"The best team won today. The toughest team, the smartest team [and] the best coached team won today. That’s all I have to say"
-Roy Williams during his Maryland postgame press conference.
Be warned...it is long.
Roy Williams postgame press conference took 2:28. The statement above was all he had to say outside of answering questions. For his part Roy viewed this as a complete failure of the team as a whole players and coaches included. I really am not going to argue with that. The question is, where did it all go wrong?
1. These Tar Heel lack a killer instinct
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Anyone want to know the difference between UNC and NC State at this point? UNC's talent advantage gives them a greater margin of error when they decide to piss double digit leads away in the 2nd half. UNC has several results this season which saw them post a huge lead then give most of it back and even fall behind. It happened at Florida State, at Miami and again today. What happened today was inexcusable. A team with the Tar Heels' talent should not lose a game when up 16 when facing an unranked team. If this sort of thing happened on the road at Wake Forest, Clemson or even Duke I could live with it. Against a team scrambling to find the top of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament does not strike me as a great sign since every team UNC will face from the 2nd Round on in the Big Dance will be better than this Maryland team.
A few years back I walked into my garage and saw a snake had come all the way in. I don't mind snakes but when they come into the garage they must be dealt with. So I took a hoe, hit behind the snake so he would move away from the refrigerator then I pinned his neck with the hoe and pushed down to effectively incapacitate the serpent. Then I took the hoe and crushed his head making sure it was detached from his body. The Tar Heels seem content with hitting the snake a few times with the hoe and hope it dies on its own when what they should do is put the hoe on the back of the neck make sure the head is no longer attached to the body.
Kill the darn thing. Kill it dead then kill it again. UNC does not do this and today they snake came back and bit them.
2. Roy's coaching
On one hand it seemed like maybe Roy had decided to let this one ride on the players. It had all the feeling of an object lesson for the players. However Roy specifically pointed to poor coaching as one of the reasons why the Heels lost so maybe not. The biggest complaint about the coaching today will be the lost 24 seconds at the end of overtime. UNC was down one and permitted 24 seconds to tick off the clock before taking the foul with 11 seconds left. My philisophy on the matter is you extend the game and put the other team in the pressure packed situation needing to make the FTs to maintain the lead. Fouling after 4-5 seconds of tough defense possibly garners you two more possessions. By waiting 24 seconds you played right into the leading team's hands. Roy has not addressed why he chose to go this way and for all we know the players simply did not do what they were told to do. I also thought the final nine seconds of regulation were not handled correctly. A timeout at midcourt with about seven seconds left to diagram something might have produced a better shot. Ty Lawson seemed a little out of sorts bring the ball up and the Heels did not get a good shot which could have won the game. Outside of that, it was a mixed deal but Roy also took responsibility for it and that is all you can ask at this point.
3. The Heels defense
This game will be trumpeted as another failed defensive effort by the Heels defense. I disagree at least partially. I actually thought the defense was good for most of the game. The final ten minutes of regulation saw supporting elements on the Maryland team start scoring at will. The problem, in my mind, is the failure to score points essentially wasted the good defense. During the span Maryland was shooting around 33% the Heels were hanging around 38% mark in shooting the basketball. Despite the bad shooting the Heels were up 16. Had their offensive effort been closer to normal, that lead is probably 10 points more and the game is over. Maryland gets some credit for that. You also have games where the ball does not go in. I know Tyler Hansbrough had at least two shots rim out and the same was true for others. Danny Green got in foul trouble about the time Maryland started their rally back and at that point he was the best offensive option on the court but was relegated to the bench.
Now, if the offense struggles, that is when the defense should step up and compensate. In this respect the Heels' defense was a major problem. Everyone has concluded that the Heels are probably as good as they ever will be on defense. Most of us have also concluded that without Marcus Ginyard there will be no lock down defense played on the perimeter. This is why Greivis Vasquez became the fifth ACC guard to drop 30-plus on the Heels. At this point we have no choice but to accept that the defense will be spotty at best and hope like heck the offense shows up every night out from now on.
4. All sorts of weird crap
I really have no other way to describe the combination of bad officiating and other stuff. Roy pointed out that the crux to the Maryland 9-0 run to tie the game was Tar Heel turnovers, three straight to be specific. That is not something we see this Tar Heel team do on a regular basis and it simply came at the worst time. The officiating was, well, crappy. I have stated many times that I do not believe officials cost teams games. I do think that bad calls can make things more difficult. This seems like one of those cases. UNC should have never put themselves in the situation to begin with. Once the game does tighten up and suddenly every call/non-call is the difference between winning or losing, it is easy to harp on the officiating. I personally thought the Heels got a raw deal with the officiating but if the Heels do what they are supposed to then none of that matters. Sometimes there is a bizarre series of events during games which lead to losses. As the adage goes: "That is why they play the games."
5. Is this a good loss?
I have never been convinced there is any such thing. I do know that a loss like this can fit into the big picture so to speak. I also know that with a full week off before the next game, Roy will have the Tar Heel players convinced the loss was a bad one during practice on Monday and Tuesday. When you consider the odds of certain things along with the general ebb and flow of basketball seasons this loss is really not that surprising.
If we are to believe UNC will the national title then it was inevitable they would lose at some point between now and the NCAA Tournament. I actually thought it would be at Virginia Tech ten days from now. As it turns out today was the day. The Heels had won ten games in a row and if they were to run the rest of the table, win the ACC and NCAA Tournament it would mean they would have a 23 game winning streak when it was all over. Sorry, but that kind of stuff simply does not happen anymore. In a lot of ways the Heels were due a loss. A ten game winning streak is impressive and there was a cushion in the ACC standings so in many ways this is not a bad loss when the bigger picture is considered.
What you worry about with a loss like this is ending up in a tailspin, losing confidence or that it reveals some serious flaws. I am not sure any of those are true here with the possible exception of that last one. Then again it is not like we have not seen what we saw in this one before. That is probably a greater concern than the loss itself. UNC is an experienced team and they get a horrid Georgia Tech team next week. That should be enough to snap any funk the Heels might be in.
In terms of UNC history, no Tar Heel team has ever won a national title with more than two regular season ACC losses. 1957 went 14-0, 1982, 1993 and 2005 all went 14-2. At this point the best this team can do is 13-3. I am not sure how much stock would should put in historical facts like this but it is interesting to note.
Here is the bottom line on a loss like this. It stings like heck when it happens. I was most definitely pissed over it because I thought it was a game UNC had wrapped up and they gave it away. For Maryland this will end up being their biggest win of the season. Even with a quality win like this Maryland could still miss the NCAA Tournament so I hope this feels good for them now because when it is all said and done it may be all they have left.
For UNC this is likely a pothole in the road. You take the next exit, go to a gas station, check the tire, put some air in it, put some gas in the tank and get back on the road. The Heels have bigger goals in mind. The best thing they can do is take this for what it is, one of those odd ACC road losses that should be used as a learning opportunity. It could be argued this loss takes some pressure off. More importantly it afford the Heels a chance to get refocused for the stretch run. Being reminded of one's immortality is not always a bad team. This team seems to need that and since you really cannot afford to do so in the postseason, this one will have to last them until April 6th.