Well, hard to say anyone saw that coming! UNC got a quality win on the road against a team that was ranked at one point this season (I’m really stretching the upside there, but just go with it) and did it with the type of team performance that fans have been waiting for since, oh, the College of Charleston game. For once Carolina found a way to make the sum of their parts look like a cohesive whole, as the emphasis seemed to be on defense, rebounding, and giving the young kids some touches, with some nice results.
Once upon a time, Roy Williams said this year’s team had a chance to be very good on defense, and they have finally started to deliver on that promise towards the end of this season. Carolina sagged off of Wake’s perimiter players, denying post entry passes and letting a not-so-good 3pt-shooting team jack up 26 shots from behind the arc, and repeatedly denying Al-Farouq Aminu the number of touches he really needs to help the Wake offense perform the way it should - when he got the ball isolated with a single defender, Aminu showed why he’s a top-10 pick waiting to happen but that type of scenario rarely occurred. Whether it’s out of necessity or a change in strategy, Roy also gets credit for inserting Henson at power forward instead of the small forward position he’s been playing all year, and it paid off. Henson’s 5 blocks all came early in the game, and he should also get credit for the number of shots he also altered and the way he changed the mindset of the Deacon guards. Ish Smith consistently settled for bad jumpers instead of aggresively taking it to the basket, and he ended up with a 5-of-21 shooting night as a result. Marcus Ginyard did a great job finally playing the Jackie Manuel role, tallying 13 rebounds and taking 8 shots - perhaps shoot even less next time?
Carolina’s offense still sputtered a bit, but they got great performances from the youth, which is encouraging both for the remainder of this season and the next one. Leslie McDonald was a nice spark off the bench with 16 points in 23 minutes, Larry Drew had just 3 turnovers (none in the first half) to go with 8 assists, and John Henson was just a force on the boards with 12 rebounds (5 offensive) in just 21 minutes - according to HeelsGeek, Henson grabbed a UNC miss 20% of the time he was on the floor. I know Ginyard finished with more but Henson’s felt more important, if that makes sense. I’m going to try to start a movement to give Henson the nickname “Reloaded” because watching feels like the second coming of Shawn Marion, although appropriately not nearly as good. Yet.
What I liked best about watching this game is that, on the surface anyway, it looked like Roy has finally put emphasis on compartmentalizing his team, and everybody played their role correctly on Saturday. Ginyard was a stopper and rebounder. Henson focused on defense first and got his points running the floor and on the glass. Drew found a way to not hurting his team with dumb mistakes (and would have had a great stat line had he not gone an abysmal 4-12 from the line). Leslie McDonald was the scoring and energy spark off the bench. Travis Wear only shot the baseline jumpers Wake’s defnse gave him. Will Graves, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller were moderately efficient on both ends of the floor but didn’t take anything off the table.
We’ve been burned enough this year to know not to get our hopes up until this team proves they can win two games in a row, but this was a more encouraging performance than even the wins against State were - it shows this team is growing up a little. Whether that manifests itself in wins this year or the next remains to be seen.