Did you hear North Carolina played three games in five days? Wait, wrong talking point — sorry.
All jokes aside, the Tar Heels’ 93-76 win amid a Saturday night crowd at the annoyingly named KFC Yum! Center amid a ‘white-out’ game against a talented Louisville squad was impressive. But UNC lacks toughness, right?
All five starters finished in double figures for the Tar Heels (21-7, 10-5 ACC), while Sterling Manley contributed eight points in nine minutes.
-Joel Berry (36 minutes): 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steals, 1 block
-Luke Maye (34 minutes): 19 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals
-Theo Pinson (29 minutes): 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
-Cam Johnson (35 minutes): 12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block
-Kenny Williams (36 minutes): 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block
The same unbalanced Carolina team earlier in the season seems to have found its groove.
Pinson, who decorates box scores with relative ease, has finally added scoring to his bag of tricks. He has finished in double figures now in each of his three last games and seven of his last 10 games in which he has played at least three minutes (so excluding the Clemson game when he got injured).
Williams and Johnson seem to have rediscovered their games, hitting threes and becoming real threats while driving to the basket. But let’s be real: Carolina relies way too much on Maye and Berry, right?
Roy Williams — who surpassed his Kansas-win total by earning his 419th victory with the Tar Heels on Saturday — has put the Tar Heels’ standard of excellence at the top of the world. ESPN announcer and former Duke forward Jay Bilas called Carolina a “second-weekend team,” but success makes for skewed expectations, perhaps even for the team itself.
Berry has tweeted numerous times about people sleeping on his team, even telling former North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes that the Tar Heels would repeat as champions in 2018. Perhaps coincidentally, UNC hangs its seven championship banners asymmetrically, leaving the Smith Center looking as if it’s longing for just one more — an eighth trophy couldn’t possibly make its way from San Antonio to Chapel Hill in April...right?
UNC has won five straight and shows no signs of slowing down. UNC finds itself in third-place in the ACC — in position for a double-bye in the conference tournament — a spot in which few thought the Tar Heels would reside after starting 5-5 in conference play.
Now, with 10 ACC wins and three games left, North Carolina isn't too far from its 2016-17 finish of 14-4. Anybody remember how UNC fared in March last year?
A faraway trip to Syracuse, an emotional senior night for Berry and Pinson against previously-ranked Miami and a trip down Tobacco Road to potentially spoil Duke’s Grayson Allen’s own senior night await the Tar Heels.
After dropping three straight games, UNC has played with a chip on its shoulder, and it shows. At its best, Williams’ squad has made talented groups like Duke and Louisville look inferior for extended stretches.
As the now 55-year-old Michael Jordan might say, “the [sky] is the [limit]” for the Tar Heels.
Sure, shots will need to continue falling for Carolina — like they did on Saturday — should the team hope to even dream of adding to the not-so-empty rafters in its home arena. Another trip to the Final Four, its third in as many years, would seem impossible.
Cover photo by Caleb Jones