Roy Williams often cites Dean Smith as having said that a team's momentum had to be created when you entered tournament play. Nowhere was that on display more starkly than this past weekend when the Heels rolled into Greensboro in less than sharp fashion. Contrast that to the previous week where UNC was very good offensively in the final two games of the regular season and handled Duke in comfortable fashion. It was some of the best basketball UNC had played all season culminating with a net cutting celebration at the Dean Dome. Then the ACC Tournament started and all of that disappeared.
There are various theories floated as to why UNC got off to such poor starts in Greensboro. Certainly the Dean Smith axiom applies and UNC had the regular season momentum squelched by the move into postseason play. The win over Duke had the feeling they had accomplished a major goal to the point you have to wonder if cutting down the nets might make a young team a tad complacent. Even if that was not the case you are talking about an inexperienced squad who was really playing the ACC Tournament for the first time(one Thursday night games versus Georgia Tech hardly counts.) Yes, some Tar Heels went through the NIT last season but this was the first time they had been in the postseason as a high seed with designs on winning at least the ACC Championship. Obviously there was some pressure on them, especially Kendall Marshall. In fact I think Roy Williams did emphasize winning the tournament more this time around and perhaps that led to the team being tight and tentative. It is also important to note that how opposing teams play in the postseason, especially defensively is just different. In short, outside of Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, none of the Tar Heels handled the situation particularly well or was able to consistently perform across three games in three days.
Yet, I am not sure the poor performance in Greensboro matters. The same Dean Smith axiom about building momentum also applies here giving the Heels an opportunity to play better basketball in Charlotte thus setting them off in the right direction. In other words, what happened last week should stay there. The players, especially the least experienced ones like Marshall, will benefit from the lessons learned in Greensboro and apply them in the NCAA Tournament. They now have three games under their belts and a feel for how tournament play differs from the regular season. While I am not a subscriber to the notion of a "good loss" there are some undeniable effects such as the team refocusing, a release of any pressure and putting the Heels under the radar a little bit. A loss is never a good thing however if one does happen it can be useful in setting the stage for the next step which has historically been the case for UNC in terms of the NCAA Tournament.
After the Duke game UNC was being mentioned in the media as a potential #1 seed. After struggling to win two games and losing to Duke by 18 in the third the talk now is UNC could lose to #7 seeded Washington in the round of 32. The Huskies over UNC has become the trendy pick for analysts and so called experts alike. The argument is not without merit but it also jumps the gun. UNC should not be looking past Long Island and this kind of media buildup for Washington has me halfway convinced #10 Georgia might just knock them out. For UNC the general opinion has shifted from various people talking them up to no one really paying attention to them any longer. This might actually be beneficial since it takes the pressure off and gives them a little motivation. Not to mention UNC has exactly one loss while playing NCAA Tournament games within the North Carolina borders.
If you are worried that is understandable. Last weekend's play and some of the deficiencies this team has makes worrying a perfectly legitimate reaction. The caution here is against overreacting to the point we forget how good this team is capable of being despite some of the warts. UNC does not have a wide margin of error. They will need some assistance with the match-ups. The Heels also need to be as sharp on offense as they were versus Duke. We know they can play solid defense and doing so in tournament play is a must since it becomes more of a half court game. This is a wide open tournament so the best thing the Heels can do is come out Friday night with a fresh, fast start.
If Dean Smith's idea about tournament momentum is true then all the Heels need to do is get that solid jump Friday night and see if they can carry it through as far as it will take them.