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Time for the "Everyone Should Calm Down" Post

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I know, I know. Here I go introducing logic when raw emotion and hysteria are the preferred mode of operation. I don't know why I expect it to ever be different. Even when UNC has had can't miss Final Four teams, the collective freak outs happen, they just happen on a different level. In 2009 when UNC lost at Maryland in overtime and then had a tight game at Virginia Tech hand wringing occurred. Then it was "this team is never winning a title playing like this." With the 2015 team, the bar is lower so it's "this team is going to be a #8 seed and lose in the Round of 32" kind of pessimism.

Before anyone jumps off anything really tall let's go through this.

1. Yes, UNC is a good team.

Not a great team mind you but a good team. How do I know? Well, because most of the evidence suggests that's the case. UNC is ranked #12 according to the AP poll. That is actually a spot higher than last week. Yes, UNC moved up a spot after losing at Louisville. Why? Because a couple of other teams lost and beating Syracuse by 10 then losing in OT on the road vs the #10 in the country doesn't hurt you. Neither does losing to the #3 team on your home floor. UNC is #12 according to KenPom with the third ranked strength of schedule and the RPI has UNC 10th with the #2 SOS.

UNC has six losses with worst being Iowa at home. That one stings because Iowa is 47th in KenPom and 52nd in the RPI meaning it was really a game the Tar Heels should have won. Outside of that UNC has losses to KenPom #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #11 Louisville, #15 Notre Dame and #20 Butler.  With the exception of most of the Kentucky game and the final 10 minutes of the Virginia game, UNC has been competitive in its losses.

So a team that has losses to #1 and #2, split with #11, lost by one to #15, lost by eight to #20 in late November and had one seemingly inexplicable loss to #47 is very much a 10-15 ranked team. In the context of the present season UNC is running just behind the preseason expectations but by no means should the season be considered a disaster.

2. Because UNC is just a "good team" that doesn't mean there aren't some flaws.

Simply put the Tar Heels have some deficiencies right now which means there is a much smaller margin of error, especially if the match-up is less than ideal. Virginia's style of play and defense are a nightmare for the Tar Heels period. The lack of a big scoring wing who could create his own shot and hit threes meant Virginia could focus all the attention on Paige and dare someone else to beat them. Justin Jackson and J.P. Tokoto are not those types of offensive players and the Cavaliers cutting off the interior production, UNC had nothing.

The nature of UNC's flaws leads to situation where it is tough to overcome a really good defensive team. The Heels have a decent offensive efficiency rating at 115.4 but UNC's offense is subject to some bouts of inconsistency. The aforementioned lack of a good scoring wing makes the Tar Heels a bit unbalanced. The absence of versatility and balance means certain opponents are going to be a tougher out than others. Couple all of that with the defense struggling a bit and the ceiling is a tad lower than most hoped it would be at this stage.

3. UNC is really beat up right now.

Here's the list

-Joel Berry out seven games and counting with a groin injury
-Theo Pinson out four gams and counting with a broken bone in his foot
-Marcus Paige has plantar fasciitis and has sprained his ankle at least twice.
-Nate Britt was on a concussion watch list after the Louisville game
-Brice Johnson has had two games where he could not sit on the bench during the game due to back spasms.
-Kennedy Meeks has now been sick at least twice this season that we know of.
-Stilman White has a stress reaction in his leg.
-Luke Davis has a foot injury

Couple all of this with a fairly unforgiving schedule that culminated with facing the #6 and #3 teams in defensive efficiency in a 52 hour window. Given the circumstances the second half wilting, while a little unexpected, also makes sense. Depth in games is an obvious concern but practice is probably even a bigger issue. Roy Williams had to ask Denzel Robinson and Wade Moody to come back plus pull a JV player in to have enough bodies to practice. Even then how much quality reps is UNC able to get out of any of these players with the litany of injuries?

Speaking of which...

4. The Tar Heels' offensive execution can be inconsistent

There are undoubtedly a lot of reasons for this including a lack of practice time to hone the on court chemistry. The most prominent factor is just poor decisions that lead to bad shots or costly turnovers. Opposing defenses have some hand in this and in some cases the looks are good but the shots don't fall. Whatever the reason, UNC's losses have had one common theme this season and that is offensive inconsistency.

So far this season UNC has posted an offensive efficiency under 100 five times. Four of those have been losses. The losses to Butler and Iowa were below 90 while the Heels posted an adjusted OE of 90.4 vs Louisville and 99.4 against Virginia.  Against Kentucky, UNC's OE was 104.9 but the defensive efficiency was 125.9. The loss to Notre Dame was UNC's best performance in defeat with an OE of 113.0 but a DE of 114.6.

Another concern for the Tar Heels is the defensive efficiency in ACC games hasn't been anywhere near the level it was prior to league play. That isn't wholly unexpected though the drop-off has been a bit more significant in recent games. The loss of Theo Pinson and Joel Berry could be impacting those numbers. Pinson provided a defensive spark off the bench and the depth issues may cause the perimeter players to be less aggressive. In addition, UNC has had a TO% of 20% or worse in the past three games. In ACC play UNC is 13th in TO% at 18.1. Turnovers in basketball are not unlike turnovers deep in your own end in football. They can lead to easier baskets or put the defense in tougher position to get a stop. UNC's overall defensive numbers when it comes to opponents shooting are still good. Virginia became just the second team this season to shoot 50% or better against UNC. Kentucky was the other one.

For UNC to reach its potential the Tar Heels need to be consistent on both ends of the floor. When that happens, UNC is a highly competitive team.

5. And yes, the team needs to mesh and play tougher

As much as I loathe the persistent talk about player effort and toughness, there is a element of it in play here. As Marcus Paige noted last night, the real dividing line between UNC and Virginia rests on the ability to stay disciplined and focused during the game.

They were tough enough to execute their plays down the stretch.  They didn’t fall under pressure.  They got the shots that they wanted, and we didn’t.  We turned the ball over.  They got 18 points off of our turnovers.  Really they’re a good team because they execute, and they can absorb runs.  Teams can go on a run against them and they don’t falter.  They run their stuff, they trust their stuff, and they buy into what their coach is telling them and that’s why they’re successful.  They’re not the most talented team in our league, top to bottom.  They buy into what Coach Bennett preaches to them, and it works when you really do that.

It's not that UNC lacks talent or the coaching is necessarily bad. The problem lies with consistently executing on both ends even when an opposing team is pushing the Tar Heels outside their comfort zone. The thread that ran through both second half debacles against Virginia and Louisville is UNC allowed two good defensive teams to make them impatient, panicked leading to bad decisions, passes and shots. There is a certain lack of cohesion on the court at times and against really good defensive teams it becomes more obvious. Some of that is a group of players still figuring each other out but Paige thinks it also has to do with players "buying in."

We’re trying to figure out how to do that.  Like I said, we have talent, we have pieces.  But if you don’t have five guys buying in, playing every possession the way coach preaches.  It sounds cliché, and that’s boring talk for media, it’s not anything juicy for you guys, but it’s the truth.  When you have five guys committed to helping each other on the floor, working together, setting good screens to get the right guys the ball.  That’s success, and when you have talent it elevates it to another level.  We’re still somewhere trying to figure out how to get to that point.

According to Brice Johnson, Paige was even harsher in the locker room with just the team challenging everyone to look at themselves in the mirror.

The problem for UNC is this isn't the first time this season these kind of questions have arisen. Roy Williams has taken a much tougher approach in an effort to motivate the players. Based on the comments last night, the full "buy in" hasn't quite occurred.

Ultimately what we are talking about here is a combination of factors. Nothing that has happened in the past four days have changed the status quo for worse. The games against Louisville and Virginia were opportunities to raise UNC's overall profile and losing those games doesn't do anything to damage said profile. UNC is sitting tied with Duke just behind Notre Dame and Louisville who are just behind Virginia. There are eight games left on UNC's schedule and plenty of opportunity to get the house in order before the postseason starts.

The basketball season is perpetually in motion and given to wild swings of emotion and momentum. As Andrew Carter noted, a little after 5 PM on Saturday, UNC was up 18 points at Louisville and on track to win a seventh straight game. In a matter of about 52 hours UNC has lost two straight games and there are questions about players "buying in" and what not.

UNC has the pieces to the puzzle. What needs to happen now is rest, recovery and a little soul searching. The final eight games of the regular season has seven contests KenPom has UNC probable to win. A 7-1 finish with a split versus Duke is certainly doable and in line with the historical precedent set by Roy Williams' teams in Chapel Hill.