Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 70, #14 Louisville 60

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina struggled early against the Louisville zone. Roy Williams pointed to better movement in the second half by the North Carolina bigs as a reason for its game-winning 38-23 performance, but it also helped that the Tar Heels were shooting the ball much better. North Carolina isn’t known as a good jump-shooting team, but it has shot over 40 percent from deep in the last few games. In part that’s because they don’t take many threes (Williams noted that his team finished last in the ACC in three-point attempts this season), but even though they only converted two of five attempts in the second half, it felt like much more. That speaks to the Tar Heels’ patience. Even more important than that was that Williams’ team knocked down 15 of 17 free throw attempts. That’s how you close out games — something North Carolina struggled with this season. Stay patient and make free throws. The last time North Carolina beat a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament was way back in 2003, so don’t underestimate this win from a confidence standpoint.
  2. North Carolina needs better rebounding to feed into its offense. North Carolina never got any flow going in the first half, not only because it struggled against Louisville’s defense, but also because the Cardinals’ shooting and rebounding took the Tar Heels out of their secondary break. The Heels only ended the game with eight fast break points, but even the threat of the secondary break stops opponents from adequately setting up their defense. Brice Johnson runs the floor as well as any big man in the country, and Paige should be a shooting threat on the wing. If this team makes a run in this tournament or later in March, it will be because they do a better job of playing to their strengths over the next few weeks.
  3. Louisville is liable to take a loss during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament if they can’t solve these zones. Rick Pitino intimated that the Cardinals would try starting Mangok Mathiang at the five to get more offense, but that won’t help with simply making wide-open jump shots. The Cardinals were 4-of-22 from three and 1-of-14 if you remove Wayne Blackshear. That won’t beat anyone. Louisville played well in the first half with Terry Rozier carving up North Carolina’s defense, but Louisville never controlled the game. Some of that was due to the Tar Heels never getting too far behind, but there was also a sneaky suspicion that Louisville’s jumpers would eventually stop falling.

Player of the Game. North Carolina’s Brice Johnson is the obvious choice here although Paige finished with 13 points, five assists (only one turnover) and four steals. There’s a decent argument to be made that Roy Williams’ move to switch to mostly zone in the second half deserves a lion’s share of the credit, but he’d never stand for that. The energy Johnson brought to the Heels in the second half really felt like it changed the tide of this game. Paige kept it from ever getting out of hand when Louisville was ahead, but Johnson took control. Paige is North Carolina’s best player but it is Johnson who may be the team’s most important contributor. Johnson’s had his hand in nearly every offensive possession in the second half, whether it was making the extra pass, scoring or attacking the glass. Paige certainly played well too, but Louisville’s defense didn’t give him much breathing room. Johnson, on the other hand, held his own against the strong defensive Louisville front line, ending with 22 points on 15 shots (18 second half).

Quotable.

  • Reporter: “What is it about zone that gives your offense so much trouble?”*
  • Rick Pitino: “Well, you obviously see, if you’re from the Louisville Cardinal, that we’re not a great shooting team, so that’s a pretty silly question to ask. You watched the game, didn’t you? So you don’t have to be an X-and-O genius to figure that one out, do you?”

*Author’s note: That was the first question. Pitino was only asked one more.

Sights and Sounds. As expected, North Carolina had a huge crowd advantage in Greensboro this afternoon. But it would be disingenuous to say the crowd had a big impact on the game until North Carolina already had established its momentum and built a sizable lead.

What’s Next. North Carolina gets Virginia tomorrow at 7:00 PM on ESPN. The Tar Heels need their shooting to hold up and they need to get more productive minutes out of Kennedy Meeks. Virginia didn’t look dominant for the whole game against Florida State today, but the Cavaliers haven’t let a struggling team hang around very long this season.

mpatton (573 Posts)


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