UNC dropped a 79-74 decision at Virginia. Here is what we learned.
Another Weird Stat Game
Field goal shooting
Three point shooting
Free throw shooting
Adjusted offensive efficiency
Given Virginia's defense prowess nearly shooting 50% and posting an adjusted OE of 112.8 points to a solid offensive outing. Even in terms of the "four factors" it was a split with UNC winning on ORB% and eFG% while UVa won on TO% and free throw rate.
Ultimately it was the free throws and Virginia doing some second half work on the offensive glass that did the Tar Heels in. UNC mustered 74 points against a staunch defense but not being able to keep Virginia off the free throw line proved costly. Much like the loss to Notre Dame where UNC forces some missed shots, the defensive rebounding and opposing team parading to the free throw line was the difference.
UNC still looks like a good team. There have been comparisons to last season's team, especially as it pertains to finishing games out but that doesn't ring true. UNC has lost six games by a total of 22 points. Five of those have been on the road, one at the buzzer and one at home by a single point during a game where it felt like UNC was in control. At this stage there is no shame in what UNC has done in the general sense and relative to the remainder of college basketball. Before the season I expected 14-4 to win the ACC and right now if UNC wins out they will be at 14-4 and win the ACC.
Taking into account how UNC has played, this still looks like a team that can make a Final Four run. The parts are all there and we've seen enough of what happens when they mostly click to know where the ceiling is at with this team. There is some uncertainty as to if that will happen consistently enough over the next month to get to Houston but that could be said about every team out there. Among the best teams in college basketball everyone has flaws and match-ups will matter.
All that being said, at some point UNC needs to show they can win a game of this nature. There is plenty of hope to be found in how UNC played but despair crouches close by when considering the missed opportunities. This team lacks the "find a way to win" factor which you really like to see in a national title contender. The comeback over Kansas State back in November, the win over Maryland and even how UNC handled both FSU and Syracuse on the road were glimpses of that. However over recent weeks when facing good teams and needing to put together a set of stops then points on the other end, the missed chances tend to pile up.
The five most recent losses going back to the one at Texas in December have all followed a similar pattern. UNC misses chances to seize control when given a chance then ends up in a battle where a handful of mistakes or some bad breaks are the small but crucial difference in the game. For whatever reason UNC can't quite get over the hump. Toughness gets broached when discussing these types of situation. While there is merit in some cases in others it is as simple as needing one extra shot to fall at a critical moment but it doesn't.
UNC is rapidly reaching that point in the season where the next time the Tar Heels fail to figure out a way to win the season will end. Heading into the coming week, UNC is in a must win situation to not only clinch the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament but get a bead on Raleigh for the NCAA Tournament. If UNC is going to figure things out to get that last little edge they need to win tough games, now is the time.