This is the first in a two part series analyzing the best and worst case scenarios for the upcoming fall and winter.
Before diving into the pool of possibilities for the upcoming major sports seasons, there must be a few ground rules. Not imposing rules would lead to tripping opponents and temper tantrums. We must have orderly rules imposed in a fair manner, which leads to . . .
Rule 1: There will be no discussion of the NCAA investigation. Everyone knows that the worst case scenario for the upcoming season is the imposition of significant sanctions and the best case would be complete acquiescence by the Committee on Infractions (COI). The most likely scenario is that the COI recognizes the limitations on its authority and chooses to stay in the spotlight by delaying the decision. After all, if no decision is made then the decision cannot be wrong, and UNC is still punished by the cloud of uncertainty. So, no discussion of the NCAA investigation, starting now.
Rule 2: It is assumed that no one will be injured. Largely to avoid the jinx of having the most crucial players actually get injured during the course of the season, superstition demands that this element be normalized.
Rule 3: The current anticipated lineups will be used. Although theoretically there is still time for additional recruits to be added, players to transfer, or the possibility that someone may find himself ineligible at some point (see Rule 1 (OK, starting now)), those situations do not make for easy early-July opinion articles.
With those caveats set, away we march toward the Fall to Forget.
The pessimistic view begins on the gridiron with an offense that cannot overcome continued problems on defense. In some ways, 2016 was a pretty simple season to analyze; score points and the team wins. UNC was 7-0 in games where it scored more than 27 points and 1-5 where it scored 27 points or less. By all accounts the defense showed significant improvement last year, but Larry Fedora is an offense-oriented coach whose teams win by scoring points. The team ranked 44th nationally at 32.3 points per game.
Now, take away nearly all of the starting offensive weapons including Mitch Trubisky, Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer, T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood. Also lost is the architect of the rejuvenated defense, Gene Chizik. Without the latter, those who step into the shoes of the former will have to be all that much better.
The schedule is not especially advantageous either. California, Virginia, and Western Carolina may be the only home games where the Tar Heels are favored. With a shaky offense, these will also be the only home wins. A complete collapse will include going winless on the road. Old Dominion is a hungry team with a rare opportunity for a huge opponent at home. The 1-2 start for UNC spells the end of national relevance for the year and a 0-4 conference start will effectively rule out a bowl game. Losses at home to Duke in an unusually early matchup and on the road to NC State to end the year will have fans questioning the Fedora extension and the future of the program. After a complete dismantling at home by Notre Dame on October 7, all eyes will turn to the defending National Basketball Champions.
Those eyes will soon be filled with tears of frustration and disappointment.
The 2017-2018 Tar Heel basketball team will be widely viewed as one that has to shoot a lot of threes to win. Shooting threes is the easy part. This team needs to make threes, because it won’t be able to rebound its misses at nearly the same rate as last year. This team is full of knock down shooters, some think. It is axiomatic due to the number of guards and wings on the team. It must be. It isn’t. Theo Pinson, Brandon Robinson, and Seventh Woods all shot below 24% from three point land last year. Joel Berry II shot over 38%, but what happens when he has an off night or goes into a slump? Kenny Williams is next best at under 34%. Luke Maye, in limited attempts, shot 40% but he is the one who is supposed to be getting the rebounds. Cameron Johnson has a nice shot, but fitting into a new system can be very difficult; just ask Cameron Johnson how he enjoyed his year under a new coach at Pittsburgh.
Portland, Oregon is a long way from home for a team that will have to rely heavily on freshmen, particularly on the interior. Going winless in the PK 80 tournament while having to watch Duke sweep its side of the bracket will be nothing less than nauseating. Michigan at home provides no offseason cupcake. A few bad losses and all of a sudden Uncle Mo Mentum has decided he does not like you and the season is mired in mediocrity. At the same time, Duke continues to win.
That would be a tough year indeed! Fortunately, like the Bob Newhart show, it is only a dream. A very bad dream. Everything will be better tomorrow.