USA TODAY Sports
The Heels spend most of the first half not playing defense and allowed an offensively challenged Texas team to build a huge lead on the way to a 85-67 win over UNC.
This was simply brutal.
The game was more or less over in the first 15 minutes. Why? Because the first 15 minutes saw UNC dig itself a massive hole as they have done in the only other two games played against a KenPom top 100 team. The defense was non-existent and we know it was non-existent because Texas, which struggles to score points, managed 46 in the first half. In fact it was 44-25 before UNC finally woke up and got something done on both ends of the floor. After being down 19, UNC bucked up, showed some heart and actual interest in playing defense. There was also some semblance of an offensive flow in the halfcourt leading to a 31-16 stretch for the Heels. With 7:29 left in the game, UNC trailed by four and following a timeout turned the ball over(one of 19 on the day) to squander the opportunity to get closer.
And that point it was essentially over but the 31-16 stretch is the rub. Clearly UNC was perfectly capable of playing with Texas. In fact despite shooting 30% in the first half, the 33 points wasn't really that horrendous since UNC managed to get to the free throw line at a decent rate and Texas is a very good defensive team. The problem was the defense which Texas gashed over and over in the first half for a fat offensive efficiency rating of 117. Had UNC done something to slow down the Texas offense or forced it to play at the level it has all season then perhaps that 31-16 run secures a decent lead or at least creates game pressure for the Longhorns. Instead, it was a repeat of the Butler game where the hole UNC dug for itself was too much to overcome and after coming back, there isn't enough to pull the game out.
The problem for UNC is there is no good win to hang the proverbial hat on at this point. In fact, UNC has fared poorly in every game it has played against teams in the top 100. What's more, this Texas team is not very good so while a loss here, on the road, would not have been horrible losing to a not very good team in this manner certainly makes one very uneasy about the future. Granted this is still a team trying to figure it out but I think most UNC fans would feel better about that if games didn't have such a famine or feast feel to them. Either UNC is playing well or playing like total garbage. There does not seem to be a middle ground.
As for positives, the free throw rate certainly was one as was Reggie Bullock being more aggressive. The three point shooting was off but Bullock took the ball to the basket more and put up 18 points and 13 rebounds. James Michael McAdoo scored 14 points to go with nine rebounds and six steals. Perhaps most important, McAdoo was very animated and showed some emotional fire for perhaps the first time all season. If you are looking for a positive(and I might be grasping here) but McAdoo's demeanor could serve as a turning point or a spark for this team. There was also Bullock telling his teammates after the game(via Andrew Carter), "I told the players when we came in: we can’t keep playing like this. If we keep playing like, teams are going to keep kicking our ass." Obviously Bullock and McAdoo are taking a step in the right direction from an emotional/leadership standpoint. Whether it produces results remains to be seen.
In terms of personnel, I wonder if the lineup UNC used to start the second half of McAdoo, Bullock, Dexter Strickland, Marcus Paige and J.P.Tokoto with some P.J. Hairston or Leslie McDonald thrown in some might be the most effective group. I like Brice Johnson's game and think he is going to be solid but he is still working out some things. Joel James is even more raw and struggled in this game as much as he has all season. The UNC bigs committed eight turnovers in the first half and the offense was disjointed. The second half lineup which included Tokoto had a better flow to it. Tokoto's game is still an enigma in some respects but out of the four options available to play alongside McAdoo, he seems to have the best feel for what's going on.
Of course it is straw grasping at this point. There are no good answers at this stage and we have reached that place where we are simply hoping things take a turn for the better. There are still 21 games left in the regular season and a weak ACC so there are possibilities but after a loss like this, I wouldn't blame anyone for feeling pessimistic.