The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday March 7th

Preview: How UNC basketball can bounce back against Virginia on Saturday

Junior forward Garrison Brooks (15) fights for the shot against Virginia Tech's P.J. Horne (14) and Jalen Cone (15) on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Cassell Coliseum. UNC fell to Virginia Tech 79-77.
Buy Photos Junior forward Garrison Brooks (15) fights for the shot against Virginia Tech's P.J. Horne (14) and Jalen Cone (15) on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Cassell Coliseum. UNC fell to Virginia Tech 79-77.

By putting together one of its best games of the season before falling to Duke, North Carolina looked like it might have found some offensive rhythm. 

But the Tar Heels then turned around and were thoroughly blown out by Wake Forest, lacking urgency, shooting, defense or anything else necessary to win in the ACC. If UNC wants to turn it around against Virginia on Saturday, here's what the team will need to address. 

Offensive balance between Anthony and Brooks

On Tuesday against Wake Forest, Cole Anthony took 19 shots while UNC's best big man, Garrison Brooks — who was admittedly fighting through an eye injury — registered just five shots in 29 minutes. 

That has to change. UNC was playing arguably its best basketball this season when the ball was going down to Brooks on nearly every single possession. Brooks has been everything to UNC this season — its best defender and its best offensive player in multiple games.

Balance might be difficult to find against UVA's pack-line defense, which emphasizes doubling the post, but can provide opportunities for ball handlers like Anthony to score or make plays. Too many times this season, the Tar Heels have stood by while Anthony takes bad shots, especially in close games down the stretch. 

The point guard might be UNC's most gifted player, but last time out against Virginia he was baited into bad shots and had six turnovers in the loss. If the Tar Heels want to regain some of that offensive momentum they had earlier in the season, they need to make it a priority to get the ball to Brooks more. 

Hit some dadgum threes

UNC can't shoot this season, plain and simple. There's over half a season's worth of evidence to make that point abundantly clear. The Tar Heels are shooting just 28.7 percent from deep as a whole — they rank 334th out of 350 schools in 3-point shooting. 

Brandon Robinson (35.3 percent), the team's best shooter, has been out with an ankle injury the last few games. Anthony (31.1 percent) has been streaky. No one else can currently hit the broad side of a barn.

But if North Carolina wants any chance at all of sticking with Virginia, it needs to hit some threes. UNC has been able to generate offensive success with extra opportunities, but the Cavaliers are 18th in the nation at limiting offensive rebounds. 

If the Tar Heels aren't getting extra possessions, they need to make the ones they do have count. Virginia's pack-line defense collapses on the post and puts as many bodies in front of the rim as it can. The way to counter that is to space the floor and hit 3s. Whether that's Andrew Platek, Christian Keeling or Justin Pierce, somebody needs to be able to put up a shot quickly when they're open and knock it down. 

Key in on Kihei

In his last outing against North Carolina, Kihei Clark scored just seven points on 1-8 shooting. The Cavaliers' second-leading scorer on the team shoots only 36.5 percent from the floor for the season, but UNC has struggled to contain guards all season. 

Brandon Childress had a nice game against UNC. Tre Jones had the best game of his career. Trent Forrest was tied for the Florida State lead in scoring against North Carolina. 

This comes back to UNC's point guards. Anthony and Jeremiah Francis are both coming back from injuries that have taken a while to shake the rust off of. Jones repeatedly got to the rim against Anthony at the end of the Duke game, although Anthony was playing with four fouls for most of that time. 

Still, the Tar Heel guards need to find some way to tighten the screws on the perimeter. Letting a man by puts extra pressure on Brooks and Armando Bacot and makes it more likely they get in foul trouble. Stopping things on the perimeter is the first step to defensive success.


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