Looking Ahead: Caleb Love
THI’s annual series taking a look at the Tar Heels returning for next season is back. It must be noted that North Carolina has signed two prospects for the class of 2021 that will join the program in the summer, plus it picked up two players in the transfer portal. There remains a possibility UNC will add more to the 2021-22 roster.
Next season will also be the first for Hubert Davis at the helm of the Tar Heels.
Today, we look at sophomore point guard Caleb Love:
Getting a handle on Caleb Love’s freshman season is not an easy task if trends are the lead indicator of anything. Love went through several periods with scoring, shooting accuracy, and ball distribution – to his teammates and opponents – that were, as the saying goes, all over the place.
He was consistently inconsistent, but Love did make progress. Former UNC Coach Roy Williams was asked about the St. Louis native’s growth late in the season. The question followed a stretch in which Love handed out 40 assists over eight games. In his next contest, a rout of Notre Dame, Love had six dishes to mates.
“I see things that he's improving on every day in practice, coming down and seeing the court and finding other people,” Williams said. “He was a scoring guard, a volume shooter in high school, and he had scored a lot of points or they didn't have a chance to win. But if you want to be a point guard, you’ve got to be able to make your own plays and make plays for other people.
“And that's where I've seen him grow the most making bounce pass, feeding the post inside or coming down to court and seeing the whole court and seeing Kerwin’s on the other side and you need to get the ball to him over there. So, I've seen improvement there.”
Most fans looked at what Love shot from the floor each game to gauge whether or not he played well, and that’s fair. Sort of. If that was the marker, then Love rarely had positive games. In UNC’s 29 contests, of which 26 Love started, he converted more than half of his field goal attempts twice and was right at 50 percent in two other games.
That means Love converted fewer than 50 percent of his shots in 25 of Carolina’s 29 contests. The ones he did not were UNC victories over Duke twice, Wake, and Louisville.
More numbers: Over UNC’s final eight games, beginning with an 0-for-8 performance in a puzzling home loss to Marquette, Love was just 28-for-94 from the field, which is a paltry 29.8 percent. From three-point range in that stretch, he was 13-for-40, which is 32.5 percent. So, Love struggled converting inside the arc more than outside, as he was 15-for-54 shooting inside the three-point circle, which is 27.8 percent.
And there were the turnovers.
He finished the season with 89 turnovers versus 104 assists. In 14 games, he had four or more turnovers, though four came is succession in games three-through-six. The truth, however, is that Love never went more than two consecutive outings without turning it over at least four times.
Love is well aware of what needs improving.
“I just have to learn how to get better shots and get my teammates more involved,” he said during the postseason. “And when I don’t have the ball, move without the ball, get my teammates screens, like for Kerwin, get him open for the bigs, and feeding the bigs.”
There are positives, as noted at the beginning of this piece.
Love scored in double figures in 16 of Carolina’s 29 games, including in six of UNC’s final seven contests. In fact, he averaged 12.1 points in that span, and while he still struggled converting from the field, his patience running the team and shot selection were better.
And his best games were against Carolina’s fiercest rival.
In the first date versus Duke, in which UNC won 91-87 on the road, Love was 9-for-16 from the floor, including 4-for-5 from three-point range, finishing with his personal high of 25 points, seven assists and a steal.
In the second meeting, an easy Carolina win at home, Love finished with 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including 2-for-6 from three-point range, while also dishing out seven assists. In two games overall versus Duke, Love has scored 43 points and handed out 14 assists while hitting 6-of 11 from the perimeter.
He made the ACC All-Freshman team, and after rumor whirled he might transfer, Love remained in the program.
Reason For Optimism
Love is a very talented player, that was obvious enough to lend reason to believe more consistency will surface during his sophomore campaign and he will be an improved player. Furthermore, he was learning how to play point guard for the first time, and this was with an extremely young team that didn’t have much perimeter scoring. Defenses keyed on Love raising his challenge each night.
But with UNC going to more of a spread game under new coach Hubert Davis, Love will have more help on the perimeter and his drives might find more space and less intrusion when he nears the rim, thus expect more conversions and, as a result, a higher shooting percentage and more points per game.
Defensively, Love improved as the season went on and, as Williams said a few times late in the season, he should develop into an outstanding ACC defender.
The mission here is for Love to trim the miscues, sharpen his ball security, and take better shots. If he is 20-25 percent better in those areas, he can be an All-ACC player. A full offseason in Chapel Hill with the pros back and a more normal lead into next season will help Love perhaps more than anyone in the program. The game is there, and much of it will come out next season.