The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Analysis: Grading UNC men's and women's basketball on their Thanksgiving tournament performances

20231106_JOHNSON_MBBALLvRDF-10.jpg
UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) dribbles the ball during the men’s basketball game against Radford at the Dean Smith Center on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

The UNC men’s and women’s basketball teams both dropped in the AP poll after playing three games each over Thanksgiving break, with the men falling to No. 17 and the women to No. 24.

Led by senior guard RJ Davis and junior forward Harrison Ingram, the North Carolina men’s team defeated Northern Iowa, lost in overtime to Villanova and then beat Arkansas. Senior guard Deja Kelly and junior forward Maria Gakdeng stood out for the women as the Tar Heels defeated Vermont, later falling to Kansas State and Florida Gulf Coast.

With the ACC/SEC challenge and other big non-conference matchups around the corner, here’s a look at grades for each team’s frontcourt, backcourt and benches over the holiday:

UNC women's guards

Kelly, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer this season, carried UNC with 18.7 points per game in Florida. Following North Carolina’s loss to Kansas State, Kelly said she had to be better, but it’s hard to imagine her putting even more weight on her shoulders.

Lexi Donarski, who started in the losses to FGCU and KSU, has been largely inconsistent. She went 24 percent from the field over UNC’s three Thanksgiving break games.

Grade: B

UNC women's forwards

Ustby fouled out against KSU and then picked up four fouls and was limited to 23 minutes in UNC’s loss to FGCU. As for Gakdeng, she averaged just 16.5 minutes in UNC’s first two games of the Gulf Coast Showcase.

Moving forward, North Carolina needs to help its posts out by aiding in help defense and giving them more touches. The reward? Dominant performances like Gakdeng's against FGCU, a game in which she recorded 22 points on perfect shooting from the field and free throw line. 

Grade: B-plus

UNC women's bench

Despite the depth that head coach Courtney Banghart praised her team for in the offseason, UNC's bench simply hasn’t lived up to the hype. In Florida, UNC’s non-starters averaged fewer than 15 points per game, although their overall performance was admittedly hard to evaluate as UNC's lineups were constantly changing.

The biggest takeaway? Indya Nivar plays better coming off the bench — the Stanford transfer averaged eight points across the two games in which she didn't start, compared with scoring zero points in the Vermont game where she played for 20 minutes.

Grade: C

UNC men's guards

There wasn’t much new to learn from Davis, who tied his career-high against Arkansas with 30 points, earning him ACC Player of the Week honors.

Preseason ACC Rookie of the Year Elliot Cadeau fouled out two of his games, but made his first start against Arkansas with graduate guard Cormac Ryan out with an injury. Judging by his baseline pass that set up Ryan’s clutch corner three to force overtime against the Wildcats, along with his shooting efficiency and assist-to-turnover ratio, Cadeau should keep starting.

Ryan finally found his rhythm from beyond the arc, going 5-14 in two games after starting the year 3-14 (with a few airballs). He also showcased an underrated one-dribble mid-range pullup off a curl, along with his slashing ability on some tough drives.

Grade: A

UNC men's forwards

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Ingram earns an A-plus here — the Stanford transfer’s dynamic 3-point and back-to-the-basket scoring abilities were on full display. He also had two double-doubles. 

But Ingram’s grade is offset by Armando Bacot (C-plus), who shot 40 percent or lower in all three contests. The fifth-year forward often blundered easy put-backs, typically one of his scoring staples. After averaging nearly 23 points through the first three games of the season, Bacot scored just 27 total in the Bahamas.

Louisville transfer Jae’Lyn Withers contributed solid minutes, but was foul-prone. Villanova’s Eric Dixon, who was guarded by Withers and Bacot, dropped 34 points with a combination of bully ball and outside shooting.

Grade: B

UNC men's bench

Sophomore guard Seth Trimble isn’t a non-factor on offense anymore thanks an improved jump shot. Last year, he went 1-6 from downtown in 33 games. In the Bahamas alone, Trimble went 2-3 from 3-point range.

Graduate guard Paxson Wojcik hasn’t quite found his stride from long range, going 2-8 on the year. But the Brown transfer, who was hailed as a sharpshooter, didn’t hesitate in attacking the basket, finishing a tough contested layup and showcasing a floater package.

Jalen Washington’s length helped him get three blocks over the break, but the sophomore forward saw limited action in the Bahamas.

Grade: A-minus

@danielhwei | @shelbymswanson

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com


Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.


Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.