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Gasaway: Yeah, UNC Not Meeting Expectations

Ya think?

John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus examines UNC's upset loss at Charleston and findsthe Heels are not making the grade so far.

North Carolina, conversely, is not meeting expectations at the moment, as seen in their 82-79 loss in OT on the road last night to College of Charleston. This bit of man-bites-dog can be traced to: 1) a spirited rally by the Cougars in the final four minutes of regulation (keyed by eight straight points from Andrew Goudelock); 2) the absence of two UNC starters (Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves); and 3) the person in Chapel Hill who had the bright idea of playing a road game against College of Charleston. Keep in mind that Jim Boeheim gets yelled at every year without fail for keeping his Syracuse team in the safe cocoon of the Carrier Dome (albeit with occasional forays to neutral floors) until conference play drags his Orangemen kicking and screaming downstate. Well, right now Boeheim looks like Jim Caldwell to Roy WilliamsBill Belichick.

Occasionally when a mid-major brings down a blue-chip opponent it falls to yours truly to note that This is Not a Surprise because the plucky underdogs are actually very good at X and the big-name team is vulnerable there, etc. This is not one of those occasions. The outcome here officially qualifies as a Surprise, even if UNC was down two starters. To be sure, Bobby Cremins has a fine team on his hands but the Cougars wouldn’t appear to be the SoCon favorites this year. More to the point one might have thought this team would have been beaten to a pulp on its defensive glass by the Tar Heels. In fact that is exactly what happened–and Carolina lost anyway because they couldn’t make twos (26-of-65) and didn’t try threes (1-of-6).

Funny thing is, the Tar Heels’ problems in this game do not necessarily loom largest as their likely problems going forward. If I’m a Carolina fan I’m more worried about turnovers the next eight weeks than I am about shots going in. (Shots from the field, that is. This is one mediocre team at the line. Where have you gone, Psycho-T?) And while Williams’ team faces a relatively kind intro to ACC play (four of their first six contests are at the Dean Dome and the two road games are at Clemson and NC State), we are now 14 games into what was supposed to be this young team’s learning curve. In their 14th game the team learned about improbable upsets on the road.

I am not so hung up on road game at Charleston and including Jim Boeheim in any conversation about non-conference schedule makes said discussion less credible. Carolina March, likewise thinks it is not a huge deal and even beneficial to play games like this:

That last point is just a nice way of saying mid-major teams are dangerous at home, but I feel the need to point something out anyway. Playing at Charleston was a good thing. Teams get better facing challenges, not being coddled at home, and there's no downside to a team like UNC playing at Charleston. If Carolina were to miss the NCAA tournament – and they won't – there will be many more losses to blame besides this one. Even if this game sent the team into a 2002-like death spiral – and again, it won't – then, well, a team that mentally weak was doomed anyway. I'm sure there's some degree of difficulty in a schedule that could doom an otherwise good UNC team, but we're nowhere near that. More teams should play home-and-aways at mid-major schools, especially ones they might lose. It would get more small teams to the postseason, and do a lot more for the coaching fraternity and their mid-major squads than other folks' silly ideas to expand the tournament. (You want another Patriot League team in the NCAA's? Why not travel to their home floor?)

Gasaway seems to defend the Boeheim practice of sitting at home playing the weak sisters of the NCAA because that keeps you safer in terms of the NCAA Tournament. Then again how many times has Syracuse sat squarely on the bubble because of their putrid SOS? CM is correct. If UNC is on the bubble, it will not be due to one loss at Charleston but a host of other ones in the ACC. Besides that, wins over Michigan and Ohio St. plus the fact three losses came at the hands of UK, Texas and Syracuse is more than enough to offset one bad night in the low country of South Carolina.

If there is any positive right now it is UNC's schedule gives them four of their first six ACC games at home and one of those away games is at NC State. Basiscally UNC's job is to defend home court and steal 2-3 on the road. Obviously some massive improvements have to happen to make that a reality starting with healthy players.