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UNC vs Texas: Three Things Learned

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What lessons were learned in the first loss of the season?

NCAA Basketball: Texas at North Carolina Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Mine was fantastic until approximately 9:45 PM, when the Heels suffered their first loss of the season. No need to wallow in our sorrows. What did we learn?

Curse of Mack Brown

I think I’m saying this slightly in jest. Since Mack Brown left North Carolina for Texas, the Heels have exactly one victory against the Longhorns on the basketball court. They have lost the other seven contests. Five of those losses have been decided by a single possession.

Roll your eyes. Laugh if you want. But if the Curse of Babe Ruth caused almost a century of pain in Boston, then the Curse of Mack Brown has led to two decades of suffering when these two programs meet up.

The solution is clear. Only rehiring Mack Brown for a short stint as the football coach can reverse the 20 year trend.

Conventional Ain’t Working

This is likely going to be a common refrain, but last night was a wake-up call to Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks. Brooks has shown glimpses of making a sophomore leap, and finished with 9 points and 8 rebounds. He also fouled out, in part, because he is too small to consistently bang against top competition at the 5/Center position. Sterling Manley was noticeably worse, with 0 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 turnovers.

Nobody was expecting the second coming of Brice Johnson or Tyler Zeller this season. Both players were known long-term projects when they arrived. Nothing wrong with that. Most, though, did hope that one of them could be a serviceable comparison to a sophomore year Kennedy Meeks (11.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg). In their first test against real NCAA tournament-level competition (sorry Stanford), the duo fell short.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that a combined 9 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 turnovers against an unranked Texas team is suboptimal. We also have to point out that the overall lack of rim-protection is an open invitation for opposing teams to drive to the rim and/or kick out for a three. Last night it led to Texas making 57% of their attempts from inside the arc. These widely witnessed actions last night should concern coaches, players, and fans that neither big man may be any more dependable than they were last year. If that continues, expectations for this team may need to be severely readjusted.

A solid bounce back against UCLA will, at best, keep us hopeful they’ve turned a corner. At worst, a poor performance should sound alarm bells that Roy’s traditional lineup just isn’t going to work for a second consecutive season.

Senior Leadership?

This isn’t going to show up in the box score. Luke Maye was one rebound short of a double-double. Cam Johnson netted 16 points, despite shooting 1-6 from three. Kenny Williams led the team in assists, again, with five. It would appear like the seniors played as you would expect seniors to play.

The reality, however, is more disappointing. While Coby White was having an all-time great performance for a UNC freshman, the seniors – noticeably Williams and Maye – withered into the background. If they weren’t forcing a poor shot or getting blown by on defense, you hardly knew they were on the court.

If that seems harsh, consider that White and Nassir Little accounted for 22 of UNC’s final 24 points of the game, including the final 14 points. Luke Maye’s lay-up off a Kenny Williams assist with 6:15 left was the only interruption in the Coby and Nas show that was on display over the final 8:19. Nassir Little never left the court after entering the second half at the 12:51 mark. At one point in the final minutes, all three freshmen were on the court in a critical juncture of a one-possession game.

Would a healthy Seventh Woods, who has displayed a better ability to direct the offense and get others involved, have made a difference? It would be easy to say yes, but that would ignore the fact that Cam and Luke also took 29 combined shot attempts. Maye didn’t create one shot that resulted in free throws. Kenny only attempted four shots, as his offensive ineptitude continues to be a mystery. The trio shot a combined 2-13 from deep.

It’s one game in November. Overreactions don’t look good on anyone. We get it. But, much like the flaws that were exposed last season against Michigan State, there is always an element of truth in the first failure of the season.

Bring on UCLA.