3 similarities stand out between Hubert Davis' and Jon Scheyer's first seasons
DURHAM, NC — There’s a first time for everything.
Saturday marks the first meeting between Hubert Davis and Jon Scheyer as head coaches as North Carolina and Duke face off for the first time since last April’s Final Four classic. With Hubert Davis in his second season and Scheyer in his debut campaign — replacing iconic adversaries Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski, respectively — the two will be inextricably linked for as long as they are in charge of their respective programs.
While Hubert Davis steered the Tar Heels to an eventual 3-point loss in the national title game to Kansas last spring, it should be noted that until his North Carolina group knocked off Duke on the final day of the regular season, serious questions remained. In Scheyer’s case, despite a No. 7 preseason ranking, it has not been all rosy in Durham. With that being said, here are 3 similarities between the head coach’s first years in charge.
1. Early bumps in nonconference play
In November of 2021, North Carolina had trouble defending much of anything, and it showed in its first marquee event at the Hall of Fame Tip Off in Connecticut. Against Purdue and Tennessee (both top-20 teams at the time), the Tar Heels were sliced and diced to the tune of 93-84 and 89-72 losses. Ball screen defense and help rotations were serious concerns, and it was clear that despite loads of returning talent in Caleb Love, RJ Davis, Leaky Black and Armando Bacot — in addition to Brady Manek, who transferred in from Oklahoma — North Carolina had a ways to go.
In December, coming off 5 straight wins, the Tar Heels hit rock bottom, getting smoked by Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic 98-69. Bacot did his part, with 22 points and 10 boards, but the Tar Heels’ backcourt of Love and RJ Davis were just 5-of-16 from the field. North Carolina entered ACC at a respectable 8-3, but the context was much graver.
For Scheyer and Duke, a loss to Kansas this past November did not raise any serious alarm bells. After all, the Blue Devils were working Dereck Lively II back into the fold, and fellow freshman hotshot Dariq Whitehead was still yet to return from preseason foot surgery. Plus, Kyle Filipowski was proving himself as a double-double machine, and as long as Duke had a healthy Jeremy Roach to stir the drink, this group would be fine.
But the captain, while terrific in Duke’s semifinal win over Xavier at the Phil Knight Legacy event during Thanksgiving break, got nicked up in the final against Purdue, injuring his toe and not looking like himself for the rest of the contest. The Blue Devils suffered, falling 75-56 and looking lost for extended stretches offensively. Freshman guard Tyrese Proctor had a lot of growing up to do, and Duke was yet to establish flow and rhythm in the half court.
2. Road struggles in the ACC
There’s a reason North Carolina was a bubble team for virtually all of January and February last season. Road losses to Notre Dame, Miami and Wake Forest (the latter 2 by 20-plus points) made it clear that the Tar Heels were going to have to fight their way back to conference contention.
The loss to Wake Forest seemed to awaken something, as North Carolina did not lose another road game, the biggest win being spoiling Coach K’s final home game in Cameron Indoor on March 5.
For Duke, Roach was clearly not 100% during road losses to Wake Forest and NC State, the latter of which came via a 24-point drubbing. Then, tight losses to Clemson (the current leader in the ACC standings) and Virginia Tech away from home continued the narrative that this team just could not nab a key win on the road. Part of it has to do with the fact that, so far, Duke’s road schedule has simply been tougher than its home schedule in conference play, but for such a young team, a lack of comfort outside could certainly be one explanation.
Was the win last Saturday at Georgia Tech the start of something?
3. Who’s the point?
During their playing careers, Davis and Scheyer were guards by trade, and their first starting backcourts were (and are) under a glaring spotlight. Neither group — RJ Davis and Caleb Love, and Tyrese Proctor and Jeremy Roach — truly figured out how to play together until one of the two became the primary ball handler.
For the Tar Heels, it was RJ Davis. For the Blue Devils, it was Proctor.
Both operate as natural points, seeing the court beautifully and possessing a knack for setting up their teammates. Love and Roach, on the other hand, are excellent at attacking closeouts and utilizing off-ball screens to get downhill. It paid off in the NCAA Tournament for North Carolina, as RJ Davis led the way against Baylor in the second round, while Love took over late in the Sweet Sixteen win over UCLA. Love then made one of the biggest shots in UNC history, a dagger 3 to put away Duke in the Final Four.
Time will tell whether the distinction works for Duke in the postseason, but against Wake Forest on Tuesday night, Proctor and Roach combined for 38 points on 15-of-27 from the floor (and 5 triples between them).
Figuring out how to juggle different backcourt skill sets has been a challenge for both head coaches, but hey, better late than never.