It’s after 1:30 a.m. Tuesday on the East Coast, and I’m about to go to bed, but here are a few quick thoughts on Carolina’s win at Stanford.
•Someone on the ESPN pregame show made the point that you don’t often see ranked teams play true road games in non-conference play, and it’s true. Neutral site one-offs? Sure. Holiday tournaments in exotic locales? You bet. But true road games? Not so much. Except Carolina.
A quick glance at the schedules from the Roy Williams era —since 2013-14— tells me that the Tar Heels have played 32 true road games in non-conference play. That doesn’t include Texas in Arlington or Davidson in Charlotte or Michigan State in Detroit, but trips to an opponent’s home floor. Let’s pick another highly-ranked team and check them out. Let’s pick, say, the #1 team in the nation right now, Duke. They have 11 such games in those 14 seasons. Eight times, that was the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. For Carolina, that number is six.
The point is, Roy Williams doesn’t mind his team getting tested early. Williams doesn’t like to lose, but he likes to find out about a team’s mettle in November and December against a potential tournament team. And he likes to help out his friends. By bringing the Tar Heels to Stanford, Williams helped his former player and longtime assistant Jerod Haase sell out Maples Pavilion in his second season in Palo Alto. It’s a win-win. Well, a win-win-win, with the way the game turned out.
Williams also seems to like his team getting their West Coast legs before an extended road trip. Whether it’s a stop in Santa Clara or Honolulu on the way to Maui, or a stop in Stanford before heading up north, it’s a nice idea for a team to get adjusted to a different time zone, get a sweat in and play some good basketball.
•It is really good to see Kenny Williams happy and confident. Go back and watch each of those threes from that early flurry. Look at the way he got his (healthy) feet set and fired, almost seeming to know that the ball was going to fall through the net before he released it. That’s a confident Kenny. And a confident Kenny is a happy Kenny, a good teammate Kenny (he had four assists) .
Especially given the Cameron Johnson injury, it’s great to see Kenny step forward like he did Monday night.
•Joel Berry is back. He rattled in a three early in the first half and never looked back. How about the senior stepping up, with a wrapped hand, and scoring 29 points? That’s leadership, and I love it.
•They may not add up to one good player just yet, but it appears that a different member of the three-headed freshman post class is going to step up on a given night. Monday, it was Brandon Huffman, who finally looked comfortable on the college court and had eight points and five rebounds off the bench. So far, he’s freshman year Brendan Haywood - all of his field goals on two-handed dunks. Brendan’s jersey is in the rafters. It’s far too early to say if that’s in the cards for Brandon, but it’s a good start.
•Terrific showing by the Tar Heels that traveled on the road. I heard “Luuuke” and “TAR-HEELS” on the TV broadcast. Well done.