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Tar Heel Hangover: The Brutality of ACC Road Games

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A difficult week has the season on the edge.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Elevator Speech: The State of the Team.

This was a bizarre week for Tar Heel fans on the East Coast. An early January blizzard and deep freeze combined with very chilly results from the team to bring a downright cold start to the year. While keeping the season in perspective is important, it feels like a heat wave is needed both on and off the court to raise morale and restart the engine.

Words of Wisdom? A Thought from MGD.

Joel Berry II and Kenny Williams should start.”

“Who should the other three be?”

“No one. Just those two.”

This is a team that feels a little lost. Kenny Williams has great first halves and then ends up on milk cartons. Berry feels like Mr. Clutch in the second half but seems to be playing from behind without a lot of help lately. Even worse, when Berry gets hot, there looks to be a reluctance to feed him the ball.

As an athletic director once said about crew, “we should not have a sport where people sit on their butts and move backwards.” That’s what the season seems like at this point.

Luke Maye got off to a historic statistical start but has not had a good couple of weeks. Jalek Felton is an uber talented freshman who looks timid in relief of Berry. It also seems that Theo Pinson has been negatively affected by the addition of Cameron Johnson, which results in neither achieving their potential.

As the rotation starts to shrink (Seventh Woods’ injury, Sterling Manley’s reduced playing time, and Andrew Platek getting only spot minutes), the starters and key reserves will have more time to find their stride and stay in the flow of the game. This could well be an eight man rotation by the end of the season.

Lying In Bed, I Am Worried About. . .

The season feels like it is at a turning point. I am compelled to note, however, that in my game room where everyone gathers to watch the Heels, there is a Championship Banner from 2009 with the results of each game from the season. That team started 0-2 in the conference.

This team could be unranked for the first time this season. In most years, two losses in a week would guarantee a drop from the rankings but this is a crazy year. At Florida State and at Virginia are two very difficult road games and are by no means considered bad losses. Both games, however, involved large second half deficits and a battle to come back. Against the Seminoles, it was a high scoring affair where Berry’s last shot fell just off the side. Against the Cavaliers, the offense struggled to get a foothold and could not sustain momentum.

My biggest fear is that there is not one single shortcoming to point to as the cause of the defeat. The defense has not been spectacular, but was serviceable against Virginia only to have the offense let down. Outside shooting has been up and down. Luke Maye has struggled at times. The big surprise on the year has been the rebounding, which has been very impressive.

More than any other element, the players on this team simply need to find their role and play within themselves. This group can only win as a team, not as an offensive juggernaut with spectacular individual players as in past years. Fluid offense will lead to energetic defense and vice-versa. The 2017-18 Tar Heels need to be their own team, not just the current version of the past system.

Looking Ahead . . .

The schedule lets up a little bit with a home contest against Boston College and a trip to Notre Dame. BC has been surprisingly good early. They are a strong rebounding team and will challenge the Heels on the glass. It is hard to call any January game a must win, but this return to home screams the need to play hard and get the victory.

The trip to Notre Dame will not be the same as it would have been with a healthy Bonzie Colson. They are still a very good team as demonstrated by their undefeated conference record. The Fighting Irish will certainly be another challenging road test.

Final Thoughts

While it is too early to sound the panic alarm, we should at least be thinking about where the button is. There is a lot of season left. Perhaps we are just witnessing a team that is learning to play together in a difficult stretch of games. Maybe the recent strong interior opponent defense has shown that this has to be more of an outside-in season than would have been desired.

This is a big week. These are important games for generating positive momentum. Perhaps March begins on Tuesday.