... and I don't mean that in the good Joe Buck calling Kirk Gibson's World Series pinch-hit home run kind of way.
UNC followed up one of its more complete, intense efforts of the season with one of its worst. The Tar Heels seemed disinterested, a step slow, and by the time they finally turned on the switch to look like they gave a flip, they were down 20 to a very well-coached but otherwise pedestrian Virginia team.
I don't believe I have ever seen a team quite so offensively challenged, as evidenced by an eight-minute stretch without a field goal in the second half. There was absolutely no offensive flow as all the things that worked well against NC State fell flat against the Cavaliers. This game followed the pattern of all eight Carolina losses, as the Heels shot less than 36 percent for the game while their opponent shot well.
Will Graves and Larry Drew each scored 15 points, but it took 15 and 13 shots, respectively, to do that. Beyond those two, only Deon Thompson attempted more than 5 shots, going 2-7. Dexter Strickland played 20 minutes and we saw some glimpses of the much-anticipated Drew/Strickland backcourt, but it didn't make much difference.
The pundits keep talking about how Ed Davis is clearly injured, and I hope that is the case because that is the only acceptable excuse for his half-speed play last night. The soft Deon Thompson returned and was yet again out-rebounded by guards Graves and Ginyard. After a couple of solid outings, Travis Wear was a non-factor and the old, relatively clueless John Henson replaced the intense John Henson we saw against NC State.
Marcus Ginyard continues to be painful to watch on both ends of the floor. Ginyard's confidence is clearly shot, as he is tentative in attacking the basket and his long-range jumper has flattened out (earlier this year when he was actually making some threes, Ginyard was launching rainbows into the stratosphere but now he is pushing his shot). On last night's broadcast, Tim Brando mentioned how it was unfair to expect Ginyard to be an offensive leader, but it is realistic to expect him to defend. He did neither particularly well last night, though I will grant that he did at least slow Sylven Landesberg when Ginyard covered him early in the second half.
Tactically, Virginia did what I expected most teams that played UNC to do all year - they packed the lane and dared the guards to beat them with outside shots. Packing the lane kept the Carolina bigs from having space to work while preventing Drew from being able to penetrate. As a result, Drew often drove and got into the air with no place to pass, which has been one of his biggest weaknesses all year.
After a solid defensive effort against NC State, it was disheartening to see the Heels put out such a stinker. Carolina had effectively mixed up man and zone defenses against the Pack, but played almost no zone against UVa despite having no one who could guard Landesberg one-on-one. As good as UNC's defensive effort and spacing was against State, it was 180 degrees opposite against the Hoos. Carolina players often had their backs to the ball, offered no help on the basket drives and screen-and-rolls, and were killed backdoor almost every time they overplayed the passing lanes. Graves in particular was exposed as a weak defender as whoever he was guarding, either Landesberg or Sammy Zeglinski, scored at will with Graves on him.
Adam Lucas, normally the house organ of UNC athletics, calls the loss "shocking" and actually gets in a dig or two:
Carolina was coming off a quality win at NC State. Left for dead after a 1-3 ACC start, they had a chance to climb back to .500 in the league before departing on a challenging two-game road stretch.
The response was to...go out and suffer the worst home defeat in the Roy Williams era? Which only narrowly edged out the previous worst home defeat in the Roy Williams era, which came in the previous home game?
Lucas notes that Larry Drew mentioned that the practices after the State game weren't "up to par" with the practices before the State game. Drew mentions the lack of enthusiasm, concentration, and intensity. Lucas also points out that intensity is a common theme after the eight losses. THF noted in his Twitter feed that Deon Thompson became the third Tar Heel player to mention that players on this team need to play harder and work together more.
For his part, Roy Williams has fallen on his sword for his players, saying what a lousy job he is doing coaching this team. And from the standpoint that the head coach is ultimately responsible for the performance of the team, he is correct. But there is also a point where coaching stops and the individual has to perform. If the coaching staff has a solid game plan and has instructed the team on what to do, it ultimately up to the team to execute. You get the feeling watching Roy that he and his staff have tried just about everything in their bag and that they truly do not know what to do. When your team comes out half-speed and plays with no energy or passion, what exactly are you supposed to do? As early as the Clemson game, Jay Bilas expressed questions about Carolina's heart, and last night's performance certainly calls heart and passion into question.
On the radio this morning, Joe Ovies mentioned that if the same kinds of things that have come out of Chapel Hill were coming out of Raleigh, there would be all kinds of discussion about chemistry problems. While I understand his point, I don't think there is an obvious situation where the team does not appear to be getting along or outright dissension in the ranks. This team's inconsistency, lack of defensive intensity, and offensive ineptitude are not explained away as easily as a chemistry issue.
And yet, in spite of everything, Carolina is not out of even the league title race. If, somehow, the lights were to click on and the Heels could get it together, they are only 2 games out of first place in a season where 10-6 might win the regular season. On the other hand, if UNC doesn't pull it together and soon...well, Roy Williams asked last night, "How can you go any lower? Be honest: How can it be any worse than it is right now?" The answer is a lot, lot worse.