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In recent years, North Carolina has consistently been one of the nation’s highest-scoring basketball teams, thanks in large part to Roy Williams’ philosophy of playing at a high tempo. Last year, for example, Carolina scored 85.8 points per game, and Carolina has averaged over 80 points per contest the last four seasons.
But through four games, including three contests against mid-major competition, UNC has not yet broken the 80-point barrier, the first time this has happened in the Roy Williams era. On the flip side, Carolina has also held all four opponents to fewer than 65 points, the first time this has happened since 2012–13. One might expect such a difference to be the result of slower pace, but Carolina has averaged almost exactly the same number of possessions (74.2) as they did last season (74.3).
The difference has primarily been a significant drop in offensive efficiency, as last year’s Heels scored nearly 10 points more per 100 possessions (119.7) than this year’s group (109.9), despite the lower level of competition so far this season. In contrast, the defense has been nearly five points better than last season’s final average, giving up 87.8 points per 100 possessions compared to 92 last season.
As the schedule stiffens significantly over the next eight games, starting with a road trip to Alabama tomorrow, which will then be followed by matchups against Ohio State and Virginia, Carolina’s collection of newcomers will need to find their offensive comfort level quickly. Senior guard Brandon Robinson’s return from an ankle injury should help, particularly since it allows Leaky Black to play more of a role as the backup point guard, ensuring that there is less of a drop-off when super freshman Cole Anthony is on the sideline.
To go better than .500 over the next eight games, Carolina will depend on continued growth from Armando Bacot, who against Elon became only the fourth Tar Heel freshman to total 22 points and 14 rebounds in a game. Bacot is in good company, as the others to achieve the feat include James Worthy (24 points/16 rebounds), Antawn Jamison (23/14 and 25/14), and Harrison Barnes (24/16). Unlike the others to accomplish this feat, Bacot also added three blocks.
Bacot and junior Garrison Brooks will also need to get more comfortable on the floor together; to date, Brooks has been significantly more efficient when playing center (22 points per 40 minutes on 75.8% true shooting percentage) than when moved to the power forward alongside Bacot or Brandon Huffman (7.2 pp40 on 36.6% TS%).
WOLFPACK BETWEEN CAROLINA AND BOWL ELIGIBILITY
In Saturday’s 56–7 win, the Tar Heels made Mercer look like what they are — a below-average Football Championship Subdivision team. More importantly, Carolina was able to make it out of the game without any significant injuries while limiting the snaps of key defensive contributors enough to ensure they’re fully rested for this week’s rivalry tilt against NC State.
Defensive linemen Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge, for example, combined for only 39; the pair was averaging 121 snaps per game coming into the contest. The second half also gave Carolina a chance to see some of the younger defensive players who have not played much previously in live action. Mack Brown specifically singled out defensive lineman Ray Vohasek and outside linebacker Tyrone Hopper, each of whom will be heavily relied upon in 2020.
With three touchdown passes against Mercer, Sam Howell moved into sole possession of the school record for touchdowns in a season (32) and second place for touchdowns by a freshman in the ACC (40 by Jameis Winston in 2013).
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
100. Chazz Surratt has reached the century mark in tackles. That’s tied for second in the ACC and tied for 25th in the nation—not bad for the junior’s first season on the defensive side of the ball.
278. That’s the number of points UNC has scored in ten games against FBS opponents coming into the final week of action—and the number of points UNC’s opponents have scored, further demonstration of just how thin the margins have been all year for the Tar Heels.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.