No. 14 North Carolina defeated Stanford 67-63 in the second round of the Camping World Maui Invitational on Tuesday.
It was a win, technically, but I’m not sure anyone involved actually feels like winners in what was a truly hideous basketball game marred by ceaseless turnovers, drunken foul calls, and poor offensive decision-making from both teams.
But we’re going to ignore Carolina’s 24 turnovers, the most the team has given up since committing 24 against Ohio in the 2012 NCAA Tournament regional semifinal at the hands of Stillman White.
We’re going to ignore Walker Kessler running around without a clue of where he should be in the Secondary Break and that he finished the game with four fouls, zero points/rebounds and a minus-16 in a mere nine minutes of action. (He didn’t mitigate the feel concerns I expressed in my scouting report from this summer, specifically with regards to his off-ball roaming and positioning.)
We’re going to ignore Caleb Love starting the game 2-for-11, missing the same passing reads and taking the same low-percentage shots that Cole Anthony took last year, and we’re going to ignore the horrific pick-and-roll defense at the point of attack. (The interior rotations are still good, though, so that’s nice.)
We’re going to ignore that Ted Valentine, “TV Teddy” himself, put together his magnum opus as an official, with his crew whistling 41 total fouls and sending Carolina and Stanford to the line 24 times each.
We’re going to ignore the delightful Bill Walton, who was commentating from a far-out, unreachable dimension during the broadcast. (It’s hard to pick which Walton-ism was his best of the day, between “I love Platek. I love playing.” and “Puffing, fluffing, I love it all.” and “Where I always like to be, high in the mountains.” and “I’ve heard of stickers, I’ve heard of pot. I’ve never heard of pot stickers.”)
And on the Stanford side, we’re going to ignore five-star freshman (and one of my favorite prospects) Ziaire Williams having zero burst and struggling to take Andrew Platek and RJ Davis off the bounce, even in situations where he had a step on the defense. (It’s hard envisioning him as anything other than a secondary in the NBA at this point, but the shotmaking and defense are still exceptionally valuable.)
We’re going to ignore all of that for now. What we aren’t going to ignore, however, is the two-way brilliance of Day’Ron Sharpe, who put together a quintessential performance and hilarious stat line of 4 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks in 19 minutes of action. UNC outscored Stanford by 14 points when he was on the court and he finished the game with an immaculate 25.5 BPM, per barttorvik, managing to outdo his dominant performance in the season opener against Charleston (18.6).
DAY’RON was Carolina’s saving grace, with his snappy processing speed, gorgeous passing ability, quick hands, and intuitive helpside rotations making a notable impact on both ends of the floor. He did commit three turnovers and two fouls, but they were largely forgivable, and it was nonetheless a bounce-back performance that earned him Roy Williams' trust down the stretch as the team's closing center.
Let’s dig into a few clips from Tuesday’s victory, with a focus on his work on the offensive end. His defense was as potent as ever, but his outlier talent as a passer really stood out in a few specific areas.
Early success as the trail big in the Secondary Break
One of the staples of Carolina’s offensive system is the big-to-big connection out of the Secondary Break — that is, the ability for the trailing bigman to deliver a pinpoint hi-lo pass to the other big on the block (via Secondary Regular).
It’s practically a prerequisite for any frontcourt player under Roy Williams, and is a component that typically takes some seasoning and playing time to figure out. Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot epitomized this last year, with bumpy chemistry and low familiarity producing a slew of miscommunicated or inaccurate entry feeds.
We’re only a week into his college career, but DAY’RON has already displayed a keen understanding of when and where to deliver his hi-lo feeds, whether he’s fluttering the ball over the top of the defense with a lob entry or throwing a lowball that only his teammates can get a hold of. His gifts as a passer and intuitive basketball player shine bright in this regard, and they were put on full display against Stanford on a number of possessions.
Without wasting a second, DAY’RON quickly redirects the ball to Garrison Brooks once post position is gained, hitting the senior’s outside hand with a lowball that only he can get to. The accuracy isn’t perfect, but he made sure not to squander early post position for the All-ACC bigman. (And what DAY’RON clip wouldn’t be complete without some nice glass cleaning?)
It’s hard to quantify the speed at which DAY’RON processes what’s happening on the court. His reads, more often than not, are instantaneous, at times magically so.
RJ Davis sets a (weak) backscreen for Brooks to establish post position, DAY’RON flashes to the top of the key while calling for the ball, and immediately floats up a soft lob entry to Brooks, who’s sealed off his man. DAY’RON begins the process of making that pass before his feet have even touched the ground! The accuracy is once again slightly off, with Brooks having a jump to catch it, but he ultimately scores and earns a whistle in the process, giving DAY’RON the assist.
And then there’s DAY’RON seeing the game in 5D, clapping for the ball at the top of the key because he knows he can feed Armando Bacot at the rim. And, of course, he does just that.
What a genius.
Handling pressure and traps in the post
Looking to overcome its apparent size disadvantage in the paint, UNLV employed an aggressive trapping scheme in its meeting with UNC on Monday, sending strongside helpers as soon as a post player touched the ball.
Whereas Brooks and Bacot gradually grew comfortable with the Rebels’ traps, turning away from pressure as to score or make timely kickouts to the perimeter (as to pick apart a scrambling defense), the going was rough for DAY’RON, whose overreliance on his baseline spin move resulted in four turnovers and an on-court ORTG of 28.6.
He very much looked like a freshman on Monday, but he looked far more relaxed handling pressure against Stanford on Tuesday, which was good to see — not only because a quick turnaround bodes well for his confidence and comfort, but because such a performance came against a legitimately good Stanford team featuring several rangy wings and forwards.
The game evidently slowed down for DAY’RON, with the 19-year-old center letting the game come to him instead of forcing the issue. As opposed to panicking and rushing a difficult shot when catching the entry pass way too deep under the basket, he stays poised, waiting for an opening to present itself. Brooks intelligently flashes to the dunker spot with the Stanford defense keyed in on the baseline trap, DAY'RON senses this, and hits him with the quick wrap pass, with Brooks scoring with ease.
Facing another double in the post after establishing positioning out of the cross-screen, DAY’RON once again waits for the defense to commit to him before redirecting the ball to the now-uncovered Brooks in the paint. With only one defender between Brooks and the basket, Stanford has to foul the shot attempt, giving DAY’RON the free throw assist.
He does this once more with Walker Kessler via Secondary Dribble, catching the entry feed and whipping a pass right into the 7-footers waiting hands, with Stanford’s Ziaire Williams picking up a foul while hunting the steal.
(This was certainly a daring pass, even with Kessler in his vicinity, given just how many white jerseys were in the paint with them, but considering that hitting Kerwin Walton in the slot would’ve required a jump pass and that he was sending a pinpoint ball over to a gigantic human being, it was a good read.)
Spraying the perimeter with kickouts
Branching off of the previous section, DAY’RON’S passing goodness extended to his exterior passing, albeit in a more muted manner, given the abundance of hi-lo reads and block-to-block redirects that Stanford ultimately gave up for the freshman big. Whereas he had plenty of opportunities to hit teammates inside the arc, there were far fewer kickout reads available.
He nonetheless made the most out of the opportunities that he had, including this gorgeous skip to RJ Davis in the opposite slot for the wide-open triple. (Whether Bacot knew it or not, but his flashing to the basket forced Davis’ man to commit to him once the trap was sprung, flattening the defense and leaving Davis all alone beyond the arc.)
The benefit of rostering guards such as Davis and Caleb Love, two scoring specialists who can light up the nets off the bounce and off the catch, is that it gives Carolina’s bigs two awesome options on post kickouts such as the one above. Consistency has yet to be found from Love and Kerwin Walton, Puff Johnson is still working his way into the rotation, and Anthony Harris is still a few weeks away from returning to action, but there are several shooters on the roster to throw out next to a cast of good passing bigs (sans Kessler).
It was only one possession, but it revealed what Carolina’s inside-out system is capable of accomplishing when players understand where they should be and when everyone is on the same page — you can manufacture some pretty damn good looks when the defense collapses, and DAY’RON makes life all the more easier when he’s on the floor.
That'll be all for today's UNC Film Room. As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for enjoying some of Day'Ron Sharpe's two-way brilliance with me. There are more clips and analysis from yesterday's game on my Twitter timeline, in case you missed anything.
No. 14 UNC will play No. 17 Texas in the Maui Invitational Championship Round at 4:00pm EST Wednesday.