North Carolina steamrolled their way through East Tennessee State last night to the tune of 78-55. A lot of good things happened during the game, especially in the first half, that proved to me that the Tar Heels can really contend for the ACC. Carolina was tenacious on defense, shot extremely well from three, and got out in transition.
It really seems like the Heels are phasing into more of a shooting team that looks to their wing players first. Carolina attempted 31 three point shots and were able to cash in on 11 of them. PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald, and Reggie Bullock were the usual suspects when it came to making the outside shots for North Carolina, but freshman Marcus Paige and an unlikely contributor in Dexter Strickland also helped cash in from three. If the Tar Heels can continue to mature and get comfortable shooting a high volume of “low percentage” shots from three point land knowing that they’ll make a good portion of them, I feel like the Heels will be a tough out.
Carolina has always been a low post oriented ball club, but one thing I have always noticed is that if the Tar Heels could make their threes, then they were going to win ball games. It helps when players step up that usually aren’t looked at to make those shots, but the more weapons you have out there, the more space it opens up for other players. I just see so many more levels to this team than I have in other young Tar Heel teams in the past and it’s exciting.
Like many of Carolina’s games, we saw glimpses of how good that this team could be. The defense really pressured an under staffed Buccaneers roster right at mid court and upped the tempo. The result led to a plether of steals and a ton of transition points. While I was pleased that the offense was clicking from behind the arc, I found it very interesting that James Michael McAdoo didn’t get a ton of looks down low. JMM finished with nine points in an overall solid outing, but I thought Brice Johnson was way more of a scoring force not just because of his point totals, but because of his overall presence down low.
Perhaps the Bucs focused all of their energy on stopping JMM and took their chances on the Heels making a good amount of threes. Unfortunately for ETSU, it takes a little more than that to beat Carolina. With Brice Johnson continuing to thrive down low offensively, teams are going to have a hard time concentrating their defensive efforts on just one guy down the road and that will only help with Roy Williams and his overall game plan. JMM will be needed tremendously during ACC play if Carolina plans to contend so as long as guys can produce around him, then that will only play into his favor.
Even when the Heels missed outside shots, someone was there to get the offensive board. North Carolina had 12 offensive rebounds out of forty total in what was a pretty collective effort. If Carolina can continue to rip down boards and beat their opponents in that category, the Heels should do how we all expect them to do throughout the season.
I feel like the Tar Heels took advantage of improving facets of their game in a match up they knew they should win. It’s important to use the games you are favored in like games against ETSU so that you are ready for the tougher matchups. If Carolina continues to progress and step outside of the norm, these next several games will be very exciting.