The UNC men’s basketball program is having the season many expected for them to have last year. Last season, the Tar Heels started as the preseason No. 1 ranked team and ended the year by declining an NIT invite.
So, what has been the biggest change this season that has college hoop fans, analysts, and coaches treating UNC as the real deal?
Some may pinpoint the Caleb Love departure as allowing RJ Davis to play more freely, but the impact did not come from who left but who joined in the off-season. For the last few seasons, it has been the transfers that have been the difference maker. Brady Manek helped ignite UNC’s magical run to the National Championship two years ago. Meanwhile, Pete Nance Oreos gave the team a new headline but did not amount to much outside of an ACC exit.
This season feels more like two years ago, with UNC benefiting from two transfers who have made an immediate impact, Cormac Ryan and Harrison Ingram. Both have vocally led while impacting the game, even through shooting slumps and injuries.
As great as Ryan has been this season, Ingram is looked at as the x-factor, and his recent play while nursing a wrist injury is the key why. Ingram’s scoring output has taken a hit in the last few games, but with the offensive struggles, the transfer has found new ways to impact the game, one being a terror on the glass by being a rebounding machine.
Ingram has had double-digit rebounding games seven times this year, four coming in the last five games, including a monstrous 19-rebound game against NC State. In UNC’s Monday night 85-64 win over Wake Forest, Ingram dominated the boards again with 14 rebounds.
Following the win, I got a chance to speak with Ingram about his rebounding.
“For me trying to impact the game in other ways, RJ has a legendary scoring night with 36, so somebody gotta get the rebound, somebody gotta do all the dirty work. I’m playing the small ball 4 a little bit so I have to rebound there. Plus my wrist has been hurting a lot, so I haven’t been able to shoot the shots I really want to shoot. So just trying to impact the game to stay on the court.”
Hubert Davis preached about Ingram’s impact on the glass during the press conference, smiling ear to ear when talking about his work in that category.
“I say it’s not an Armando Bacot rebounding game, it’s a UNC rebounding game. (I did that) to try to get everybody else to rebound and not just sit back and go, ‘Armando is gonna get it.’ And Harrison I mean, he’s just been terrific in terms of boxing out rebounding, limiting teams to one shot every possession. He didn’t have any offensive rebounds, I think he can be a great offensive rebounder as well.
“And so, he checks so many boxes for us. It’s not just rebounding, (it’s) scoring, posting up, passing his personality. He’s just one of those guys that makes you laugh and he’s not trying to be funny. He just walks in a locker room and you just start smiling. Him being in this program and on this team has been such a blessing for all of us.”
Ingram has been a big get for UNC, his ability to impact the game outside of scoring, has been beneficial for the Tar Heels.