UNC Basketball: Caleb Love showing improvement

CHAPEL HILL, NC - DECEMBER 12: Caleb Love #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels plays dribbles the ball a game against the North Carolina Central Eagles on December 12, 2020 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 67-73. (Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC - DECEMBER 12: Caleb Love #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels plays dribbles the ball a game against the North Carolina Central Eagles on December 12, 2020 at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 67-73. (Photo by Peyton Williams/UNC/Getty Images) /

The UNC basketball program has gotten a recent boost from freshman guard Caleb Love? Is the freshman point guard getting back on track offensively?

The 2020-2021 college basketball season is one like none other.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams did not have their traditional summer and fall workouts. Having the opportunity to work out and practice is beneficial for teams across the country, especially for teams that feature a handful of freshmen on their roster.

The UNC basketball program was one of those teams that saw a major change to their roster coming into this season. Roy Williams and his staff landed seven in last year’s recruiting class, which was ranked as the second-best in the entire country according to 247 Sports.

Yes, bringing in a ton of new talent is very nice, but that talent still needs time to develop and adjust to the college game.

Being thrown into the fire right away, we have seen some of the Tar Heels new faces struggle, especially at the guard position. Caleb Love and R.J. Davis have been relied upon to play big minutes for Williams’ team, and both have shown that they have plenty of room to grow.

In regards to Love, there was a lot of hype prior to his arrival on campus. The St. Louis, Mo. native was a five-star recruit out of high school, and ranked as the second-best point guard prospect in his recruiting class. 

For the third straight year, Williams handed the keys to the offense to another freshman guard. Love followed the likes of Coby White and Cole Anthony as the new floor leader for the Tar Heels. However, Love’s situation has been a bit different than the other two guards.

With the NCAA limiting practices and workouts, Love didn’t have a full summer to develop into Williams’ system. Early on in the season, we saw glimpses of how that definitely has affected him.

Through the team’s first 12 games, Love struggled offensively. Here’s a look at his numbers from the Tar Heels contest from November 25 to January 12:

Field Goals: 37-137 (27%)

Three-Point Field Goals: 9-50 (18%)

Free-Throw Shooting: 29-34 (85%)

Turnovers: 39 (3.25 per-game)

Shooting the ball has really been a struggle for Love. There are a few factors that can play into this issue:

-Is Love taking “bad shots,” or is he still trying to learn what is a good shot (as Williams often references.

-Is it a confidence issue for the freshman guard?

-Could it be that his shot is just simply not falling?

It would be unfair to pick just one of these as the problem, as each factor has impacted Love’s struggles early on. Although his numbers at the free-throw line are good during this stretch, he did have some struggles actually getting to the line.

In the team’s opening day victory against the College of Charleston, Love took eight free-throw attempts. From that game, it looked as if Love was going to draw a ton of fouls and have ample opportunities at the free-throw line. However, that hasn’t necessarily been the case.

Over the team’s next 11 contests, Love averaged just 2.3 free-throw attempts per-game. He had a three game stretch (December 30-January 5) in which he did not attempt a single free throw.

To coincide with his shooting struggles, turnovers have also been an issue. Yes, mistakes are common for young, inexperienced guards, but the 3.25 turnovers per-game from Love and the Tar Heels overall struggles to protect the ball quickly became major concerns for this year’s squad.

Although the first portion of the season didn’t go the way Love had planned, it seems as if he is taking a step in the right direction.

Since the stretch we discussed earlier, the Tar Heels have played four ACC contests. They are 3-1 in that stretch, including a current three-game winning streak that they will carry into next week’s action.

In that span of games, Love has seemed to turn it up a notch offensively. Here’s a look at the numbers for Caleb Love from January 16-January 26:

Field Goals: 20-47 (42.5%)

Three-Point Field Goals: 6-16 (37.5%)

Free-Throw Shooting: 8-15 (53.3%)

Turnovers: 13 (3.25 per-game)

Love has scored in double-figures in three of the team’s last four contests. He recorded a career-high 20 points in the team’s win against Wake Forrest, and even took home the league’s ACC Freshman of the Week award.

His free-throw shooting percentage has dipped while his turnover rate has stayed the same, but hit shooting percentage has drastically improved. That’s an encouraging sign, as it seems that not only is Love getting better percentage shots, but is also knocking them down at a more efficient rate.

As he’s shown early in the season, Love is a good free-throw shooter. It should be expected that he’ll get back on track in that regard, as he’s too good of a free-throw shooter to struggle for a long stretch of time.

In regards to the turnovers, this is an entire team issue as well. Considering he’s the point guard, Love has to limit his turnovers, as he can help set the tone for the rest of the team’s offensive attack.

Love has shown flashes that he can limit his turnovers. In the team’s 75-65 victory over Pittsburgh, Love recorded five assists while just committing one turnover (which came very late in the game). It was his first game since November 25 in which he committed one or less turnover.

Hopefully, this is a sign that he can continue this trend over the team’s final stretch of the season.

Caleb Love is your typical college freshman. Of course, there is a lot of pressure on him to succeed, especially in the position that he’s in, but based on recent stats, you can make the case that Love is ready to turn the corner.

Regardless of results, it’s definitely not a question of Love’s work ethic. Love has gone above-and-beyond to put in extra work on the court, and has been seen on multiple occasions getting up shots after the team’s home games.

The Tar Heels have ten games left in the regular season, and are challenging for a spot in this year’s NCAA tournament. It’s safe to say that Roy Williams’ team will need Love to continue making positive strides to help get this team to where they ultimately want to go.

Next. UNC Basketball: Bacot and the bigs lead Tar Heels to victory. dark

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