Saturday night, the Jackets take on North Carolina, looking for back to back ACC wins. Before the game, we sat down with Brandon Anderson from Tar Heel Blog to get his insight on what he expects when the Tar Heels and Jackets clash in Chapel Hill.
FTRS: What are the current fan expectations for this year’s North Carolina team? They have flirted with a top 25 ranking for much of the season, but sit just 1-4 against teams in the Kenpom top 50. Are fans still expecting a deep tournament run or is the expectation for more of a growth season in year one under Hubert Davis?
I think Carolina basketball is currently in a very strange transition period. For the most part, fans just expect to see a team that’s much improved over the last couple of years. I do believe that there are some fans that still have Roy Williams-type expectations, meaning that they are very “Final Four or bust” about the season. Considering the talent on this team, I think fans just expect the team to first of all make the NCAA Tournament, but also make somewhat of a deep run in the tournament even though I’d say things ending with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen would be really good for having a first-year head coach. So yeah, I’d say opinions of what this team should and shouldn’t be able to do are all over the place, but mostly I think fans just want this team to win the games they should win, and see what happens from there.
FTRS: Following up on the previous question, what are your early thoughts on Hubert Davis through just 15 games?
I think Hubert Davis is doing a great job so far. I know that people have been really hard on the team for their defensive performances, but I feel like the issue is more consistency than anything. Davis brought in an offensive scheme that has made these guys one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the country, and junior big Armando Bacot is having a fantastic season despite not having the kind of power forward in the paint with him that we are used to under Roy Williams. Everything has felt more modern/makes more sense for where college basketball is going, and that of course isn’t meant as a dig at Coach Williams. I just think what Davis is doing is great for the players in the short and long-term, and my hope is that things only get better from here and that he can stick around for a long time.
FTRS: The Tar Heels are one of the best shooting teams in the country. What can teams do or have done to counter this?
The answer to that question is tough, because I feel like in each game this season there has been a different guy who was dominant. Bacot is basically a constant, but I feel like when it comes to perimeter shooting, R.J. Davis, Caleb Love, Brady Manek, and Dawson Garcia have all taken turns destroy teams from deep. I feel like the game plan would be to disrupt passing lanes and to give them little to no room to shoot. It’s a lot easier said than done, but I think forcing the team to turn the ball over might be the best defense when dealing with a team that shoots as well as Carolina has been. I feel like if I can point to a team that was really good at both of these things it was Kentucky. They completely dismantled our offense, and held the Heels to just 7.7% shooting from deep. It was a pretty miserable game, needless to say haha.
FTRS: In the last matchup between these two teams, Tech had no answer for RJ Davis, who is having a very strong sophomore campaign? What other players should the Jackets look out for this time around?
I think any and all concern should start with Armando Bacot, who has been playing out of his mind all season long. He got a lot stronger in the offseason, quicker, and is playing like he has a huge chip on his shoulder. Caleb Love is also much better than he was last season, and he’s become dangerous both from the perimeter but is also attacking the rim quite a bit. I’d say outside of Davis, those two players are the ones to look out for.
FTRS: What are the biggest strengths of this North Carolina team? Biggest weaknesses?
I think we can safely establish that this team’s strength is shooting, but as far as weaknesses it’s definitely inconsistency on defense. At times they’ve just played very lazy on that side of the ball, and really there’s not much of another explanation for it. They’ve both had games where they look like a shutdown defense and also games where they look like they are willing to let teams score 120 points, so it’s been quite a roller coaster. I also feel like the Heels get a little loose with the ball sometimes, though they have definitely been a lot worse in the past. At the moment they’re ranked 8th in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio, and 10th in their turnover average. If GT can cause chaos when Carolina is trying to operate their offense, I think that would put them in a great position to win the game.
FTRS: What are your thoughts on Armando Bacot for ACC player of the year? What has changed in his game to make him even more impactful than he was last season?
I think Bacot is an excellent ACC POY candidate, but it is hard for me to say that he’s a lock to win it or anything like that. I’ve been really impressed with a good amount of people in the league this year, but I will say Bacot definitely has one of the more impressive stat lines. I think as far as his game goes, it really goes back to what I mentioned about how much stronger, quicker, and overall sharper he is from last season. I think it also helps that former UNC player Sean May is an assistant coach now, who was the NCAA Most Outstanding Player for the 2005 national championship team. He’s been working with Bacot quite a bit, and I think that has went a long way in what he’s been doing as well.
FTRS: What’s your prediction for this one? Who wins and why?
I hate this part, because I didn’t have a single correct prediction during football season haha. I think UNC will probably win this one, mostly because I think they are just clicking on all cylinders offensively right now and I think they’re tired of getting cooked on defense. It’s really hard to trust that they won’t get cooked, but what they did to Virginia only happens if you are playing ticked off because the Cavaliers are always a really tough team to deal with. So I’ll say the final score is 84-68, and I welcome your readers to hunt down my Twitter handle and drag me if Michael Devoe and Jordan Usher rip us apart.
Thank you for having me, and best of luck to you guys!
Many thanks to Brandon for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure to check out some North Carolina coverage over at Tar Heel Blog.