Caleb Love has had a magical March Madness run with UNC. But he just exploded onto the national radar with a game-clinching three that sent rival Duke home and Carolina to the National Championship Game.
The name “Caleb Love” will now be forever etched in NCAA Men’s Tournament lore and Tar Heels basketball history.
Here’s everything you need to know about the North Carolina guard and the 2022 Final Four’s breakout star.
Caleb Love beat Duke and carried UNC to the National Title Game
Love hit a deep three over 7-foot-1 Duke center Mark Williams that put Carolina up 78-74 with less than 25 seconds left in the two teams’ historic Final Four matchup on April 2.
It wasn’t a game-winner. The Blue Devils still had a chance and kept it close until a three-point heave by Trevor Keels missed the mark.
But Love’s shot will be the lasting image of that game, and perhaps the entire 2022 tournament.
“It means everything to me,” Love said simply of the shot via ESPN.
The sophomore guard averaged 15.7 points during the regular season. He hit 37.1% of his 6.5 three-point attempts per game.
But Love has been on a tournament run for the ages.
He’s averaged 25 points over UNC’s five March Madness games but dropped 30 in a seven-point Sweet 16 win over UCLA and then 28 against the Blue Devils.
But where did Love come from, and why has he become an NCAA Tournament hero?
Love was a major recruit for Carolina but has only now hit his stride
The Saint Louis, MO native was the 14th-best player in the Class of 2020, the No. 1 recruit in the state, and the No. 2 point guard in the country per 247Sports.
He was a five-star recruit and a McDonald’s All-American who also held scholarship offers from Arizona, Kansas, Indiana, and Louisville, among others.
Love was a score-first combo guard who entered the UNC backcourt in the same class as RJ Davis. Down the stretch of this season, though, Davis eventually settled into the point guard spot and Love into the 2-guard position.
Prior to his freshman season, Love was a projected top-20 NBA Draft pick per Bleacher Report, but he slid out of big boards entirely after averaging only 10.5 points on 31.6% shooting and 26.6% shooting from deep.
He also had a nearly 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a supposed lead guard.
So Love returned to Chapel Hill, where he had an improved sophomore campaign but not one good enough to make him a sure-fire first-round pick.
Before postseason play, for example, Love was ranked as the 79th-best draft prospect via SI.com.
But his postseason play, flair for the dramatic, and One-Shining-Moment-worthy shot in an all-time Duke vs. UNC game have now made Love a household name.
The sophomore guard is now on the NBA radar after his tournament performance
Love’s high-school pedigree, coupled with his improvement as a sophomore and now his explosion during the tournament, will surely have him rocketing up draft boards.
Whether or not that sends him from a relative afterthought to first-round prospect within the NBA scouting world remains to be seen.
But Love has just shown his potential at the highest level of college basketball. He overshadowed Duke freshman Paolo Banchero, for example, a guaranteed top-three pick.
His game is reminiscent of a less-explosive but more-skilled Dwyane Wade when the Miami Heat star led Marquette on a Final Four run of his own. Love’s body control, finishing, and self-assuredness are similar to Wade’s during his early years.
But draft prospects aside, one thing is certain: The college basketball world now knows exactly who Caleb Love is. And with one game to go, all UNC may need is Love.
All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference.