UNC Basketball: Takeaways From The CBS Sports Classic

The UNC Basketball competed in the CBS Sports Classic in Atlanta, Georgia, over the weekend and here are our takeaways from the 87-83 loss to the Wildcats.
CBS Sports Classic: Kentucky v North Carolina
CBS Sports Classic: Kentucky v North Carolina / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

The UNC Basketball program dropped its second game in a row to another talented opponent on Saturday. The Tar Heels were outmatched against No. 14 Kentucky in State Farm Arena in the CBS Sports Classic and couldn't overcome multiple miscues and missed opportunities. Despite the loss, I was lucky enough to attend this year's event and have some takeaways from this game.

This was the second consecutive neutral site event the Tar Heels participated in following the Jimmy V Classic versus Connecticut in Madison Square Garden just eleven days prior. Our site expert Nick Delahanty gave us his takeaways from that game here. Similar to that event, the CBS Sports Classic opened with a game before the Tar Heels took the floor and involved Ohio State and UCLA.

No offense to the Buckeyes and Bruins, and while the game was a close one, the crowd was sparse, and the folks who were in attendance just seemed ready for that game to end so that the main event between Kentucky and North Carolina could begin. Even in the final minutes between Ohio State and UCLA, a "TAR" "HEELS" chant broke out in the arena and felt more like the crowd saying, "okay, let's get this one over with."

And while there was that "TAR" "HEELS" chant toward the end of the UCLA-Ohio State matchup, it is fair to say that North Carolina was greatly outmatched in the stands. The Carolina Blue contingent was loud, but Big Blue Nation was much louder. Known to some as Catlanta, the Wildcats fanbase traveled extremely well to State Farm Arena and made up, in my opinion, at least 70% of the crowd, if not more. Despite that, it truly felt like an Elite Eight type atmosphere between the two schools.

On to the game. It was one that started slow and sloppy for both sides, with each team combining for five turnovers in the first three minutes of the game. You can view our full game recap here, but it was one that no matter what the deficit, the Tar Heels never seemed to go away lightly. North Carolina trailed by double digits multiple times throughout the evening and continued to fight back, even taking the lead for 16 seconds before surrendering it back to Kentucky for good late.

Many UNC Basketball fans took to social media after the game to voice their displeasure with the outcome of the game against Kentucky. Let me address this: I am not in that boat. Those were two very talented teams on the court at State Farm Arena, and someone had to lose. Unfortunately, it was the Tar Heels. But it is very much a game they can learn from. Since the beginning of this five-game gauntlet, I've said that a 3-2 record (or better) would be satisfactory - they are currently 2-2 with a game remaining.

Several little things could have flipped this game from a four-point loss to a four-point victory. The ball just didn't bounce in the favor of the Tar Heels in Atlanta, some of that due to self-inflicted wounds. It felt like every time North Carolina fought back to cut the deficit to less than 5 points (or even tie the game) and get the Tar Heel crowd involved, Kentucky immediately had an answer. North Carolina just couldn't put together a stop and a score when the game got close.

Getting out-rebounded by 11 boards (Kentucky had 18 OFFENSIVE rebounds!) was ultimately the biggest difference in this game. The Tar Heels were able to hold the Wildcats to just 15 second-chance points, but even when they trailed by two late in the game, they had an offensive rebound in their grasp and just couldn't grab the ball before letting it slip away out of bounds. Combine that with six missed free throws, and those two things were ultimately the difference in the four-point loss.

How about RJ Davis, though? As former UNC Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Roy Williams would say, he is a tough little nut and is constantly playing like one of the best players in the country. He carried the Tar Heels late in the game and helped lead a 13-point comeback (North Carolina trailed 55-42 before taking a 72-71 lead) to take the lead on Kentucky.

It was also great to see Cormac Ryan get involved early and often in this one and find his shot again after being in what was an apparent shooting slump. He was effective and kept the Tar Heels in this one, especially in the first half, with a 20-point outing on 8-12 shooting.

This game will be a learning experience and provide dividends in March, with a great atmosphere on a neutral court and against a quality opponent. This UNC Basketball team has plenty of potential and will continue to grow. The sky is not falling on December 17th, and with another test looming in Charlotte, there's no time to dwell on losing a close game to a Kentucky team of that caliber. If I recall, a 2016 UNC Basketball team lost a close game in the CBS Sports Classic to Kentucky (and got out-rebounded in a similar fashion)... we all know what happened later in the same year.

Next. RJ Davis continues to climb up UNC basketball record books. RJ Davis continues to climb up UNC basketball record books. dark

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