Can North Carolina rebound from early-season woes here in December?
One month into the college basketball season, the North Carolina Tar Heels have fallen from being the nation’s top-ranked team to not being ranked at all. After making a run to the national championship game last March and returning 90 percent of their production, the hype for this team was through the roof all off-season. Although the polls had North Carolina number one, Kenpom and Bart Torvik both had them outside the top 15. Personally, I thought North Carolina was overrated and should be ranked somewhere in the mid 20’s.
As the season progressed, I’m sure everyone has seen why I felt the way I did in the off-season up to this point. North Carolina started off 5-0 but did not look as dominant as the point spread or pre-season rankings indicated, Of those five games, only one team was inside the top 85 while the other four were outside the top 100. When stepping up in competition in the past two weeks, the Tar Heels have lost four in a row to top 50 rated teams.
What is the real identity of this North Carolina team and is this four-game stretch a trend or an aberration?
To answer the aforementioned question, I think North Carolina is somewhere in the middle of what they were during the beginning of the season to where they are now. This is a long season, so losses are going to come but I think North Carolina fans (myself included) are disappointed in the effort. For a team with so much returning production, they seem to be a bit out of sorts when it comes to continuity. Add that to the coaching (or lack thereof), lack of depth, and atrocious perimeter defense and you get exactly what we have seen in the past few weeks during this four-game losing streak.
Hubert Davis as a coach is just not good, and this is me being kind. He lacks key attributes that all good coaches have at this level. One of those is the ability to adjust and adapt from opponent to opponent. When you watch North Carolina basketball in 2022, who knows what you are going to get from night to night, I think that is a direct reflection of coaching. Another attribute that Hubert lacks is his rotations within the flow of the game. This team relies solely on its starting five which has been ineffective and inefficient all season.
Right now, North Carolina ranks 359th in bench rank per Kenpom. It is really hard to win against the tougher competition when you are only playing your starters and maybe one other player (Puff Johnson). At times during the season, I thought some of the bench players had their moments but were not given enough of an opportunity. It’s not like North Carolina’s starters are setting the world on fire because they’re not. So why is it that Hubert does not switch things up and allow some of these younger guys to help out the starters? Much like you, I do not have the answer to this question either.
Offensively, North Carolina fans are used to their team getting up and down the floor, playing efficient unselfish basketball. This team is the complete opposite. Caleb Love and RJ Davis are playing some of the worst basketball I have seen from them in their three seasons on campus. Combined they are shooting 27 for 103 from beyond the arc which comes out to 26 percent. I am not a math major by any stretch but I do know that is nowhere near good. As a team, North Carolina ranks 306th in three-point percentage, and if it was not for Pete Nance being able to actually make a three, it would likely be a lot lower.
Pre-season All-American and ACC player of the year Armando Bacot has not lived up to those accolades. He has been a bit banged up, but overall it has not been what most North Carolina fans expected. The pace has been slowed down due to the offense supposedly being run through Bacot but that is a huge mistake. He is not an offensive player that can handle the workload of being the go-to scorer and carrying the team offensively. Bacot is best served when he is running the floor and dominating the offensive glass. Would love to see more of that rather than sets being run for him in the halfcourt.
We have heard the cliché many times, “It is a make-or-miss league” and while that may be true, the shots that North Carolina takes are hard to defend from a fan perspective. There is no ball movement or cutting in the halfcourt which results in a terrible step-back three from Caleb Love or a low percentage-long two from RJ Davis. North Carolina ranks 311th in assists per game and 209th in assists-to-turnover ratio, which further proves my point that right now this is a selfish team where both guards are failing to get others involved and take horrible shots habitually.
Defensively, there is no excuse for what North Carolina has displayed. They are 282nd in points per game allowed, 237th in three-point percentage allowed, and 203rd in defensive rating. All of these are unacceptable for a group that has more than enough capable defenders. There is no coaching for effort and what has been displayed by North Carolina defensively is by far one of the more disgusting performances I have seen in a long time. With six of the next eight games being against top 80 opponents, it will not get easier from a defensive standpoint.
Both sides of the ball must be improved dramatically with conference play getting ready to be in full swing. With almost a week off until their next game, one would hope to see some changes when Georgia Tech comes to town. It is not something that can be fixed all at once, but Hubert and this staff definitely have their hands full. Playing better defensively will lead to easy transition points, so I think that should be the focal point going forward. I think I speak for all North Carolina fans when I say that they better get it together before March.
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