The big takeaway from a game with little to choose from in takeaways.
But coach Roy Williams – who was guilty of it after Saturday’s win at Virginia, when he said he hadn’t seen that kind of toughness out of his team in a long time – said today it's time to give these Tar Heels their due, sans comparisons.
"This year’s team didn’t fold their tents, this year’s team kept competing, kept trying to make a play, kept trying to find a way, and I think that’s a credit to this year’s team – and that’s the way I’ve got to talk about them, instead of making reference to last year, and I hope everyone else will get to that point, too,’’ Williams said during the weekly ACC coaches teleconference.
"This year’s team, as all of them, are unique in their own way, their own personalities, their own character, and I was just proud of how things were ugly, things weren’t smooth, things weren’t going well, but we kept plugging along, plugging along, making a basket every now and then, making a basket every now and then, and then putting ourselves in a position to win at the end. So I was really proud of them."
Let's face it. When Jontel Evans threw up a desperation three with one second on the shot clock that extended the UVa lead to 11 last year's team would have folded like cheap lawn chairs. Heck, they would have folded sooner than that because the offense in the first 12 minutes of the game would not have been that good and UVa would have had more than one nice stretch of great shooting. No, as much as the offensive drought had us all thinking of new and creative ways to bang our heads against the wall, that is where the comparison to last year ended. The defense did outstanding work in the 2nd half, especially down the stretch. The offense, as bad as it was at one point, still managed to produce points in the first half and down the stretch. Not to mention most of the turnovers were relegated to that forgettable 12 minutes. Yes, UNC needs some consistency not to mention a player who can be the proverbial coagulant when significant bleeding is happening. As I said in the postgame analysis, Tyler Zeller can be that guy. However UNC needs someone who can create offense by himself and yes I am looking at you Harrison Barnes. If not him then Reggie Bullock perhaps in that Danny Green sort of way.
One important thing to remember is this game should set our expectations concerning the relative rate of progress and improvement. In other words this is going to take some time. Last season constituted razing the building to the ground. Rebuilding is a painstaking task and honestly will not happen in this season alone. That means UNC will need the benefit of zero NBA defections to make it all the way back the type of basketball Tar Heel fans are accustomed to. One issue is there was some expectation that Harrison Barnes would be a game changing type of player it. His presence was supposed to accelerate the process by giving the Heels a solid scorer in combination with returning players improving. Barnes was expected to be a player who could take games over or in a game like Saturday buoy the team through a bad offensive stretch. That has not happened yet and it is tough to blame anyone who is starting believe it won't happen this season. As I said, something has to give at some point on Barnes. He will either explode and be really good for as multi-game stretch or have a season akin to Jerry Stackhouse's freshman campaign.
At the end of the day, Roy is correct. This team is plugging away and any development will be in that manner. It won't be pretty and there will be hiccups and setbacks to be sure. In terms of foundation, team chemistry, toughness and a persevering attitude is a great place to start. I do think they will get better as the season moves along. As with all things in life the worst part is always the waiting.