It has been the biggest area of discussion following the Tar Heels’ 84-67 loss to the Michigan Wolverines, but I believe it still warrants attention: UNC’s senior class has got to play better. Seemingly nothing went right for the entire team on Wednesday night, but there has to be some sort of stabilizing presence on the court, and that is a responsibility typically held by the upperclassmen.
We were spoiled last year by the iconic duo of Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, both of whom decided to return to school for one more ride after delivering a national championship to Chapel Hill. These two were leaders in every since of the word. They had been around the block, they had accomplished basically everything they possibly could, and on a nightly basis, they played like seniors.
Sure, they each had their share of off nights. Berry even struggled shooting the ball for the better part of the year. That’s not what this is about. There’s a reason Berry and Pinson exhausted all four years of eligibility they had. It’s because they loved playing for Carolina, they loved playing for Coach Williams, and they left everything they had on what we now know as Roy Williams Court.
Sometimes the ball just isn’t going in, and sometimes that’s a legitimate reason for losing. Wednesday night was not one of those times. For 40 consecutive minutes, the Heels got outworked and outhustled in every facet of the game. There was no excuse for the lack of effort and poise, and that onus falls on the shoulders of Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson.
This wasn’t the first time the trio of seniors has struggled, either. In Las Vegas, Coby White exploded for 33 points, doing everything he possibly could to keep the Heels in the game with Texas. Meanwhile, Maye, Williams, and Johnson combined for 29 points on 12-33 shooting and all three looked timid when things got tough, forcing tough shots and making uncharacteristic errors.
It was more of the same against Michigan:
From the 12 minute mark in the first half to the 12 minute mark in the second half, UNC's seniors combined for four points. Score swung 31 points in Michigan's favor in that 20 minutes.— matt ferenchincense (@MattF15) November 29, 2018
To put it simply, this cannot happen. If shots aren’t falling, these guys must find a way to get involved in offensively. There’s not enough scoring depth on this team, or any team for that matter, to withstand a 20-minute stretch in which three experienced starters compile just four points.
Of course, scoring isn’t the only aspect of the game. Sadly, though, the seniors haven’t really excelled anywhere else on the court. Defensively, this has been one of the worst starts we’ve seen from the Tar Heels in a long time.
After allowing 11 points in its first 15 possessions, Carolina has surrendered 62 in its last 44 (1.41 PPP).— Adrian Atkinson (@FreeportKid) November 29, 2018
Defense is a team effort, but again, it starts with the seniors. They’re expected to communicate and make sure everyone is in the right spot. Not being able to stay in front of the ball is one thing, but there have been too many times this season that we’ve seen dribble penetration break down the defense, zero communication, and then a complete failure to rotate to open shooters. There’s no excuse for such a veteran squad not being able to at least play together on that end.
All this being said, it’s still very early. With a much less hectic stretch coming up, Carolina should have plenty of time to regroup. Maye, Williams, and Johnson will get a chance to take a long look in the mirror and hopefully rediscover the intensity that’s been missing. Despite the exceptional talent of the freshman, these Tar Heels will go only as far as the seniors take them.