After nine minutes of action on Monday evening, the North Carolina Tar Heels looked out of sorts. Roy Williams’ team, playing at home against a quality opponent in Virginia Tech, was expected to win (at least according to Las Vegas) but North Carolina trailed by a 22-13 margin and looked to be in at least theoretical danger of an upset loss.
31 minutes later, the Tar Heels picked up a runaway 103-82 victory and, by the end, it was virtually unthinkable that the favorites were ever in peril. Along the way, North Carolina received big-time contributions from Coby White (27 points, seven rebounds, six assists), Luke Maye (14 points, five rebounds) and others, but the night was reserved as something of a “breakout” from highly touted freshman Nassir Little.
Much has been made of Little’s inability to break through during his brief stint in Chapel Hill, as the five-star prospect entered the night playing only 18.8 minutes per game and averaging fewer than 10 points per contest. Some of that lack of exposure stems from the simple logistics of North Carolina having an experienced and prolific frontcourt but, in short, Roy Williams has come under fire for his apparent unwillingness to deploy the player with the highest upside on the roster.
In this game, however, that was not the case as Little exploded for a career-high 23 points (7 of 12 from the floor and 2 of 3 from three) to go along with six rebounds and three assists. As you would expect with his team topping 100 points in a college game, Little benefited from a lightning-fast tempo and a lot of space, allowing his elite athleticism to take hold. Still, some of that tempo was created by Little, who made an impact on both ends.
Little, who stands at 6’6, has a 7’1 wingspan that helps to project him as a multi-faceted talent for the next level. He profiles as a player that can defend multiple positions and, on the offensive end, there is more than enough of an arsenal to see how Little will function in an NBA system on that end of the floor. It was, however, good to see him shooting the ball with confidence against the Hokies, as Little has struggled (admittedly in a small sample) as a floor-spacer to this point in his college tenure.
It is always worth noting that one game, in either direction, shouldn’t cloud an evaluation through the lens of the NBA Draft and Little will need to continue having this kind of impact for the next two months to maximize his stock. With that said, the movement to detract from Little’s prospect status as a result of his college play certainly met some resistance on this evening and, over the course of a blowout win over a quality opponent, both North Carolina and the team’s best NBA prospect may have unlocked something quite interesting for the future.