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Tar Heel Hangover: Two games, two wins

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As they say in golf, there are no pictures on the scorecard.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning opportunity to review last week’s action, second guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: The State of the Team.

Two ACC games last week resulted in an average margin of victory of 15.5 points. The average rebounding advantage was 13.5.

Of course, those statistics do not tell the whole story and the team is quite lucky to be undefeated on the week. What fans really saw last week was the up and down of an inconsistent team that is still trying to find its identity. Last week was a microcosm of the season to date.

Words of Wisdom? A Thought from MGD.

After every game, my sister and I have a race to see who will be the first to call and speak to My Grumpy Dad about the game. Saturday, she won so our weekly thoughts were a collective effort:

“As your sister just said, they leave too many open shooters from three and they do not rebound out of that new lineup.”

Let’s start with the lineup. As my colleague Jake Lawrence conveyed, the new starting five are not really a “small” lineup. At least not comparatively. Inserting Cameron Johnson into the lineup in place of Garrison Brooks only results in a single inch of height difference.

I propose instead that the group be called the Lightning Lineup. Johnson’s addition brings a different mindset to the floor. Although he has a similar frame to Brooks, he has a very different set of skills. A particular set of skills, if you will. Johnson is unquestionably a perimeter-first wing. Brooks is a grinding force on the low block. With the Lightning Lineup, there is more quickness and more activity. There is a faster flow to the game and a greater emphasis on collective rebounding. It is a quick strike group.

What we do not know at this point, is how well the group will rebound over the long haul. Against Boston College, the margin was +35. Against Notre Dame, without Bonzie Colson, the margin was -8 including what was nearly the losing offensive rebound. Not taking anything away from a gutty performance by the Fighting Irish, but the effort on Saturday was not up to par.

As to the perimeter shooting, this is a subject that has been covered in THH articles on more than one occasion. It is infuriating that a team with such length and athleticism on the wings gives up so many open shots. Mostly, the good looks arise out of dribble drive penetration with collapsing help defense and wide open kick-outs. I continue to believe that the problem stems from not having a rim-protecting presence on the interior. There is a fear of layups that draws help in to the paint. Notre Dame shot 41.7% from three. Florida State shot 37.9%. UVA shot 36.4%. Wofford only shot 31% but it was late threes that doomed the Heels.

Lying In Bed, I Am Worried About. . .

I am certainly concerned about the perimeter defense as discussed above. More than that, however, the team’s inconsistency is maddening.

Is this a squad that has a difficult time against good teams? Is this a team that is good but has a limited ceiling? Is the ceiling the roof?

The Heels are 18 games into the year including 5 games into the conference season and any observer would be challenged to describe this squad in a single word that is not synonymous with inconsistent. At roughly the midway point of the year, March could just as easily bring a 12 seeded upset as it could a six-game win streak.

The good news is that despite the struggles, a win on the road is always a good win in conference. At the end of the year, no one will remember that the final tip was in before it wasn’t.

Looking Ahead . . .

Tuesday does not bring the average Clemson team to town. The Tigers are ranked 19th and are likely to move up after a hard fought victory against Miami. One of Clemson’s two losses came at NC State (who they have incredibly already played twice), which is not an easy place to play this year. They are, however, still looking for a marquee win.

This is a stretch of games that provides an opportunity for the Heels to build momentum and gather wins. The team must hold serve on Tuesday at home and keep the streak alive. Saturday is another home game, this time against the Rambling Wreck. Georgia Tech is not particularly strong this year, but there does not seem to be a large margin of error with this year’s version of the Heels.

Final Thoughts

As has been said here before, the Tar Heels are a very likeable team with a mix of experienced leadership and freshman talent. They are easy to root for but provide far more head-scratching moments than one would want from the defending National Champions.

Saturday felt like survive and advance.

I am really glad that Joel Berry II is a Tar Heel.