UNC Basketball: Three things learned in the NCAA Tournament

A few days after the basketball season ended, the loss still hurts.

For players on the team, “evil” can be both literal and transferable. Between the smashes that Brady Manek took in the face, the blow to the stomach that Puff Johnson got that made him rise on the field, the recently twisted ankle for Caleb Love, and the further twisting of the ankle for Armando Bacot, Tar Heels gave a new meaning to the term “playing with pain.” They may not have earned the win, but they certainly earned the respect of college basketball.

However, the team is now at home and all the confetti has fallen. For one last time, it’s time to take a look at the experience of the game on the field. But this time, instead of focusing on one game, we will look at the six matches for Tar Heels and what we may have learned about them in general.

Hubert Davis has taken over

366 days after Roy Williams retired, UNC rolled into New Orleans and won a college basketball classic, boasting over their rivals in Durham. Two nights later, even in a loss, Hubert Davis spoke on Twitter with this amazing sideline interview.

The guy who had not shown a wealth of energy at press conferences – emotions, yes, but this energy, no – just turned on the screen and gave everyone the first real overview of what this team had seen both in the squeeze and in practice. It’s a marked difference from Dean Smith, Bill Guthridge and Williams, who had a passion but who would never want to show off that kind of energy in any kind of interview.

It was also the last thing that let fans know we’re in a new era of Carolina Basketball. Throughout the season, we had to accept the fact that Davis would use a short rotation of players, use multiple NBA-style sets that relied on shooting the three, pick up transfers from other programs, and would be ridiculously positive, even when the team’s performance was not there. They are not major changes, but look at how the team played and reacted compared to the last two deep tournament races for Tar Heels, and the differences are marked.

Thanks to the increasingly transient nature of college basketball, Davis can make this program “his” program faster than Williams could back in 2003. Players who have realized they do not want to see the floor have the opportunity to leave, and with over 1,100 players currently on the transfer portal, Davis can quickly find others that fit his style. This in no way guarantees success, and recent history is fraught with failure in teams that rely on short-term talent to find NCAA success. That said, Hubert Davis has earned more fans than he had a year ago (whether they should have in the first place is a separate discussion, as following a legend should give everyone a huge amount of goodwill) , and that security should make his job easier when he completes the transformation.

Maybe you can train effort

The maxim that “effort”, “heart” and “hardness” are things you can not train is one that is widely accepted, but it is right to question this saying when you look at the difference between how the team played in January and eventually. A team does not magically develop these qualities, something must happen to snap them into a state where they can take everything that is thrown at them.

In the future, stories of practice under Hubert will begin to leak out, but it will be interesting to see what it took from Davis to get his message of effort and toughness to hold on. Maybe it was the Pitt loss with Capel Brothers that tweeted to the team, maybe it was everything that was said online, maybe it was something else, but when Hubert Davis after the Marquette match quotes that he wants his team to be able to take strokes and move on, it is clear that this became a weighting for him.

Carolina’s regret was not about being slapped in the face either, it was partly about just running out of petrol, luck and health when a better team finally landed a couple of uppercuts that made them make the decision in the end. It’s a remarkable change for a team that had a reputation for being soft, built over several seasons, and it’s impossible for it to click without an effort from the coach to infuse it into the team.

Live of the three, die of the three

In the five wins during the tournament, Tar Heels shot 50/139 or 35.9% behind the arc. Hidden in it were some ridiculous halves – 45% in the first against Marquette, 46% in the first against Baylor and almost 54% in the second half against Duke. The shot either rendered their opponent incapacitated or brought Carolina straight back into a fight before a team could run away. A three-pointer also led to the overtime match against Baylor and was the decisive shot as Baylor would never lead below the frame.

Against Kansas: 5-23 for 21.7%.

Designing offenses around the three is the norm in basketball now, and coach Davis has made the necessary adjustment to bring the next generation of talent to Carolina, as even big men are now trained to roam the floor and shoot from the deep. The problem, of course, is when that shooting gets cold, it’s practically impossible to win a game. When you lose by three and you shoot 21.7% from deep, it’s not that hard to figure out what happened. It’s something that Carolina fans will have to get used to, and the hope is that when those free nights happen in the future, the team is better able to adapt and take what works. In the NBA, where series is decided by seven games, it’s fine with a single shooting night. But in the NCAA tournament, a bad shooting night ends your season.

It’s a challenge that Davis will have to answer in the coming seasons. One thing fans should be excited about, though, is that based on the adjustments he made this particular season, it should be a challenge he’s ready for.

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