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“He’s the best point guard I’ve ever been around. Plain and simple. Period. The end.” UNC assistant coach and 12-year NBA veteran Hubert Davis had high praise for Cole Anthony on head coach Roy Williams’ Tuesday night radio show.
Williams himself was a bit more forthcoming.
“It’s way too early to say something like that,” Williams said when asked if he agreed with Davis in Thursday’s press conference, “but I also want him to be the best player, not just the best point guard.”
Williams did indicate that Anthony is a more complete player than any other point guard he’s coached; it’s just a matter of getting sufficient sample size before Williams is willing to declare him the best he’s coached.
But through three games, the trend suggests Davis wasn’t hyperbolizing, as Anthony has averaged 27.2 points per game on 40% shooting from the field while adding 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. The one blot on the freshman’s record so far has been free-throw shooting, where his 68% mark could stand for some improvement.
Graduate transfer Justin Pierce (10.3 ppg) and junior Garrison Brooks (11.3) are the only two other Carolina players averaging in double figures so far in 2020, and Carolina will need to find better balance as the schedule gets more difficult.
ANOTHER CLOSE LOSS
Mack Brown is used to winning close games, and the first two games of the season were more of the same for North Carolina’s Hall of Fame coach. Since then, however, the Tar Heels have struggled mightily to close out close games, with Thursday night’s overtime loss at Pitt the latest example.
For the second reason in a row, the result reflected the struggles of a Carolina defense that has simply gotten worn down by the combination of limited depth and injuries, as some key contributors have simply logged too many snaps while others are on the sidelines.
Aaron Crawford is now second in total snaps played among Power 5 defensive linemen (601), while Jason Strowbridge is sixth (555) despite missing a game with injury. End Tomon Fox is sixth among edge players (623), while Jeremiah Gemmel (657) has played the 18th most among linebackers.
And in the defensive backfield, where the best players tend to stay on the field more, Carolina faced Pitt without five key contributors. The result was a 359-yard outing for Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who led the Panther offense to 6.38 yards per play.
A further reflection of just how much the depth and injury woes have impacted Carolina: Two of the three worst outings for the UNC defense have come in the past two games, and neither Virginia nor Pitt are among the most prolific offenses the Heels have faced.
Carolina now needs to win its final two games against Mercer this Saturday and at rival N.C. State on Nov. 30 to qualify for a bowl game.
RED ZONE WOES CRITICAL
UNC has lived on big plays offensively this season; the Tar Heels are No. 18 nationally with 16 plays over 40 yards. But the Heels have struggled when the field has gotten tighter in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on only 48.72% of trips inside the opposing 20, which ranks 113th out of 130 FBS teams.
Against Pitt, Carolina scored one touchdown on four red zone trips. They were 0-3 on such trips in the home loss against Virginia and 3-6 in the OT loss at Virginia Tech. Fortunately for the Tar Heels, rival N.C. State isn’t much better at punching the ball into the end zone, ranking 109th with a 50% TD rate. The path to bowl eligibility likely depends heavily on Carolina finding a way to improve this output when it counts against the Wolfpack in two weeks.
UNC SIGNS FIVE
All five 2020 UNC basketball commitments signed their National Letters of Intent in the fall signing period that began last Wednesday, Nov. 13. The class has been widely praised for its quality and balance, as it includes two guards, one swing forward, and two big men and features three five-star players ranked in the top 25 nationally.
Seven-footer Walker Kessler (Atlanta) and 6-10 Day’Ron Sharpe (Winterville/Montverde, Florida) are the headliners, particularly given Williams’ preference for traditional two-big lineups and Carolina’s lack of elite interior players in recent years. Both are ranked in the top 20 nationally.
On the perimeter, the class is led by 6-3 five-star point guard Caleb Love (St. Louis), 6-7 swing forward Puff Johnson (Phoenix), and 5-11 combo guard R.J. Davis. Love is a top-25 recruit and is a long (6-9 wingspan), dynamic point guard who projects as an outstanding defender and facilitator as well as being a potential one-and-done player before moving to the NBA. Johnson and Davis are knockdown shooters with skill sets reminiscent of recent UNC stars Cam Johnson (Puff’s older brother) and Joel Berry.
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
319. Per Brian Ives of ESPN, UNC football has now played the most one-possession games in ACC history, just ahead of N.C. State’s 318. Remarkably, the Tar Heels are 156-155-8 with a total scoring margin of plus-7 in those 319 games.
29. Quarterback Sam Howell is now one touchdown shy of tying Mitch Trubisky’s school record for most passing TDs in a season (30) and matching Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence for second-most by a freshman in ACC history.
Plus-55. North Carolina has outscored its opposition by 55 points in the fourth quarter in 2019, a huge turnaround from the 2017–18 seasons, when the Heels were ninth-worst in the nation with a minus-72 scoring margin in the final frame. Unfortunately, that late-game edge hasn’t continued into overtime, as the Heels are 0-2 in OT this season and 0-4 over the past 16 games.
9. UNC has now set the record for most games (9) decided by seven or fewer points in a single season in the AP Poll era, which began in 1936. Carolina is now 3-6 in one-possession contests after starting the season 2-0 in such games.
<50%. Carolina has shot under 50% from the field in its first three games of the 2019–20 season, the first time that’s happened since the 2012–13 season.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.