The Hurricanes hosted two inferior opponents at The Watsco Center over the weekend to start their season 2-0. The lopsided wins against Gardner-Webb and Navy were expected, but let’s dig deeper into the games to see what the biggest takeaways were from the early season.
1. Lonnie Walker will (eventually) Start
The freshman phenom is currently coming off the bench after an offseason knee injury that pushed sharpshooter Dejan Vasiljevic into the starting five. Walker’s talent is some of the best in the country and he gave Canes’ fans a glimpse of that over the weekend. His presence was felt immediately against Gardner-Webb, flushing an alley-oop dunk, shooting (4-5) from the field and (2-3) from three to finish with 10 points and five assists. Walker struggled with his outside shot vs Navy shooting (1-5) beyond the arc, but is clearly going to jump into the starting lineup sooner than later. Vasiljevic is known for a streaky jump shot and lack of defense, so as the competition picks up and Walker gains more college experience, fans should expect him in the starting five.
2. An improved Ebuka Inzundu
The offensively raw 6’10” junior showed some major improvements over the weekend compared to last season. Against Gardner-Webb, Inzundu had a strong first half and overall game finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench. He backed that performance up Sunday when he scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes. He shot 85% (11-13) from the field and 57% (4-7) from the charity stripe. Most of his buckets came off of dunks, but it was nice to see the big man having ease scoring. He is the most important bench player as he’s the only back-up big man on the roster. The early season offensive improvement is promising, but let’s see if it holds up against better competition.
3. Team Free Throw Struggles
Say it with me: You’ve got to make your free throws! The Canes shot an abysmal 54% (20-37) as a team on free throws over the weekend. Hopefully, this is just an early season fluke in a small two game sample size as last year’s Canes shot 71.8% from the line as a team. There has always been more desired from Ja’Quan Newton at the free throw line as he shot around 70% the past two years, but gets to the line so often that fans and coaches would want that mark closer to 80%. Over the weekend, he shot 56%(5-9) at the line. This is an area that needs to be monitored over the next two weeks to see if this is a poor trend or if it was just a small sample size.
4. Anthony Lawrence is the Glue Guy
Entering his junior season, Lawrence to me, is the “glue guy” of the team. He’s the player that holds everything together on the court and does the little things that don’t often show up in the box score. He makes good passes, pushes the ball on a fast-break, plays solid defense, and rebounds really well. He grabbed seven boards in each contest over the weekend, proving that even though undersized as a four, he crashes the glass very well. The scoring will be inconsistent in terms of numbers, but he’s pretty efficient, especially as a fifth option on the court. Come ACC play, he’ll show how valuable he is to this roster.
5. Small Ball Lineup
Against Gardner-Webb, Lawrence picked up his second foul with about five minutes left in the first half. Instead of bringing in two bigs with Huell and Inzundu, Coach L went with a small ball lineup that featured Newton, Bruce Brown, Chris Lykes, Walker, and Inzundu. This caught my attention as playing small ball has become very trendy in professional and collegiate basketball. I think going forward, the small ball lineup would have Vasiljevic over Lykes with either Huell or Inzundu at the center spot. This lineup is very intriguing when down in games as the Canes would feature three very good spot-up shooters with Newton driving and kicking in the lanes. Let’s see if this lineup makes anymore appearances in the non-conference schedule.