Another win in ACC play, and while it’s great to see that this team is steering its course well away from the league play abomination that was last season, it’s still a UNC team that seems to defy both description and logic. They’re not really exciting, or smooth, or emotive. These Tar Heels are pretty boring to behold, but juuuust efficient enough to get the job done - now we know what watching Big Ten basketball must be like.
Seriously though, the logic part of this has to be expanded on: uptempo? Not anymore! All 5 UNC losses have come in games with 72 possessions or more, while in games like the one against the Canes (61 posessions, their slowest of the year), Carolina is 4-0. Trouble guarding the perimeter? Bombs away! UNC is now 4-0 when the opposing team hits 10 or more 3-pointers. A program that historically shares the ball well? We’re working on it! Against Miami, UNC had an assist-to-turnover ratio greater than 1 for the first time in ACC play (1.36). (All stats taken from Tar Heel Fan’s “Beyond the Box” blog post, which has become a must-read after every game).
This is, rather unexpectedly, a difficult Carolina team to root for. They win, but they don’t really have an identifying characteristic or team leader that fans can identify with or latch on to. Or maybe, to put it better, they haven’t found that YET.
Which is exactly why the end of the Miami game was a catharsis of sorts for the UNC faithful. Even if it proves untrue in the coming weeks, for a short while the general consensus on Twitter, message boards, and media outlets is “Harrison Barnes had his great confidence-boosting moment, and this is going to be the point at which his career at UNC finally takes off into the stratosphere of superstardom that everyone knows he is fully capable of.” Yeah, most people’s analysis isn’t exactly that convoluted or rambling, but you get the general idea - despite the fact that he only went 4-11 from the field and didn’t score in double digits until there was 2 minutes left, everyone is already pouncing on this as the “Harrison Barnes game” of sorts. And I’m really hoping that he not only starts to put together more complete performances (it really is baffling he hasn’t scored over 20 in a game yet), but continues his late-game heroics, because as evidenced from the headline I chose, I’m really hoping Big Shot Barnes takes over as the new nickname from The Black Falcon.
Now, aside from Harrison’s coronation, other credit must be given where it’s due: the Heels hit their free throws (85% from the line), got a balanced amount of scoring (6 players scoring between 8-13 points, and no player scoring less than 4), and great contributions from Dexter Strickland (12 points in the first half) and Larry Drew (5 assists and ZERO turnovers in his second fantastic performance off the bench). The interior defense wasn’t at its best (Reggie Johnson grabbed 8 offensive boards, and Henson and Zeller both seem like they fall for the head fake… every… time). But I think overall, UNC deserves a lot of credit for going on the road in the ACC, going down 14 points early, fighting back to get it even by halftime, and then having a freshman hit a pair of cojones-growing shots down the stretch to win them the game. They still aren’t exactly playing beautiful basketball, but more and more they’re at least growing into a team we can all enjoy rooting for.