The North Carolina Tar Heels are 19-5 and 9-2 in ACC play, tied for 2nd in the conference with Virginia

North Carolina forwards Cam Johnson and Luke Maye and guard Kenny Williams

The Bad News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.- For Tar Heel fans, it’s hard not to believe that Monday night’s 69-61 loss to No. 4 Virginia should have gone differently. The Heels were up 55-48 with 7:51 left in the second half. They were also on a 17-3 run, dominating the offensive glass and playing some of their best defense all year. Then Virginia swelled back strong, tightening up on defense and cleaning up the uncharacteristic turnovers that had plagued them the whole game. Virginia closed the game on a 12-2 run, fueled by multiple late game 3-point daggers from shooting guard Kyle Guy. Virginia made seven of their last eight shots down the stretch, including four 3’s. The Virginia defensive presence left the Heels’ offense flustered and unable to make shots, as they made just two of their final 14.

On top of this, the Tar Heels were dealing with multiple injuries during the contest. Freshman forward Nassir Little, averaging 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season, left the game in the first half with a right ankle injury and did not return. In the second half, starting small forward Cam Johnson left the game with a left ankle injury. Johnson returned from the locker room a few minutes later, but the impact of his injury was felt deeply. Backup forward Brandon Robinson went in for Johnson, and Virginia immediately started attacking him on offense with star 6-foot-7 forward Deandre Hunter.

The Good News

One of the biggest positives of this season is the emergence of freshman phenom point guard Coby White. White is a prolific scorer, a vast departure from the typical UNC freshman point guard. The 6-foot-5 North Carolina native is averaging 16 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game this season. He’s also shooting 38% from the 3-point line. He had 33 points in their overtime win over Miami, where he put the team on his back and went 7-10 from 3 and brought the Heels back from the brink of defeat.

A Team Effort

And it’s not just Coby White who is flourishing. Cam Johnson and Luke Maye have also been having great seasons for North Carolina. Johnson is averaging 15.8 points while shooting 50% from the field and 46% from 3. All-ACC forward Luke Maye is averaging 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest. The Tar Heels rebound well as always. They have a deep roster that can outrun anybody in the country, running a blistering offensive pace led by Coby White. The offense moves so fast and rebounds so well that they’re ranked third in the NCAA in shot attempts.

North Carolina entered the Virginia game with a 9-1 conference record, the best start of any Roy Williams’ North Carolina team. The Heels are also second in the NCAA in scoring with 87.2 points per game. First-place is Gonzaga, whom the Heels beat early in the non-conference slate this season. This team can score with anybody, and appears to be hitting their stride at the right time. The Heels have plenty of tests left this season to set them up well for the postseason.

What’s Next?

The remaining schedule set up some key opportunities for UNC. Upcoming games against Wake Forest, Syracuse, Clemson, and Boston College hope to be relatively easy wins down the stretch. The Heels also have three more chances for high-profile, resume building wins, with two at home. UNC still has two dates with arch-rival No. 2 Duke and a home game against No. 22 Florida State. The two Duke games will be especially crucial to help the Heels climb the ACC standings, with Virginia and Duke currently ahead of them. These final games are key in determining the Tar Heels’ standing in both the ACC and the NCAA Tournament.

This Tar Heel team is a bit unconventional, with a point guard leading in scoring and no real definitive post presence, something they have lacked since the days of Brice Johnson. However, the Heels are still an offensive machine with a starting five that can compete with anybody in the country. If this team is playing their best ball come March, they will be serious threats to make yet another Final Four appearance.

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B. Heyward

Loved this article. Well written.