UNC-Vermont: The Good & Bad

In the 12 days that North Carolina was off, the Tar Heels took final exams, mended some injuries, worked on some basic fundamentals, and purged consecutive ugly losses from their psyches.

Their half court offense, however, didn't appear to have improved much in Thursday night's 80-54 victory over visiting Vermont.

Here is a look at the good and bad of UNC's sixth win of the season against two losses.

GOOD

Jackie Manuel – This was perhaps Manuel's best game as a Tar Heel. Generally a poor shooter, Manuel was 5-8 from the floor including 4-5 from 3-point range, a surprise considering he entered the game at less than 22 percent from beyond the arc. He also grabbed seven rebounds and handed out four assists, one a sensational behind the back save/pass near midcourt that led to an easy basket. But as usual, he was awesome on defense. The 6-foot-5 sophomore had five steals and a blocked shot, although one of the credited steals was a combo block and theft when he came from behind to swat the ball away, ending what appeared to be an easy layup for the Catamounts. His floor game and highest possible level of effort was a pleasure to witness.

Defense – The Tar Heels scored one less point against Vermont than they did against Kentucky, but gave up 44 fewer points as their defense was sensational from the outset. The Heels forced 23 turnovers (12 steals), had seven blocked shots and held the 'Mounts to 33.9 percent (20-59) from the field. They had tremendous success with double teams and forced Vermont into mostly contested shots.

Rashad McCants – McCants' wonderful stroke (7-11 overall, 3-6 from 3-point range), knack of being at the right place at the right time, and defensive ability makes him a special player. He tallied 19 points and four rebounds and played yet another quality all around game.

Jawad Williams – Williams combined nice power moves with an impressive flair to the tune of 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. He did, however, have three turnovers, which has been a personal issue the last couple of games. But his performance, which included a 6-7 effort from the free throw line, was a positive sign coming out of the break.

Damion Grant – Grant only had one rebound in 11 minutes, but one must be impressed with the body control and soft touch (four points) he showed around the basket. His presence alone is an asset because he eats up space like the late former Tar Heel Geoff Crompton. As Grant progresses, so will the Heels.

Bench, 2nd half – After scoring just two points and grabbing five rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench in the first half, UNC's subs pumped in 17 points and had eight rebounds in 47 mins in the final period. Defensively active in the first half, they were aggressive on both ends in the second.

Free Throws – The Heels were 12-14 (85.7 percent) from the free throw line. Although they attempted the same number of freebies as the Catamounts (fourth time this season UNC has been equaled or bettered in number of attempts), the improved accuracy is a positive.

2nd half shot selection – While 21 of UNC's 33 first-half field goals were 3-point attempts, 19 of its 28 second-half shots were of the regular 2-point variety. UNC's numerous fast break opportunities certainly contributed to the improved ratio, but more patience and better half court execution did as well.

Highlight reel plays – Despite some poor half court play, the Heels had plenty of exciting moments that surely made many highlight films around the state. David Noel's pair of jams, alley oops to Williams, dunk by Raymond Felton, Manuel's follow-up slam, and Melvin Scott's alley-oop finger roll were displays of this bunch's wonderful athletic gifts.

BAD

Half court offense – Other than the first four minutes of the game, in which UNC led 16-3, Carolina was awful offensively in the first half. Of their 33 field goal attempts, 21 were 3-pointers. This is not a positive considering the opposition. There is no reason why a quality team, which UNC expects to be, can't get more open looks in the paint. Lack of patience and not recognizing Sean May's presence were the Heels' biggest issues.

Even in the 16-3 opening burst, it was apparent they were comfortable with quick 3s instead of working the ball inside. So, it can't be solely blamed on the team's struggles against zones, which is an issue that must soon be rectified or else most every foe will play zone.

They also followed that fast start with a 1-15 stretch, continuing a pattern of lengthy ugly streaks that has plagued them in most of their games.

Ballhandling – As long as the Heels' collective poor ballhandling is apparent, it will surface in the G&Bs, and Thursday was no different. Considering UNC's lack of offensive aggressiveness for most of the first half, they still committed 18 turnovers (to 22 assists) on the night. No doubt the increased tempo of the second period contributed to a few turnovers, but against a team like Vermont, Carolina must take better care of the ball, be it in the half court against man-to-man or zone defenses, or when they have numerous fast break opportunities, like on Thursday night. Seven different Tar Heels had at least two turnovers and Vermont was credited with nine blocked shots.

Sean May – May had his worst game as a Tar Heel, scoring only six points and grabbing six rebounds in only 21 minutes. He took just four shots and was unable to get open much of the night. In his defense, however, his teammates could have been more productive at getting the ball inside more often, because there were times when they simply didn't pass him the ball when he was open. The positive of May's poor effort is that coach Matt Doherty looked a bit more at Grant and Byron Sanders, who combined for 21 minutes.

Rebounding – The Tar Heels outrebounded the Catamounts 40-36, but lets face it, the margin should have been more like 48-30. Too many rebounds went to green-clad players, and Vermont had an 11-8 advantage on the offensive glass. The Heels were outboarded 22-18 in the first half. It doesn't appear to be an issue of effort, but more so positioning when shots are taken, especially on offense against zones. Yeah, size will be a problem at times, but it really wasn't against the Catamounts.

David Noel – The freshman has tremendous physical gifts and is already a fine defensive player, and in fact had some great defensive moments on Thursday night. However, he has many miles to go offensively. His hands need a lot of work, and his instincts, which will improve by virtue of his full commitment to basketball, are so-so. When the Durham native learns to dribble and receive the ball better and improves his body control – thunderously gorgeous dunks notwithstanding – Noel will be quite an asset.

Missing 'Mounts – Keep in kind that although the final margin was 26 points, Vermont was within 13 points with 13:18 left in the game. Consider their top two players were out, and it could have been more interesting. Doherty certainly would have played his starters more, so the score might be a bit balanced in that respect, but it mustn't be forgotten, it was close in the first half when the starters got many minutes.

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels travel to Tallahassee to take on once-beaten Florida State on Sunday night at 8 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on FoxSportsNet.


Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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