Wednesday marked the beginning of the college basketball season, and like everything this year, it didn’t go exactly as planned. Some games were cancelled, some were postponed, some games had an official test positive right before the game tipped off. But the Heels managed to get their season underway with a win over College of Charleston.
Since it’s always wise to make sweeping conclusions from one game that takes place in the middle of a global pandemic, we’re going to use what we saw in the game yesterday to give you our preview for the 2020-2021 Carolina Basketball season. Given that it is Thanksgiving morning, Mrs. Hangover has an apple pie in the oven, and our bloody mary isn’t going to refill itself, we’re going to make this relatively brief. So, here are three things we’re excited about, and three things that worry us as we head into the season.
Why We’re Excited
- The Bigs – Roy Williams best teams have dominated the paint, which is contrary to how we’ve seen the game change in this age of analytics. With Garrison Brooks, Armando Bacot, Day’ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler patrolling the paint, expect lots of offensive rebounds, dunks over weakling Dookies and primal screams after layups. Now, if someone can just talk to Armando about his man bun, our dad would be appreciative.
- Defensive Potential – Listen, no Roy Williams-coached team is every going to be mistaken for a defensive juggernaut. That’s for a lot of reasons, but mostly the tempo which he chooses to play. That said, this edition of the Tar Heels has the potential to be one of his best teams. We’ve mentioned the bigs, who will clean up the boards and combined for 9 blocked shots. But, if Leaky Black fully embraces the Jackie Manuel role, the collection of length and athleticism around the perimeter has the potential to be create a lot of turnovers and in turn, easy baskets (something that was sorely missing last season). Even Platek, who is a total offensive liability, managed 4 steals and 2 blocked shots (!).
- Free-Throw Shooting – Again, it’s one game, but the Heels shot 79% from the line. Last year, the team shot 68%. The best teams take advantage of easy points, and the free throw line should be about as easy as it gets. The strong percentage from the line also helps ease the pain of the 39% field goal and 22% three point shooting from the first game. Did you sense a common theme from the three reasons we’re excited? If not, let me help you. Easy baskets. Whether it is put backs on the offensive end, or transition points or free throws, the Heels didn’t get many easy baskets last season.
Why We’re Worried
- Shooting Woes – There’s no good way to sugar coat a 39% shooting effort, or a 22% shooting effort from 3. Now, we can come up with plenty of excuses – first-game jitters, adjusting to different sight lines without fans in the arena, too excited about Thanksgiving to focus, the other team actually played defense, etc. But the numbers don’t lie, and the ball didn’t go in the basket with enough frequency for us to not have nervous flashbacks to last season.
- Freshman Guards – While the college game has gotten younger, and Carolina has had its share of freshman guards who have been plenty successful, it’s bothersome to only have freshman guards. Roy’s system relies heavily on its point guard to be successful, and it will take some time for Caleb Love and RJ Davis to find their footing.
- COVID-19 – Not sure if we mentioned this before, but there is a global pandemic going on, and it’s quite possible that it might impact some college basketball games. When players or coaches test positive, it takes them out of practice and games for at least 10 days. Walker Kessler and Puff Johnson were limited in action due to COVID protocols. What impact will that have on the development and chemistry of the team? Obviously, every school will be impacted by this in some way, so perhaps it is a level playing field, but we’ve seen in football some teams impacted significantly more than others. Wisconsin, for example, is not eligible for the Big Ten Championship game because they have had so many games cancelled. So, while the biggest concern is that no one has any major health issues from COVID, we also worry about what impact it will have on the team’s ability to actually practice and play games.
As we sit here on Thanksgiving Day, we’re grateful for so much: both of our readers, the health of our family, the fact that the entire country will be forced to watch the Washington Football Team claim first place in the NFC East with four wins in last November, Tik Tok, the impending notification from our Apple Watch that we haven’t moved in 12 hours and the return of college basketball. It will be an entirely unpredictable season, so let’s embrace the chaos and just enjoy any and every game that we get to watch. Now, where’s that bloody mary?!