida State, and Notre Dame.
  • Miami holds tiebreaker over the Heels.
  • In this scenario, Duke beats Carolina on March 4 and therefore holds the tiebreaker over the Heels.

Below is the remaining schedule and current conference record for those five teams (and North Carolina):

North Carolina (12-3)

  • @ Pittsburgh
  • @ Virginia
  • Duke

Louisville (10-5)

  • Syracuse
  • @ Wake Forest
  • Notre Dame

Duke (10-5)

  • @ Miami
  • Florida State
  • @ North Carolina

Florida State (10-5)

  • @ Clemson
  • @ Duke
  • Miami

Notre Dame (10-5)

  • Georgia Tech
  • Boston College
  • @ Louisville

Miami (9-6)

  • Duke
  • @ Virginia Tech
  • @ Florida State

You might notice that Louisville and Notre Dame still have to play each other, meaning at least one of these teams has to finish with six losses and Carolina holds the tiebreaker over both. Therefore, the worst UNC could finish in the ACC is 5th! Solved!

Nope. Not quite yet. Let’s keep digging.

All three of Duke’s remaining games are against teams from this group – Miami, FSU, and UNC. Here is what happens depending on how Duke’s games play out (again, these scenarios assume UNC loses all three of their remaining games):

  • Duke beats Miami and FSU – Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker), and Duke has 5 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU – Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 5 losses, Duke has 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC). The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind FSU, Duke, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU – Miami has at least 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC), FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker), and Duke has 6 losses (holds the tiebreaker over UNC). The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind, Miami, Duke, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.

To add one final wrinkle, Florida State and Miami also still play each other. Building on the Duke scenarios we just established:

  • Duke beats Miami and FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 5 losses, Miami has at least 8 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame
  • Duke beats Miami and FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 5 losses, Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 7 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 8 losses, FSU has at least 5 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind Duke, FSU, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke beats Miami and loses to FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU; FSU beats Miami – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 7 losses, FSU has at least 6 losses (UNC holds the tiebreaker). The worst UNC could finish is 3rd, behind Duke and either Louisville or Notre Dame.
  • Duke loses to Miami and beats FSU; Miami beats FSU – Duke has 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), Miami has at least 6 losses (holds tiebreaker over UNC), FSU has at least 7 losses. The worst UNC could finish is 4th, behind Duke, Miami, and either Louisville or Notre Dame.

So what does all this mumbo-jumbo mean? What’s the bottom line? Here it is:

UNC has already locked up a top-4 seed and an all-important double-bye in the ACC Tournament.

What a relief. The worst-case scenario is that North Carolina finishes fourth. And there are only two scenarios in which that becomes a reality. This is great news, but the work isn’t done. The Tar Heels are not going to sit idly by and take three losses.

If Carolina can win at least one of the three remaining games, they lock up at least a share of the ACC Regular Season Championship and at least the two seed in the ACC Tournament. Should the Tar Heels win at least two of their three remaining games, they will clinch the outright ACC Regular Season Championship and the one seed in the ACC Tournament. Also, don’t forget that the other five teams involved in these scenarios have other games they could possibly lose, which would help Carolina’s cause.

I can rest in peace knowing that, for once, the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad.