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UNC Basketball: Questions after the loss at Indiana

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In Maui, the Tar Heels seemed like they had all the answers. After struggling in Bloomington, what questions arose?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The final few minutes in Assembly Hall put the game out of reach for the Heels, but it almost felt out of reach from the beginning. The Hoosiers got off to a hot start, and Carolina’s play in the early going was less than acceptable. At one point, Indiana extended the lead to 17 with eleven minutes left in the first half. Rebounding early, free throws, transition offense, and shooting percentage were all lacking two nights ago. Coming off a dominant performance in Maui, and after receiving high praise from the best minds in basketball, it makes you wonder: why? That wasn’t the only question that came out of Wednesday night’s game. I’ll explain some that many Tar Heel fans have, and give my humble opinions.

Should this Carolina team have handled the big stage better?

The short answer is “probably.” Even with three freshmen, Carolina returned seven players that saw quality minutes last season. I don’t know if you remember this, but UNC was one shot away from a national championship last season. Those seven, including three starters, played on the biggest of stages with a lot of success. Therefore, maybe those older, battled-tested guys should have stepped up a little bit. Berry, Jackson, and Meeks seemed rattled at times. You could make the argument that shouldn’t have happened.

Now, for some perspective. As Adam Lucas reported for GoHeels.com, Indiana created a lot of factors in their favor on Wednesday. Star appearances, a rowdy student body who had waited for hours for this game, and a 1981 Indiana national championship focus were the themes of the night. They are definitely not excuses for poor on the ball defense and missed free throws, but they certainly didn’t help Carolina’s cause.

One final thought: basketball is the ultimate team game, and chemistry is everything. While I do believe Carolina should have handled the crowd a little better, this team is not used to playing together under such conditions. We’ll have to see if this learning experience pays dividends in the future, in Durham or the NCAA Tournament for example, but I’m willing to bet it will. UNC needs to remember what it felt like to be shell shocked, and do everything they can to prevent that later in the season.

Is this team overrated?

I don’t think this question has entered the minds of too many Tar Heel fans, but it sure did for the opposition:

First of all, rookie mistake Hoosiers. Never call the higher ranked team you just beat “overrated.” As Turner pointed out, the quality of the win immediately decreases when you claim the team you just beat isn’t actually that good. Anyways, a lot third party viewers of Wednesday’s game probably expected UNC to win. When they didn’t, and their play wasn’t worthy of a win, I’m sure doubt crept into their minds.

After a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, I stand firm that North Carolina’s #3 ranking was accurate and justified. The Heels never trailed in the tournament, including against two NCAA tournament opponents, one of which was ranked 16th in the country. With multiple players in double figures each night, and quality defensive performances, the Tar Heels earned the right to be called one of the most complete teams in the country. I still think that’s true even after this loss. UNC is not an overrated team, and one good loss does not discredit their good start to the season. North Carolina wasn’t going to go undefeated anyways. Kentucky tried that in 2014 and failed. So, why not get the loss out of the way on the road against a good team? The Heels can watch this film relentlessly, and discover their areas for improvement.

Does Roy Williams have a point?

If you missed it, here’s what I mean:

"It was a great college basketball atmosphere, and one team really played right from the get-go, the second one did not and that was us," Williams said. "We were not ready for the intensity, the enthusiasm, anything that you want to talk about in the first half. But it was a wonderful crowd. Gosh. I'd like to play in front of a crowd like that in the Smith Center every night other than the frickin' Duke game.” - Roy Williams, postgame press conference.

As you would imagine, there were mixed feelings about these comments from fans and students alike. The twitter account “UNC Humor,” which is run by a well-respected alumnus with a significant following, had this to say...

I don’t disagree either. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the student ticket system, students enter a random lottery for men’s basketball. Attending other UNC sporting events can earn students points towards tickets, but this feature is not widely used. The result is students waiting in long lines for upper deck tickets for big games, and a less than stellar attendance for smaller games. Why not move the students down to the lower level, like in Cameron Indoor Stadium?

Here’s where the logistical challenge comes into play. Most of the lower level in the Dean Smith Center is populated by season ticket holders and Rams club members, many of whom are long-time donors to the university. Some even donated money to construct the building itself. A change in student seating requires rearranging these seats, which UNC does not want to do.

Regardless, the Dean Dome does get to be pretty rockin’ during big games. That is a testament to the passionate fans and students that make an effort all season. However, are big games what Coach Williams is really talking about? I don’t think he’s worried about games like “the frickin’ Duke game.” I believe he’s referring to those other, non “big ticket” games. Attendance for non conference games early in the season, and energy among those in attendance, is poor. To remedy this problem, I think it requires a slight change in culture, while also catering to the needs of the students as much as humanly possible. If UNC students want to go to a basketball game, the university should fill those seats and pack them in the lower level as best they can.

There are the questions, and my best attempt at answers. But, I’m just one guy. Do you have other opinions? Let me know below.