Silly season – great game

UNC 80-69 over NC State

Silly season is always open on social media. Sports rivalries only add content. That’s what you would expect if you picked up a Twitter feed or fan sites sharing thoughts about Saturday’s game between North Carolina and NC State. Leaky Black committed a foul on Terquavion Smith in the second half of the game that officials thought necessitated him being disqualified. Video shows Smith jumping and extending above Black’s attempted block and (natural) downward movement causes Black’s hand to hit Smith in the face. I do not believe there was any intent to harm Smith. Black has never been that type of player. This is a long-standing rivalry between local schools that has almost always been a tough, physical game, even when the scores were not close. But the games between these two teams are not usually dirty, and that was not the case this time. Hubert Davis and Kevin Keats are both passionate about their teams and seem to care about their players. I have never witnessed either employing dirty play or allowing players on the court that intentionally harm an opponent. Both teams play tough, but they play the right way.

UNC won this one their way. Coming into the game, the Tar Heels lead the conference in getting to the free throw line and the Wolfpack put the opposing team on the line a lot. This did not change on Saturday. NC State made more field goals than UNC, but fouls put UNC in the bonus early in each half and the Tar Heels took advantage, making 36 of 39 from the line.

Overall, North Carolina finally played defense for a full game. RJ Davis and Black lead the way, but this was a very good team effort. NC State constantly hounded the UNC on defense, but simply committed too many fouls. Armando Bacot and Davis lead the offense for UNC. Bacot also passed Tyler Hansborough to become the all-time leading rebounder at for the Tar Heels. D.J. Burns was impressive for NC State with 18 points on 8-14 shooting. Jarkel Joiner also added 18 points for the Wolfpack.

Overall, this game was not pretty, but the intensity and crowd participation exceeded expectations for meetings between these local rivals.


Leaning on bench strength

UNC improving rotation

A few weeks back I said D’Marco Dunn was North Carolina’s 2nd best defensive player and messaged that I liked the way he was playing. Response: “Hmm…”

Bubble talk.

Since that time, Dunn has missed six games due to injury and returned to contribute over 17 minutes a game, shoot 61 percent from the field, 45 percent from three-point range and is perfect from the free throw line! He has also grabbed 8 rebounds and four steals since returning, while only committing three turnovers and showing his strength on defense. Dunn has clearly taken advantage of his time on the floor and is proving to be a valuable contributor for the Tar Heels.

Injuries force changes

Injuries to starters Pete Nance and Armando Bacot have forced Hubert Davis out of his seemingly too short substitution pattern and opened the floor to more playing time for players like Dontrez Styles. Up to the Louisville game, Styles had gotten less playing time than expected this year. Styles waited patiently for an opportunity to contribute. He did not disappoint on Saturday. Puff Johnson has also seen increased playing time and produced. Jalen Washington has been on the floor more recently and shown promise. While Seth Trimble, Justin McKoy, and Tyler Nickel have seen fairly regular playing time, each has limitations that have been a concern. Trimble and McKoy contribute nicely on defense but have shown limited abilities in providing consistent offense. Nickel has a reputation of being able to score, but struggles on defense, and has not scored enough consistently to offset his lack of defensive presence. Dunn, Styles, Johnson, and Washington have more range in their games to be able to hold up on both ends of the floor.

Every game offers different obstacles. The bottom line, as with any team, is UNC needs players with different strengths to win consistently against the multiple styles of play that they face each game. Players have to adjust within games, make plays and pay attention to how the game is being called. Coaches, including Davis and his assistants, have to do more than speak of the talents and abilities of players that are receiving limited playing time. They have to actually give those players real opportunities to deliver on the floor! Simply trust their own words. Substitution patterns and rotations naturally evolve throughout the season and more often, necessarily, within games. Confidently leaning more on the strengths of the bench will help this team perform more consistently like the team most expected when the season started.