Tied For First
Let's start with something that has nothing to do with the actual game on Sunday at all – for the first time since 2004 the Pack is off to a 4-1 start to league play and is tied for first heading into Chapel Hill on Thursday.
Yes the schedule has been ridiculously favorable for the Pack early on, but apart from the letdown against Georgia Tech the Pack has taken care of business. Sunday's win was in fact a mild upset – the Pack was an underdog according to the Vegas lines going into the game.
The last time the Pack was 4-1 to start ACC play, they also played their sixth game at Chapel Hill. They lost that game by two points, but went on win the next five games en route to an 11-5 overall record in the conference and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This team is probably not going to repeat that success, but just being on the same trajectory after five games is quite an accomplishment.
The Improving Perimeter Defense
For the third straight game the Pack locked down an opposing team's perimeter shooting. The Hurricanes seemed to get plenty of open looks, but finished a woeful 2-of-20 from behind the arc. Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant, the Canes two biggest playmakers, finished 0-for-7 from deep and combined for just 13 points. The Pack's last three opponents have shot a combined 19 percent from behind the arc.
So how has the Pack suddenly improved so drastically at perimeter defense? It's probably a combination of luck, competition and some real defensive strides being made by guys like Scott Wood and Lorenzo Brown. The Pack won't hold its opponents to 19 percent the rest of the season, but if it can keep teams around 30 percent or less it will still be a drastic improvement from earlier in the season.
Scott Wood... Dagger Thrower
Wood kept crushing Miami's comeback hopes on Sunday afternoon, repeatedly hitting shots that kept the Hurricanes just at bay over the final seven minutes of the game. His biggest shot came at the 2:24 mark in the second half when the Canes had closed the margin to five points – Wood buried a 3 in transition to stretch the lead back to eight. The Canes would get as close as four but the Pack hit just enough free throws – including two by Wood with 18 seconds left – to keep them from ever cutting it to a single possession game.
Oh and Wood also set the ACC mark for consecutive made free throws, breaking J.J. Redick's record. Wood has now made 58 straight free throws but he's still 27 away from tying the NCAA mark. His current streak places him 8th all-time in NCAA history.
Once again Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie found themselves in foul trouble. And once again it was the way they got into that foul trouble that was so frustrating for Pack fans.
Leslie picked up an extra foul on a technical where he simply should have kept his mouth shut – especially when talking to a particular referee who has been quick on the whistle all season.
Howell picked up his final foul by attempting to block a wide open dunk that he had absolutely no hope of challenging. All Howell managed to do was hit the Miami player after the ball was in the basket and take himself out of the game.
It hasn't cost the Pack a game yet, but the lack of situational awareness by its frontcourt will eventually come back to bite the Pack.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Scott Wood led the team in scoring and hit some big shots down the stretch, but DeShawn Painter's play off the bench saved the Pack. With both Leslie and Howell in foul trouble, Painter stepped up. The big man scored 18 points, hit 8-of-10 from the charity stripe, and grabbed seven boards in the win. He may be too quick on the trigger, but the Pack doesn't beat the Hurricanes without him on Sunday.
"We also realize it's a long, long 16-game season. Things can change quickly. We've got to keep our minds concentrating on what we are doing. Let's be us. That's all we can do. Let's be the best we can be. We can't get caught up in the standings."