UNC Basketball: Caleb Love on a Mission in Year Three

Feb 19, 2022; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Caleb Love (2) looks on during a game against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the first half at Cassell Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ryan Hunt-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2022; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Caleb Love (2) looks on during a game against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the first half at Cassell Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ryan Hunt-USA TODAY Sports /

In his third year with the UNC basketball program, Caleb Love is looking to cement himself as one of the top guards in the nation.

Following the announcements that Armando Bacot, Leaky Black, and RJ Davis would be returning to Chapel Hill for the 2022-2023 season last April, UNC basketball fans were anxiously waiting on one final Tar Heel to make his decision.

After a long process of weighing the pros and cons of his options, Caleb Love announced that he would also be returning to Carolina, with a chance to get back to the Final Four and make himself a consensus first-round draft pick squarely on his mind.

The return of Love elevated UNC’s preseason expectations from a team that would be viewed as a title “contender” to one of the squads on the short list of title “favorites”.  With four out of five starters returning from last year’s squad that went to the Title Game, Carolina has earned the No. 1 ranking in the Preseason AP Poll.

What should we expect from Caleb Love in what could be his final season in a Tar Heel uniform?  Find out below!

2021-2022 Season In Review

Love has been one of the most fascinating Tar Heels to follow in recent memory.  There have been times in his career where he looks like he belongs on an NBA court rather than a college one, and times when his decision-making and shot selection makes Carolina fans want to pull their hair out.

On social media, Love has often been described as an up-and-down player with two modes: “Good Caleb” and “Bad Caleb”.  There’s no better illustration of this reputation than when he took this shot in the final seconds of regulation during last year’s home finale against Syracuse:

With UNC trailing by one in the final seconds, Love pulled up from way beyond the arc for a shot that most would consider “ill-advised”, drawing an audible groan from the Tar Heel crowd.  Those groans quickly turned to cheers, as Love swished the shot and helped force overtime in a game that the Heels would go on to win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Love showed improvement throughout the season, as his points per game, rebounds per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage all had significant jumps from his freshman season.

However, at the end of the year (starting with the aforementioned shot against Syracuse) we saw Love transform from an inconsistent player with massive potential to a clutch, explosive, and extremely confident leader that was arguably the most exciting player in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Love dominated the overtime period against Syracuse, and followed that up by closing out Coach K’s career in Cameron Indoor with critical free throws and waving goodbye to the “Crazies” prior to UNC’s semifinal loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament.

Then, in March Madness, Love made a statement that he was one of the most electric players in the country.  During Carolina’s first-round demolition of Marquette, Love hit six threes in the first half.  The Golden Eagles tried to get physical and chippy with UNC, and Love made sure that strategy would backfire.

After Carolina’s thrilling upset victory over defending national champion, Baylor, the Heels were matched up with another team from the 2021 Final Four, UCLA.  Following a frustrating first half where UNC struggled to find a rhythm offensively, Love put the team on his back and exploded for an all-time second half.  He hit five clutch threes and scored 27 of his 30 points after halftime while carrying the Heels to a critical Sweet Sixteen victory and an Elite Eight matchup with St. Peters, whom Carolina would handle comfortably.

In the Final Four matchup with Duke, Love once again showcased his explosiveness and clutch gene, scoring 22 second-half points and hitting one of the most iconic shots in the history of the sport, this dagger that sent Duke home and Coach K into retirement:

However, in the National Championship against Kansas, Love’s struggles returned at a very unfortunate time.  Caleb shot 5-24 from the field, 1-8 from three-point range, and had four turnovers to just two assists as Kansas came back from a fifteen-point halftime deficit to take the game and the National Championship.  The last-second shot that Love missed as time expired has surely motivated him all off-season.

What to Expect in 2022-2023

As you can see in my bold prediction below, I have extremely high expectations for Caleb Love this season.  It is very rare in today’s college game that a player as talented as Love is still in school for his Junior season.

Far too often in college basketball, high-level recruits view college as a pit stop on their route to the NBA.  Many times these players struggle as freshmen and decide to enter the draft anyways.  This rarely works out for them, and very possibly could have been the case for Caleb had he decided to leave school after his freshman season.

Even fewer players elect to return to school for another season after already improving their draft stock, which is what Love just did.  His performance during March Madness made him a likely second-round pick with an outside shot at going in the first round had he left after his sophomore season.

That wasn’t enough for Love, who has chosen to bet on himself and take care of some unfinished business in Chapel Hill.  Caleb believes that he is a first-round talent, and has come back to Chapel Hill to eliminate any doubt regarding what he can do at the next level.

Caleb has proven during his time in Chapel Hill that talent is not an issue.  The concern with Love has always been consistency, as he has a tendency to take some questionable shots and commit some ugly turnovers.

It is clear that the keys for Love this season are to take care of the ball and be more efficient as a shooter.  If he can improve his shooting percentages and assist-to-turnover ratio, he will be one of the best guards in the country.

Another thing that should benefit Love this season is a full year knowing his role as the shooting guard.  Love and RJ Davis spent their freshman seasons and most of last year splitting the point guard role, but down the stretch, Hubert Davis’ staff realized that the offense ran much smoother with Davis at the one.

With a full season in the shooting guard role, Caleb will be able to focus on doing what he does best, which is being one of the most dynamic scorers in the sport.

Bold Prediction

I have a very bold take on Caleb Love.

Players of his talent level are very rarely around this long in college uniforms.  He has a combination of NBA-level talent and experience playing college hoops on the biggest stages that are second to none.

On a team where Armando Bacot has been the headliner for most of the offseason (and rightfully so), I think it will be Love who ends up being the team’s best player this season.

If there is an improvement in efficiency to go along with his natural ability, Caleb will put up monster-scoring numbers.  With more depth at guard this season, Love will be able to take some of the pressure off of himself and allow the game to come to him, which should lead to higher shooting percentages.

I’m expecting the UNC basketball program to be one of the top teams in the nation throughout the season, with Love leading the way as the team’s best player.

With that, my individual prediction for Love is that he will win ACC Player of the Year, make the First-Team All-American squad, and develop into the best shooting guard in college basketball.  In the process, I expect him to become a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft.

As Roy Williams always said, a head coach’s dream is to have experienced talent.  There is nobody in the sport who fits that statement better than Caleb Love.  I’m expecting Caleb’s decision to bet on himself to pay off big time.

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