The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday January 19th

Analysis: UNC men's basketball relying on experience and growth from backcourt

Sophomore guard RJ Davis (4) runs with the ball at the exhibition game against Elizabeth City State on Nov. 5 at the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC won 83-55.
Buy Photos Sophomore guard RJ Davis (4) runs with the ball at the exhibition game against Elizabeth City State on Nov. 5 at the Dean E. Smith Center. UNC won 83-55.

Veteran guards win in March. 

Even in the one-and-done era, when more and more teams are being led by first-year players, the biggest difference between teams that simply make the tournament and ones that cut down the nets is an experienced backcourt, as those players handle the ball every trip down the floor. 

Last season, Baylor won a national championship with two junior guards starting. Virginia featured the same veteran guard presence in 2019 and won, as did Villanova in 2018. 

This year’s North Carolina men’s basketball team returns its two primary point guards from a year ago, and they’ll be relied upon to guide this team farther than the first-round NCAA Tournament exit it suffered last season. 

Caleb Love

Sophomore Caleb Love arrived in Chapel Hill last August as a consensus five-star recruit, with the potential to be a lottery pick in NBA Draft. 

At times, he played as advertised, controlling games from the jump. Love opened his first season with a 17-point, four rebound performance against the College of Charleston and dropped 16 against Stanford in the Maui Invitational semifinal.

His season became a roller coaster ride. For over a month, he didn’t score more than 12 points in a game.

Love got back on track with 20 points, four boards and three assists versus Wake Forest. He also  recorded 15 points and five assists in a win against N.C. State. Those led to — by far — his best performance of the season. 

At the Feb. 6 Duke game, Love scored a career-high 25 points, including a highlight reel dunk in the first half and a clutch three with two minutes to go. He then grabbed two rebounds and dished out seven assists in the Tar Heels’ four-point win. Eventually, he made four of five three-pointers and all three of his free throws, showing his enormous potential on the team’s biggest stage to date.

Then, the coaster went back down the hill.

In his next four games, Love scored a combined 20 points – including just one against future teammate Dawson Garcia and Marquette – and shot 25.8 percent from the field. He didn’t shoot the ball well until Duke came to town, when he rediscovered his rivalry magic and chipped in an 18-3-7 stat line — all while making six of his 12 shots and all four free throws.

Love just loves to play Duke, but fans should expect a more consistent against other teams this season. He finished the year strong against Notre Dame and Florida State in the ACC Tournament, and combining that momentum with a full offseason of work could allow him to unleash his full potential.

RJ Davis

Serving as key in helping Love control a game’s tempo is fellow sophomore guard RJ Davis. A four-star prospect, according to ESPN from White Plains, N.Y., Davis averaged 8.4 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game a season ago. 

He also shot 35 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep.

Davis began the year starting at shooting guard before coming off the bench, but in that initial stretch, he scored at least 11 points in UNC’s first five games. He then went cold until a four-game sequence in conference play, where he scored in double-figures each time, but then only scored 11 or more in four games the rest of the season.

Anthony Harris and D’Marco Dunn

Both Love and Davis experienced inconsistent first seasons in Chapel Hill, but redshirt sophomore Anthony Harris is sure to provide a consistent force once again in the backcourt. He’s shot over 40 percent from the floor in each of the last two seasons, but is better known for his defensive presence. 

First-year D’Marco Dunn will also get some minutes, but given the depth of the Tar Heels this season, the four-star prospect might not play all that much early on.  

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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