Home The Carolina bluebloods spent a lot of NIL money on that Sweet 16 flameout

The Carolina bluebloods spent a lot of NIL money on that Sweet 16 flameout

Chris Graham
ncaa tournament
(© Brocreative – stock.adobe.com)

The best team that Carolina blueblood NIL money could buy flamed out in the Sweet 16 Thursday night.

The Alabama folks, flush with SEC cash, got more bang for their bucks in that 89-87 win.

And all they had to do was throw a little bit of cash at a big kid from North Dakota State, a 6’11” guy with the mustache of the silent-movie villain who ties the damsel to the railroad tracks, Grant Nelson, who had scored a grand total of six points in the Tide’s two NCAA Tournament games coming in.

UNC coach Hubert Davis never could figure out how to stop Nelson, who had gone a combined 1-of-7 from the floor in the ‘Bama wins over Charleston and Grand Canyon.

Maybe some of that Carolina blueblood money should go toward smartening up the coaching staff.

“I mean, I’m definitely hurt. I think we all are a little shocked,” said Armando Bacot, the grad senior who returned to Chapel Hill, twice, for the NIL money – to be fair, Bacot, for all of his accolades at the college level, is not an NBA prospect, so returning for more money than he’d make in the G League or overseas wasn’t a hard choice.

Last year’s Carolina team, coming off a surprise run to the 2022 national-title game, was the preseason national #1, before falling all the way out of not getting an NCAA Tournament bid.

This year’s group largely lived up to expectations, rolling to a 9-0 start in the ACC, working through a 2-3 rough patch over a two-week stretch in the middle of the conference season, then winning nine of 10 to get to the Sweet 16.

The leaders were Bacot, a five-year guy, RJ Davis, a four-year guy who took over the leadership mantle on the team from Bacot this year, and a pair of high-profile transfers, Harrison Ingram (Stanford) and Cormac Ryan (Notre Dame), both of whom averaged in double-digits this season.

This Carolina team was at its best when Davis kept things simple – spread the floor to allow Davis to create, and give Bacot room to operate down low, on offense, and let his team’s length and athleticism smother opponents on defense.

Credit Alabama coach Nate Oats for out-scheming Davis in the second half in two ways – first, prioritizing getting the ball to Nelson, who had a quiet five-point first half, when Carolina switched on screens, using his height advantage in the post on guards to get easy buckets and trips to the free-throw line.

Nelson scored 19 points in the second half, on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor, one made three, and 8-of-11 shooting at the line.

On the other end, Oats told reporters after the game that his game plan was to give up open looks to Elliot Cadeau and Seth Trimble to give more attention to Davis and Bacot.

“We planned on leaving them open. They hit four threes in the first half. We questioned whether to stay with it or not. We decided to stick with it,” Oats said.

Davis helped make the game plan pay off in the second half.

“Those guys ended up not playing very many minutes, 13 between the two of them. I think the plan was right,” Oats said.

A look at the box score shows us, Cadeau and Trimble were a combined 4-of-5 from three in the first half in 20 minutes, and that, actually, Oats was wrong on their minutes in the second half – it wasn’t 13, but nine, five for Cadeau, four for Trimble.

Paxson Wojcik got nine minutes of run in the second half, and though ‘Bama was surrendering him open looks, per Oats’ game plan, he only took one shot, a made three with 9:12 to go.

“With them loading up on Armando in the post and loading up on RJ on any type of drives, and then them, I think, even staying more connected to Cormac after the first half that he had, putting in somebody that throughout his career is more proven from the outside would give Armando some more space, RJ more space to drive, and be able to move. I thought Pax did a good job when he was in there,” Davis said.

One shot in nine minutes.

Good job.

UNC was 10-of-40 from the field and 2-of-16 from three in the second half against an Alabama team that ranks 104th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency in KenPom.

Its eighth-ranked defense gave up 1.303 points per possession in that second half.

Minor adjustments – on defending Nelson, getting more shooters on the floor to help Davis and Bacot – have Carolina in the Elite Eight.

You hate it, most of all, for Ryan, Davis and, in particular, Bacot, all of whom have likely played their last big-time basketball game.

“It’s tough losing, it’s not easy losing, especially as talented as a team we are. We felt we had the chance to win the national championship this year,” Bacot told reporters afterward.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].