UNC was bounced early from the ACC tournament by lower-ranked Pittsburgh. It was a consistent beating until about four minutes left in the game when UNC apparently woke up. However it was too little, too late at that point. Now, UNC loses momentum for the NCAA Tournament with two consecutive losses (Pitt and Duke) weighing on their psyche. It’s important to take this loss as a learning opportunity and bounce back the way Tar Heel nation knows we can. Here are five things learned from UNC’s early ACC tournament exit.
Sure, we fought back, but no, we didn’t pull out a miracle. UNC flat out did not deserve to win that game. Pitt dominated from the opening tip. They jumped ahead 25-8 and sustained that play to give them a 61-41 lead with 7:22 to go. Chapel Hill put itself in way too deep and way too slippery of a hole to climb out of.
It’s important to realize that of course the Tar Heels should play to their strengths. However, very, very few college basketball teams can dig themselves out of that situation and UNC needs to focus on consistency. Not just showing up in the second half and waiting for the other team to lie down and die.
2) When UNC gets outrebounded, it’s time to start biting your nails
Chapel Hill gave up 21 rebounds and 19 points to Talib Zanna. The Pitt forward was a one man wrecking crew on the glass and just flat out looked like he wanted the ball more than anyone else on the court. Pittsburgh as a whole outrebounded the Tar Heels in both offensive and defensive rebounds.
Rebounds are one of the most underappreciated aspects of a basketball game. They are almost always the difference makers. They represent momentum swings and exhibit who wants the ball more. There are few things more debilitating than playing great defense for the entire possession and letting the opposition get a fresh shot clock because they got the rebound. It’s a back breaker.
Oh, and coming into the game, UNC was ninth in the nation in rebounds per game. Pittsburgh was 98th. That’s not going to get the job done.
3) We rely way too much on Marcus Paige.
He’s a monster. He wants the ball at the end of the game for either a hand-in-his-face-three or a drive-and-get-knocked-down-layup. However, UNC’s other guys need to step up. Marcus Paige had 27 points against Pitt. That’s over a third of Chapel Hill’s offense. From the point guard.
James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson threw in 15 and 16, respectably. Another nine came from (another) point guard Nate Britt. After that? Well, it’s ugly. JP Tokoto had five. Kennedy Meeks had one. Joel James had one. Jackson Simmons had one. Isaiah Hicks had one. That’s four players tied for fifth-best in points with one point apiece.
4) Where was Leslie McDonald?
The headline for McDonald reads as follows: 16 minutes, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls, and 0 points. He’s got to be UNC’s slashing guard that makes things happen and causes the defense to collapse. If he doesn’t do his job, as was the case against Pitt, UNC is stuck passing the ball back and forth on the perimeter for a contested, rushed three at the end of the shot clock.
And, as the old saying goes, “live by the three, die by the three.” Nobody hit a single one but Marcus Paige. He hit 4 threes…in 12 attempts. Needless to say, UNC did not walk away with a victory.
5) Someone Please Work With Joel James on Offense
The man is built like Karl Malone but has the offensive capabilities of Dennis Rodman. He could be such a defensive force for UNC if he wasn’t such a liability on the offensive end. Roy Williams sent the big guy in and he did well to shut down Pittsburgh’s Talib Zanna. The rebounding suddenly went in UNC’s favor. That was until Joel James got the ball on offense in the post and proceeded to launch a shot in twenty feet in the air and then quickly foul.
He could be such a monster for Chapel Hill if he just had some better footwork. A lot of times, he doesn’t know he’s under the basket until it’s too late. A player with James’ size could have been the difference maker in a rebounding contest like this.