UNC Basketball's game against Kentucky on Saturday was many things. It was intense, it was fast-paced, and it was exciting. More importantly, at least for the Tar Heels, was what the game was not. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't well-played, and despite those things also being true for Kentucky, it was not a Carolina win.
The Tar Heels showed fight in this game, but fight wasn't enough to overcome the Wildcats, who led nearly the entire game. Carolina looked much the way you would expect a team that hasn't played in nearly two weeks to look, but that's no excuse. When crunch time came, UNC didn't execute, but UK did.
How much should we be concerned about the Tar Heels going forward, and how much of this loss can be pinned on the rust factor? We won't have long to find out, as Carolina will face Oklahoma Wednesday in a pseudo-home game at the Jumpman Invitational in Charlotte. The Sooners are one of only four undefeated teams remaining in college basketball, but it's imperative that Carolina bounce back with a win to get back on track.
UNC now sits at 7-3 on the year, with a lot to work on before Wednesday. Let's look at three takeaways from the loss to Kentucky.
1) Will the real Armando Bacot please stand up?
When UNC all-time leading rebounder Armando Bacot announced he was coming back for his fifth and final season, it was with the promise that there was unfinished business after last season went sideways.
Bacot dominated against weaker competition to begin the year, scoring nearly 23 points and pulling down over 13 rebounds per game. Since then, though, Bacot has looked like a shell of the player that was named to the Preseason All-ACC First Team, averaging just 14 points per game in the Heels' past seven games. Take away the high-scoring affair against Tennessee in which he scored 22, and Bacot is averaging just over 10 points per game.
Much like he did in Carolina's loss to UConn, Bacot succeeded in getting the opposing center in foul trouble, but he did little else to help the Heels get a much-needed victory. He shot just 4-12 from the floor and 5-10 from the line against the Huskies, but against Kentucky he was much more passive, attempting only four shots on his way to nine points.
The Wildcats are long and athletic, but curiously, they've been non-existent as an offensive rebounding team thus far this year. That all changed against Carolina. Bacot grabbed only six boards all game, while six different Wildcats grabbed an offensive rebound. As a team, they pulled down a whopping 18, giving Carolina a taste of its own medicine.
Bacot played 31 minutes in the game, but he never made his mark. He committed six turnovers, and he missed time near the end of the first half after picking up two fouls on moving screens.
There are a lot of new faces on the team this year, and perhaps Bacot needs more time to assimilate his game with that of his new teammates. The Tar Heels are already 10 games into the season, though, so he needs to figure it out soon. Carolina desperately wants to eradicate the disappointment of last season, and that won't happen if Bacot isn't part of the solution.