Conference play is wild, unexpected and full of surprises. There were plenty of those as North Carolina came from behind to beat Louisville 72-71 with Marcus Paige hitting the late game winning layup in an excellent clash of ranked teams.
It was about the ability to finish and close out a game. The Cardinals jumped to a 63-50 lead with 8:43 left in the game, but were held to just 8 points the rest of the way on 3-of-12 shooting including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. After Paige hit his layup, Louisville had two chances, pretty good ones, to win the game. First it was Wayne Blacksheare with a corner-three miss, followed by Terry Rozier on the offensive rebound hitting the glass, rim and seeing the ball bounce away.
This was the first time this season we saw the Tar Heels take advantage of their size against an alleged elite team (ranked #5 in the nation). They outscored Louisville 40-26 in the paint which forced them to constantly shoot from the outside. While it was working they lasted and opened their double digit lead, but at some point North Carolina got over the full court press and the shots stopped falling for the Cardinals.
Louisville did look great in transition, outscoring the Tar Heels 22-7 and keeping North Carolina more than 10 points under their average. But half court offense was a mess for Louisville, outscored by 16 points. North Carolina grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and although they weren’t very efficient from close range (20-of-43 on shots from the paint), getting that many second chance opportunities will keep them in games even when they’re not playing well.
So the question is whether or not North Carolina have another gear, or is this team a step or two behind the really good ones like Kentucky, Duke and maybe one or two others. There’s size on this team, very good defense when their mind is set to the right tune and a play maker who can explode on any given day in Marcus Paige, although it hasn’t been happening so far, shooting only 36.6% from the field this season, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-12 from the field.
It’s been a while since North Carolina went to the Final Four (2009, also winning the national championship). They haven’t had a six-year gap since the 10-year absence from 1957 to 1967. It’s a bit early to worry about that and it’s more concerning to rise through the difficult ACC schedule, but there comes a point in which Roy Williams no longer seems like someone who is capable of getting the most out of this group. Their inconsistency and lack of efficiency, even through wins, just raises more question marks about how much more time he has left at his current position, and whether or not it’s better for the program to find someone else.