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UNC NOTEBOOK

Tar Heels not winning, but getting better

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North Carolina is now on a three-game losing streak, and someone just looking at wins and losses could be excused for concluding that the Tar Heel football program is continuing along the same trajectory as recent years. But that could hardly be further from the truth — just ask Clemson.

Despite a banged-up roster and the absence of several key contributors, Carolina gave the top-ranked defending national champs all they could handle on Saturday, coming up short on a two-point conversion that would’ve given the Heels the lead with 1:14 left.

Mack Brown has made no secret that he envisions building his program into “the Clemson of the (ACC) Coastal” division, and Saturday’s contest displayed proof of concept for the vision Brown has set since his arrival for a second stint as head coach in Chapel Hill.

Brown’s decision to go for the two-point conversion when an extra point would likely have sent the game into overtime has understandably been called into question, but Brown concluded that overtime would likely favor the deeper and more talented Tigers, while Carolina had converted on all its previous two-point attempts on the season.

“I told the players that we’re not into moral victories,” Brown said afterwards, “because you’ve got to learn to win.” 

Nevertheless, when thinking from a longer-term program view, this loss was a heck of a moral victory in terms of showing that Carolina can and will compete at the highest level during Brown’s tenure.

FOOTBALL RECRUITING WEEKEND

The Tar Heel football staff took advantage of  the visit from the defending champs to host a star-studded group of recruits, including two consensus five-star prospects. 

That includes the most important recruit left on the board for the Tar Heels: 2020 defensive end Desmond Evans from Lee County, a top 20 overall recruit in the nation and the top prospect in the state. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Evans is exactly the sort of elite defender that wound up in Chapel Hill late in Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill but has tended to leave the state in recent years (often to Clemson). 

There is little reason to doubt that Evans would be an immediate starter and difference-maker in Jay Bateman’s innovative scheme, and the Heels’ defensive performance against the potent Clemson offense surely gave him plenty of positive visuals about a potential future in Carolina blue.

Weddington High running back Will Shipley, the second-ranked prospect in the 2021 class, was the other five-star visitor.

Other 2020 blue-chip prospects in attendance included Charlotte Mallard Creek four-star linebacker Trenton Simpson, an Auburn commitment who was a surprise addition to the weekend’s visitor list, and current commitments linebacker Ja’Quarious Conley (LB); safety Cameron Roseman-Sinclair and defensive tackle Myles Murphy, North Carolina’s third-ranked prospect. Among the other 2021 blue-chippers are Zaire Patterson (Winston-Salem Prep), Kaemen Marley (Eastern Randolph), Jahvaree Ritzie (Kernersville Glenn) and Kamarro Edwards (Havelock).

Two obvious emphases stand out from that list of visitors: Upgrading the defensive talent level and keeping North Carolina talent home. 

ELITE BIG MAN COMMITS

Speaking of recruiting, Carolina basketball has added a commitment from a consensus 2020 five-star prospect and one of the nation’s top 15 players in 7-0 center Walker Kessler from Atlanta Woodward Academy.

Kessler is highly skilled when facing the basket and can score both inside and out (39% from 3-point range as a junior), making him an excellent frontcourt partner with former South Central High star Day’Ron Sharpe, Carolina’s other five-star center commitment in the 2020 class. As such, Roy Williams’ preference for lineups featuring two big men was a major factor in Kessler’s commitment.

Including Sharpe, five five-star prospects were present for the Late Night with Roy festivities on Friday night, including a consensus top-three player in the 2021 class, Paulo Banchero, and three top-10 players in the 2020 class — Cade Cunningham, Zaire Williams, and Greg Brown. 

LATE NIGHT WITH ROY

The North Carolina basketball team introduced its six newcomers on Friday night, with highly touted freshman point guard Cole Anthony’s windmill dunk at the end of the skills competition emphatically displaying his rare athleticism and explosiveness.

Graduate transfer Christian Keeling (formerly of Charleston Southern) led all scorers in the 20-minute scrimmage period with 13 points, while five-star center Armando Bacot made his presence known with seven points and three blocks.

Anthony was also spotted at Kenan Stadium doing push-ups to celebrate Carolina’s first touchdown on Saturday, further endearing himself to the Tar Heel faithful.

STAT OF THE WEEK

39%. Clemson averaged only 4.03 yards per rush against North Carolina’s shape-shifting defense, a 39% reduction compared to the 6.59 yards per carry the Tigers had averaged through their first four contests.

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