Black Friday was a nightmare for UNC fans, and it unfortunately wasn’t because their favorite discounted items were sold out. Instead, the football team lost to NC State in double overtime, and the basketball team lost to Iowa State in the final three minutes. When it comes to pride, the loss against NC State in football was the most frustrating. However, when it comes to living up to expectations, Carolina basketball may have been the most upsetting for those that expected them to go undefeated in the non-conference portion of the season.
However, here’s the thing: this team was going to lose a couple of games before ACC play. The reality of college basketball is that winning out the non-conference part of your schedule is very, very difficult if you are actually scheduling properly. Does that make it an easier pill to swallow that the Heels lost to Iowa State? Of course not, but riddle me this: what Final Four/national championship team didn’t lose some head-scratching games? The amount for the Heels is a very, very small number.
With that said, let’s discuss the three things that we learned from the Heels’ frustrating loss in Portland.
Caleb grilled Love
Caleb Love had a really bad day yesterday, but it wasn’t for any reason that we normally talk about. Yes, one could point to him going 4-14 from the field and argue that the source of his issues lie there, but what really bit the entire team in the butt was Caleb Grill. The senior Cyclone, who by the way was averaging 16.7% from the three-point line prior to yesterday’s game, scorched Love 31 points, 21 of which came from deep. His 63% shooting percentage from the three-point line was reminiscent of a number of nonsensical performances from Carolina’s past — players that typically couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save their lives. At one point Grill even hit a Steph Curry-type three over Love just for fun. Needless to say, it was extremely frustrating for Hubert Davis’ junior guard.
It is too soon to be concerned by what happened, especially since Love has actually been pretty good on defense from an aggressiveness perspective. For now I think what happened is pretty simple: Caleb Grill was just the next guy that wanted to show out against UNC, and it’s very likely that he won’t repeat that kind of a performance for the rest of the season. One does have to wonder why Hubert Davis didn’t put Leaky Black on Grill, but also: would it have mattered? Perhaps, but we will never know.
Points off turnovers doomed this game
Iowa State plays a really aggressive style of defense, and because of it the Heels were able to make them foul quite a bit. The Cyclones racked up 23 fouls, which led to UNC attempting 25 free throws for the game. It seemed like that would be enough to help keep the Heels ahead of them, but unfortunately there was a big problem: points off turnovers.
UNC only turned the ball over four more times than Iowa State, but things were really lopsided in the points off turnovers department. The Cyclones were able to score 21 points from picking UNC’s pockets, compared to the Heels only being able to score six. We knew going into this game that this is what Iowa State does, but the fact still remains that it is really hard to win when you give. up that many points thanks to your own mistakes. Of course the most back-breaking turnovers came in the final minutes of the game, and they ultimately gave Iowa State the win. If the Heels want to leave Portland with a winning record in the tournament, they must do a better job of taking care of the basketball.
This team is still really unpredictable
Before each game this season, I always tell myself that this will be the first complete game of the season. What has been frustrating, however, is that every game has had a different pain point preventing complete games from happening. When Caleb Love and Armando Bacot are great, RJ Davis and Pete Nance aren’t playing well. When Pete Nance and Leaky Black are on fire, the bench comes in and does more harm than good. So, what happened this time? Surprisingly, every starter played a role in this loss.
For all of the criticism that we have given UNC’s bench for not performing well once they go into the game, they actually were the literal positives of the game. For those who put any stock in +/- stats, all three players that came off of the bench were in the positive, while every starter was in the negative. D’Marco Dunn had the highest +/- on the team with 6, while RJ Davis had the worst with -11.
While there is no reason to think the starters will repeat this anytime soon, I do think this is a solid step forward for the bench. They finished the game with 12 points total, which is one of their best collective performances of the season. If they are able to continue to build on their performance, this team should become more and more dangerous as the season progresses.