The Tar Heels have now lost back-to-back after a crazy four-overtime thriller to Alabama. It’s been a frustrating trip to Portland for the most part, but it’s a long season and this team knows it as well as anyone. They now face a tough road test with the Indiana Hoosiers in what should be considered a must-play game. Here are three things to watch out for as Carolina tries to fix the ship in Bloomington.
After a brave 39 minutes through regulations and two overtimes, Bacot sat the last two overtimes with an ankle injury. He scored 20 points and 10 rebounds on 7-12 shooting (6-6 on free throws) before leaving the game near the end of the second overtime.
In his post-game interview, Bacot told reporters that he would do his best to play in Indiana. At the time of this writing, his status remains up in the air. However, given his history of similar injuries and his importance to this team, I doubt Hubert Davis would want to take any chances. If Bacot is less than 100% I don’t expect it to be suitable for this case.
The tar heels actually managed pretty well when Bacot went to the bench. Pete Nance made some incredible defensive plays, especially when he switched to Alabama’s speedy and athletic guards. Still, there were moments when Bacot’s absence was felt, notably when Charles Bediako hit a wide-open layup in final overtime to give the Tide a definitive lead.
When Bacot can’t walk, Coach Davis has to get creative with his lineups. It’s possible we could see more of Will Shaver, who scored his first points of the season against Alabama. Managing the great men’s minutes will certainly be something to oversee. With Bacot usually taking center stage, the Heels have to find other ways to fuel their offense.
There’s really nothing bad to say about the way Puff Johnson played against Alabama. He took off the bench for 48 minutes and made his presence felt in every facet of the game. Whether it was a tipped pass, a timely assist, or an offensive putback, Johnson just played.
Johnson’s effort and intensity were the driving forces behind his solid afternoon. On several occasions he has been seen bottom diving to expand Carolina’s possessions. His energy was contagious and a major reason for some of the heels’ positive momentum swings. Johnson scored 10 points on the 4-5 shooting and also added 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a block. While he didn’t necessarily light it from a goal-scoring perspective, every single one of his buckets came from maximum rush.
With the aforementioned Bacot potentially sitting out, Johnson could see his role grow even bigger against Indiana. Regardless of Bacot’s status, he’s likely to be a bigger factor going forward. It will be interesting to see how Johnson reacts to what is sure to be a noisy crowd in the assembly hall. For a man of his skill working as hard as he does, I expect a concerted effort to get Johnson more looks against the Hoosiers.
Don’t get me wrong, I have great faith in Caleb Love and RJ Davis. However, when these two combined hit 60 shots in a game, something is wrong with the way the offense is being executed. Granted, they essentially played an extra half of basketball, but 60 is just too high given they accounted for almost two-thirds of Carolina’s tries.
At times, the Tar Heels moved on offense and got open shots as a result. For the vast majority of the game, it was about getting the ball to Love or Davis, giving them a ball save and letting them go to make a play. As we’ve seen many times, this type of offense can be effective, but it doesn’t last for an entire game.
As we look back at last year’s NCAA tournament, the standout plays are the plays these two made from dribbling. However, these plays are made possible by giving these guys, especially Love, a clean look so they can develop a rhythm. For example, I don’t think Love hits those dagger threes to knock Duke out of the Final Four unless the previous layups and open threes set up by his teammates to get him going.
Against Indiana I expect more standard games from Coach Davis. With so many scoring weapons, opposing defenses have something to worry about. The Tar Heels need to use this to their advantage with crucial cuts, clean passes and a semblance of an offensive game plan. This team needs to be more successful at the halfway point if they want to escape Bloomington with a win.