1. Big win for Carolina to take two straight key nonconference games and go into Christmas feeling good. The Tar Heels beat Michigan, 80-76.
2. Armando Bacot was great again for the Tar Heels, and this time he did it against some formidable competition in Hunter Dickinson. Bacot was the primary difference-maker for Carolina’s offense. Bacot made Dickinson look very average. Michigan’s best push came when Bacot had to leave the game with four fouls, as the Wolverines closed to within three with 3:30 to go before he reentered the game. Bacot finished with 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting.
3. Is Carolina’s three-point shooting coming around? The Tar Heels were solid from the arc in Charlotte. Carolina was 7-for-20, just 35 percent, but they made some big ones, including four from RJ Davis.
4. That three-point shooting canceled out some uncharacteristic struggles at the free throw line. That has been Carolina’s consistently best offense this year, but the Tar Heels managed just 14-of-27 at the charity stripe. However–Caleb Love made four straight big ones with under a minute to go.
5. Also coming around: Carolina’s transition game. The Tar Heels had 16 fast break points and are running the floor much more effectively than they did a couple weeks ago, when they sometimes appeared to be thinking more than playing. RJ Davis has done a good job with the majority of the pushing the tempo, but Caleb Love’s playmaking has also improved. Love has 17 assists in his last three games.
6. Leaky Black was quietly a very effective rebounder for Carolina–he finished with a team-high ten–and he had a highlight reel play in the second half that felt important to the flow of the game. With Carolina holding a six-point lead, Michigan got a run-out led by Dug McDaniel. But Black blocked the shot, then saved the ball off McDaniel out of bounds. When Pete Nance converted a three-point play on the next trip, it turned into a five-point swing. Black had another huge play with under three minutes to go, as he flashed in front of Dickinson to make a key steal in a three-point game. Playing close to home, the Concord native was the unsung hero of the game.
7. In a Dean Smith-type wrinkle, Hubert Davis has started showing some different defensive looks over the course of the game. The Tar Heels showed multiple types of man to man pressure in the first half, which prevented Michigan from ever really getting settled on offense.
8. Seth Trimble did not take a shot in the first half, but he changed the game. The freshman’s defense on Jett Howard was instrumental in changing the momentum of the game and propelling Carolina on a run that gave the Heels a seven-point halftime lead. Stopping Howard had been a problem without Trimble; he quickly changed that.
9. The officials let the game get too physical in the first part of the first half, and then had to try to reel it back in once Hunter Dickinson and Caleb Love got in a dust-up under the Tar Heel basket. Four quick technical fouls on the sequence essentially ended what had been a progressively increasing physical situation. The game was called much more tightly after that.
10. It’s hard to know what the future of this series might be. The Tar Heels and Wolverines have been frequent opponents lately, with Wednesday marking the fifth meeting in six seasons. Three of those meetings have come in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which is now giving way to the ACC-SEC Challenge next season. The teams have split the previous four meetings.
11. Second straight color-on-color game for the Tar Heels. This one was a throwback to the 1993 national championship game, which always conjures up positive memories. Another great neutral site crowd, as the Charlotte Tar Heel contingent was every bit a match for Saturday’s Madison Square Garden crew. Carolina is 15-2 in the Spectrum Center.
12. With Wednesday night being the final game before the Christmas break, most of the Tar Heels are going home directly from Charlotte. Some will leave with their parents after the game, others are flying out of Charlotte tomorrow. The team will reconvene in Chapel Hill for practice on the evening of Dec. 26. Don’t underestimate how much many of the players are looking forward to this break. It’s been a long time since they slept in their own beds; they are, after all, still college students and most of their classmates went home a week ago. This is a cherished break in the schedule.