2016 was a pretty good year for Tar Heel sports, all things considered. The men’s basketball team won the ACC regular season title and ACC tournament en route to making it all the way to the NCAA Championship game (and finally beating Duke at Cameron didn’t hurt either). Men’s and women’s lacrosse won NCAA championships. Men’s and women’s soccer both made it to the College Cup, the Final Four of their sport. The football team, while perhaps underachieving, is set to produce multiple NFL draft picks, which is a welcome shot in the arm to the program, and football recruiting has picked up mightily as well.
Some work needs to be done, however, just like every year, to maintain the Tar Heels’ status as one of the elites in college athletics. With that, let’s go through some possible resolutions for various Tar Heel sports and athletes:
The whole program: Figure out how to play big games. Whether it was the season opener, a big rivalry games, or the bowl game, the Tar Heels did not look good in their marquee matchups. Between the coaches and players, something in the prep for these games needs to improve.
Tar Heels who will enter the NFL Draft: Get noticed. Last year, Landon Turner was a 3rd-4th-round talent who ended up being undrafted. We’re not sure why it happened; it certainly wasn’t a misperception of talent, as Turner made his way on to the New Orleans Saints’ roster and even started a game in his rookie year. I will say that there was very little press at UNC’s pro day (and a lot of it focused on Shakeel Rashad), and Turner did not impress at the NFL combine. To the Heels trying to be drafted: You are talented, intelligent, exceptional athletes. Make sure the guys making decisions know it.
Non-graduating receivers: Step up. Carolina’s three best receivers, Bug Howard, franchise receiving leader Ryan Switzer, and Mack Hollins will all graduate this spring, leaving behind guys like Austin Proehl and Anthony Ratliff-Williams to continue their production. They have had their moments, and Proehl was a very good option early in the season before fading away, but they will need to be stars in order for Carolina football to continue its success.
UNC Men’s Basketball:
Isaiah Hicks: Rebound the basketball. We here at THB have written several times about Hicks’ lack of rebounding this season, which continues to be baffling given his size, athleticism, and physicality. He has all the tools. As his team enters ACC play, though, it’s well beyond time for him to put it together.
Nate Britt: Play within the offense. Britt finished 2016 with one of his better games of the year against Georgia Tech, but in several games before that one, he was hurting his team by hunting for a shot that was not falling. Britt is an excellent backup point guard when he runs the offense. His offense will come naturally if he just plays the system, and the whole team will benefit as a result.
Brandon Robinson: Get to the gym. Robinson is very close to being a very good player for the Heels, but right now, he’s a player of almosts. His jump shot is almost falling, his drives are almost working, and while he plays scrappy, he hasn’t been able to really spark his teammates like you’d want him to. Part of this is undoubtedly due to natural freshman nerves, and we’ve seen it before in players who went on to be great shooters and players: PJ Hairston, Marcus Paige, and now Kenny Williams all struggled mightily with their jump shots their freshman years before becoming weapons in their sophomore years and beyond. This will fade with time, whether that’s as this season continues or the next one starts. Another part of this could be that Robinson can’t play as physically as he might want to because of his frame. He’s listed on GoHeels.com as 6’5’’ and only 162 pounds. Adding some muscle to his frame could help his game.
UNC Soccer, Men’s and Women’s: Keep up the good work! Both teams made the College Cup in 2016, and although the women’s graduating class will be the first to graduate from UNC without a women’s national championship, this is almost completely a function of women’s soccer being taken more seriously across the nation. It’s impossible to dominate like UNC once did, and today’s team should not be held to the standards of the past.
UNC Women’s Basketball: Get back on track. Last year was something of a disaster for the Heels, as they sputtered to a 14-18 overall record, 4-12 in the ACC, and lost in the first round of the ACC tournament. This year’s squad is doing better, with standout Stephanie Watts shooting lights out from deep. Against a fairly weak nonconference schedule, the Heels are 11-2 heading into conference play. They hope to keep their momentum going and make it back to the NCAA tournament after missing it in 2016.
The NCAA: Do your jobs properly. And get this thing over with.
Happy New Year, Tar Heel Fans!