After UNC’s loss to Notre Dame, fans, coaches and players were all extremely frustrated. Fans were frustrated for a number of reasons, primarily the fact that turning on ball screens allowed Nate Laszewski to feast on more than he had throughout the season. The players were frustrated because they expected more from each other. For Hubert Davis, however, he just wants his team to not only run, but play Carolina basketball. We all know what that means now, and we’ve seen it come and go throughout the season.
Here’s the silver lining: The loss was UNC’s first “bad loss” of the season, which is pretty impressive considering this is Davis’ first season as a head coach. Of course, the previous three losses, “good” or not, amplify the frustration, especially when you consider that games in Tennessee and Kentucky have gone much worse than they should have. The past must be the past, as the Tar Heels must now prepare to face Virginia at the Dean Dome on Saturday afternoon. It’s a much less impressive Cavaliers team than we’ve seen in recent years, but they’re still not left out. Here are three ways Carolina can avoid back-to-back losses for the second time this season.
Play for 40 minutes
Sometimes the easiest solution is the right one, and in the case of Tar Heels, it absolutely is here. Against Notre Dame, the only players who managed to shake things up in the first half were RJ Davis and Armando Bacot. Caleb Love and Brady Manek were eerily silent, which just can’t be the case while Dawson Garcia and Kerwin Walton are away. Both players managed to step up their games in the second half, but above all it seemed too little too late despite the 10 seconds the Heels managed to take the lead.
Here’s the thing: Virginia isn’t going to let Armando Bacot have something easy near the edge, let alone anyone who thinks he’s going to find a way to drive all the way to the basket. We all know well too well their Pack Line defense, and the big reason Roy Williams struggled to train him was that it was essentially designed to destroy the way he loved his team to play. Caleb Love, Brady Manek and RJ Davis must be ready to play in Game 1 and make Virginia pay from the perimeter. If they don’t, it will be a long, sloppy, long, scary game as it has been so many times in the past. Did I say long? I may not have mentioned long.
Solve the ball screen problem
After Notre Dame’s loss, Hubert Davis explained that the problem with their defense was less the lighting of the ball screens and more the way it was executed. While I would not agree with that – although I am not a coach either, so what do I know – the point is that anything that has gone wrong against the Irish needs to be corrected immediately. Like, immediately immediately. Tony Bennett likes to use a lot of scouting action, maybe more than most of the CCA coaches. They like to use the action of the ball screens, they set screens while someone sprints under the rim, then there’s another guy waiting to set another screen so the runner can get to the perimeter etc. This is a lot, and UNC must be prepared to deal with it.
What’s even more distressing about the way Bennett’s offense is executed is the fact that they’re more than willing to miss the shot clock to get the shot they want. The Cavaliers don’t play basketball with a sense of urgency, but like trying to beat a brother at Monopoly, and they’re willing to make the game last for a week if that means they buy everything on the board. . I’m sure it’s now easy to see that I don’t like the way this team is playing (to put it mildly), but they got the results they wanted, and they will be get the results you want if Davis can’t figure out how to get the heels to effectively defend screens.
Will we see the alignment of four guards more often?
In the second half of the game against the Irish, Hubert Davis finally did what we all thought (including the announcers) and moved on to a four-guard lineup. It was clear that having Bacot and Manek on the pitch at the same time was a bad idea as the Irish were going after both at the same time on the perimeter. Truth be told, I think Manek was the weakest link between the two, but because of that the Heels looked a lot better when the four-guard roster was on the ground. What happened when Davis inexplicably fell back to two big guys? Things fell apart quickly thanks to Nate Laszewski.
Am I saying Hubert Davis should go for a four-guard squad to solve all of the Heels’ defensive issues? Absolutely not, but what I’m saying is that maybe it is something to review for the game against the Cavaliers. Because of the way UVA plays, it would be nice to not only have someone faster than Manek on the pitch, but almost as big. Having Leaky Black in fourth place would keep Jayden Gardner in check, coming out of a 23-point game against Clemson. I would like Manek to prove me wrong and he has a much better defensive performance (no seriously, I’m begging him because he needs to be there), but Hubert Davis is going to have to pull out his short leash for that- here if they want to take down the Cavaliers for the first time since 2017.