COLUMN: An Exam Season Wrap-Up

As exam season is coming to a close in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heel men’s basketball and football teams are just starting their own tests.

UNC will have to face off against the arguably second-best team in the nation this Saturday. A Gonzaga team that has a ton of depth, doesn’t seem to have an offensive weakness and has beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Or was it the team that can beat the Cavs? Can’t quite remember.

Gonzaga has all the pieces needed to beat Carolina. For starters, they’ve got probably my favorite player that doesn’t wear our shade of blue, Rui Hachimura. The only guy who has made that Zion kid look a lot less like a Jeep and more like a freshman.

Most importantly, they have a core of guys that can put up points in a hurry.

Two dominant, quick big men that score over 40 per game together and a couple of hot shooting guards, including Zach Norvell who will find a way to score no matter what. They’re one of three teams that scores more points per game than us.

The scariest part, forward Brandon Clarke blocks over three shots per game.

In case you haven’t watched much Carolina basketball since the dreadful A&M basketball game last year, we don’t do well against teams that can easily swat a weak layup attempt.

So, the Heels’ first exam will feature a few, tough questions.

Can we shoot threes?

We’re currently out of the top 150 in the nation in three-point shooting, in the bottom half of the nation in three-point attempts per game and only making eight of them per game. Despite our tendency to focus on the inside game, it’s just a matter of fact that we’re going to need to hit threes.

However, we’ve got two guys who are shooting over 40% from downtown in Cam Johnson and Coby White. They just need to keep shooting.

Not to mention an unheard of guy named Luke Maye who could use taking a few more per game.

Can we play some daggum defense?

Our opponents’ points per game is currently 230 in the nation. The four teams immediately ahead of us on that list are: UConn, Incarnate Word, Tennessee State, Duquesne and Kennesaw State.

That requires no further comment.

What are we going to do about this Nassir Little predicament?

There isn’t a clear answer, really. You can’t remove Cam Johnson from the lineup, as tempting as that may have seemed a couple of weeks ago. They guy is our highest scorer and has been the most prominent leader on the team in difficult times.

So the focus turns to Garrison Brooks’ spot, which would move Luke to the 5 and presumably Nassir to the 4.

Garrison is averaging 9 and 6 for the Heels and is clearly a much better player this year. Our starting lineup with him in it was also the only lineup to outscore Michigan. We’re significantly better defensively with him in the game.

But with NBA scouts complaining and Nassir just having better numbers than Garrison in basically the same number of minutes, I don’t know that you can justify keeping him on the bench for much longer.

A small lineup might have been our demise in the NCAA tournament last year, but Roy will probably have to give it another try this season.

Especially against this Gonzaga team that starts two undersized, but athletic big men. It just makes sense to give it a try.

Football, on the other hand, has started their exam season a little bit earlier.

Mack Brown, of whose hiring I was a little tough on in my last column, has been working overtime to get the ball rolling.

Coming back into Chapel Hill, Mack had two big test questions in front of him:

Can UNC bring in a few solid coordinator hires?

Can he turn around an absolutely abysmal recruiting class?

In just a matter of a couple days in the past week, UNC has signed more than a handful of recruits, including two prominent receivers.

Mack even pulled in a three-star defensive end, Kristian Varner, who turned down offers from SEC and ACC schools.

On an even more positive note, Carolina made a couple hires that could pay dividends down the road in Jay Bateman and Phil Longo.

Bateman was the defensive coordinator for the Army Knights, who finished the regular season 22nd in the AP poll. His defense was ranked 11th nationally this past season, including a game where they held Oklahoma to their lowest score of the season.

The best defensive stat from Bateman’s defense this past season? The run defense, which ranked 12th nationally and could prove to be a huge change that Carolina needs.

Longo, who’s leaving Ole Miss for Chapel Hill, just finished coaching the Rebels – or Landsharks? – to a top 5 season in passing offense that averaged almost 34 points per game.

Mack’s explanation for hiring Longo was simple, “We’ve got to score a lot of points so we’re going to do that.”

Students can rest easy when they finish their fall exams this week that their favorite teams are going through it too. Here’s to hoping Roy’s boys and Mack Brown have all the answers.

UNC’s new tight end coach seems to think so.