Miami continued the early chaos in the ACC on Saturday as the Hurricanes jumped out to a huge early lead and cruised past No. 9 North Carolina for a 77-62 win.
1. This is the big ACC win Miami needed for its NCAA tournament cause
Entering Saturday’s home game, Miami owned three wins in the ACC but none of them had come against top-tier teams. The Hurricanes had beaten N.C. State, Pitt and Boston College. Marquee non-conference wins looked even worse for Miami. They had only beaten Stanford and George Washington. Not exactly an inspiring group of wins…
Saturday’s trouncing of No. 9 North Carolina changes all of that. Miami put a beatdown on a top-10 team and made the Tar Heels look relatively helpless for most of the game. The Hurricanes passed the look test and it legitimately felt like they belonged in the NCAA tournament for the first time all season.
Miami’s defense and North Carolina’s shooting woes led the a season-low 22 first-half points from the Tar Heels and junior point guard Joel Berry was held to only two points on 0-for-8 shooting. The Hurricanes beat North Carolina on the glass 40-35 and also outplayed the Tar Heels inside.
Miami’s perimeter performance was particularly special. Freshman Bruce Brown poured in a career-high 30 points (more on him below) and junior Ja’Quan Newton had 18 while Davon Reed chipped in 14 points. That group soundly outplayed North Carolina’s guards and also helped limit the Tar Heels to 29 percent (7-for-24) three-point shooting.
2. Should we be worried about Joel Berry?
North Carolina needs junior point guard Joel Berry to be the engine that makes this team go. He was arguably the team’s best guard during the stretch run for last season’s Final Four team and Berry has had some great games earlier this season.
The last four games, however, Berry has been sluggish as it all came to a head with his two-point outing on Saturday. Over his last four games, Berry is only putting up 9.0 points and 2.7 assists per game as his offense has drastically declined. Berry hasn’t looked like he’s been within the flow of the game for some of the time despite handling the ball.
Saturday’s effort was even more disturbing for Berry when you consider how well the Miami backcourt played. Brown and Newton both had big days to combine for 48 points. Some of this, obviously, also falls on Berry’s teammates since they struggled to show up — besides Justin Jackson — on Saturday.
If the Tar Heels are going to become an elite team again, they need Berry to regain his All-ACC form. There are still plenty of games to make that happen. The good news for North Carolina is that the next game for them is at home against reeling Pitt, which can hopefully help Berry break out of his funk.
3. Bruce Brown is the key to Miami’s success this season
Miami freshman Bruce Brown had a career day on Saturday as he finished with 30 points, five assists and four rebounds. We’ve had so many other freshmen play well across college basketball this season that it is easy for a guy like Brown — who is averaging double-figures for an NCAA tournament team in the ACC — to get lost in the national shuffle.
This dude is hooping right now.
Brown’s elevated play gives the Hurricanes another high-octane perimeter weapon. Senior Davon Reed and junior Ja’Quan Newton are still the leaders of Miami and the most consistent double-figure scoring options. Having Brown play better over the last three games just makes it even tougher to stop the Miami offense.
Over the last three games, Brown is averaging 19 points and five assists per game. That kind of production might not be sustainable for Brown over the rest of the schedule but if he’s even close to those numbers on some nights it helps Miami out a lot and makes them a much tougher opponent.