UNC Basketball: Takeaways from the Wisconsin Game (and the Season)


Unfortunately, the UNC basketball season has come to an end.  The Heels had a good run, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, but came up short against Wisconsin. Carolina led for most of the game, but let it slip away in the final moments, a common theme over the last few weeks.  The Heels just weren’t able to stop Wisconsin on the defensive end, and just didn’t make enough free throws down the stretch.

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  • Now that I (and Carolina fans everywhere) have had a little time to get over the grief of the loss, we can look back at the game and begin to think about next year.  What can the Heels learn from this game that will help them next year?

    1.  Free Throws

    Last night, Carolina went 12 of 18 from the line.  Carolina has struggled from the charity stripe all year long, shooting 70.1 percent for the line (134th in the nation).  This inability to make a free-throw hurt Carolina late, as Isaiah Hicks missed two free throws with under a minute left, ending any hope of a Carolina comeback.  Wisconsin, on the other hand, was 20-23 from the line.  Down the stretch, the Badgers didn’t miss any free throws, and Carolina wasn’t able to come back.  This ability to make free throws is the difference between a good team and a national-title contender.

    This offseason, Carolina must work on their free-throws.  I know that nothing can replicate the pressure of free throws late in the game with the season on the line.  But there is no reason a team as talented as Carolina should struggle as much as they have with free throws.  Hicks, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson most need to improve their free throw shooting.

    2. Hustle

    Mar 26, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers forward Nigel Hayes (10) plays for the ball against North Carolina Tar Heels forward Brice Johnson (11) during the second half in the semifinals of the west regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    Carolina was great on the glass for most of the season, finishing as one of the top teams in the country in offensive rebounds and rebounding margin.  But Carolina wasn’t nearly as good last night, finishing with 28 rebounds to Wisconsin’s 35.  Now, I know that Wisconsin has some very big players, notably Frank Kaminsky.  But Carolina also has some big guys, and a lot of rebounding is about hustle and wanting the ball more than the other team.  At times last night, Carolina didn’t see to want the ball as much as Wisconsin did.  If Carolina had gotten just a few more rebounds, the game could have been different.  For instance, if Tokoto had been able to come down with Hicks’ late missed free-throw, Carolina would have had another chance to narrow the lead and stay in the game.  But rather than come down with the ball, Tokoto tapped it out, and Wisconsin beat the Heels to the ball.  If Carolina is going to win big games like this in the next few years, they will need to bring more energy and hustle.

    3. Fouls

    I don’t know how many times this year Carolina made a dumb foul.  There were a lot of them.  It always seemed like Brice Johnson or Kennedy Meeks was in foul trouble, and some dumb fouls contributed to the loss at Duke and almost led to a loss against Harvard in the first round.

    The trend of unnecessary fouls continued last night.  The Heels out-fouled Wisconsin, and gave the Badgers 23 free-throw attempts, which were nearly automatic.  The most egregious foul came with less than a minute left in the game, when Isaiah Hicks stuck out a hip and fouled Wisconsin’s best free throw shooter Bronson  Koenig, who was about 25 feet away from the basket.  Koenig converted both free throws, extending Wisonconsin’s lead and making it nearly impossible for Carolina to stage a comeback.  Wisconsin may have scored on this possession anyway, but this foul was completely unnecessary and gave the Badgers two free points, which the Heels could not afford.

    Mar 26, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) shoots against Wisconsin Badgers forward Sam Dekker (15) during the second half in the semifinals of the west regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

    Carolina did not play terribly last night, and definitely could have won.  But a few costly mistakes cost the Heels the game and a chance to advance to the Elite Eight.  Wait until next year, though.  The Heels aren’t losing much talent (except for maybe Marcus Paige) and got some good experience in the tournament this year.  No, they won’t go 40 and 0 like Kentucky probably will this year, but they will be a very team that I wouldn’t want to face in the tournament.