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: What happened last week.
Mack Brown was welcomed back as the new (again) football coach for the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, the basketball team looked outmatched and out-efforted in their trip to Ann Arbor. Both teams have a bright future and a lot of work to do.
Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .
Mack Brown had the best first week as a head coach that I can remember. Oddly, the truth is that he really did not do a whole lot. An upbeat press conference for a new coach to follow a terrible two-season record is mandatory. Brown handled that. There was an all-star attendance and a lot of reminiscing about the good ol’ days.
There were also a lot of rumors about the coaching staff. During the course of the week, fans’ reactions to the rumors ranged from incredibly excited about an all-star staff to incredibly disappointed with Greg Robinson joining as a potential Defensive Coordinator. In the end, a handful of hires have generated the kind of excitement that should be expected with a new captain at the helm.
What is most incredible about the hire, is that Carolina was mentioned multiple times during conference championship Saturday. Despite not having been bowl eligible for nearly a month, and having no shot at a conference championship since September, the Heels were still relevant in December. That is critically important to a program that needs to keep the attention of key recruits and needs to generate some excitement for the fans.
Perhaps the Heels have finally gotten a postseason victory.
A Word of Wisdom from MGD . . .
“It just seemed like they did not care. And once the starting five comes out, there is huge drop off.”
Let’s take these two statements from My Grumpy Dad one at a time.
Caring on the basketball court is a reflection of passion and effort. This team has clearly not found its vocal leader. The longest tenured seniors, Luke Maye and Kenny Williams, are both quiet personalities on the court. Plus, neither has been particularly dominating (especially from an offense perspective), which doesn't lend itself to outbursts of leadership. Cameron Johnson has been very impressive on the offensive end through the first quarter of the season, but his emotions seem more a reaction to the game momentum rather than an ability to generate it.
Garrison Brooks remains the vocal leader on the floor when he plays well, but the interior defense has been so suspect that it is hard to really identify those successful streaks.
So who are the options to be on-court leaders. Coby White has been very impressive in creating his shot on the offensive end, but his positive plays have had a stagnating effect on the offense. The key is the halfcourt set. When White is really looking for his offense, especially off of made baskets, he tends to drive from the point too far into the defense. The offense is not set up to be run by a point guard who is cut off at the free throw line. Initially driving too deep slows the perimeter players and clogs the passing lanes to the post. These just seem like growing pains for a hybrid one-two freshman guard finding his way.
The other concern is the bench. Nassir Little has been very good in stretches, but has had trouble finding his shot when there are not other abundant scoring options on the floor. That is precisely the case with the second team when pass first guards like Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson are in.
So what is the answer for the chemistry deficiency? Roy Williams has occasionally used long breaks in the schedule to implement line-up changes. This team feels like it needs a jolt. One bad game against Texas was cured with a long half-time speech against UCLA. The “keep them in the locker room for all of half” trick, apparently, only works once as that card did not play against Michigan. The starting five on this team needs to be more about getting the most out of every player than it is getting the best first five on the court. I am looking for Little to displace Brooks in the starting five with Garrison coming off the bench early and seeing no reduction in his minutes. Seventh also needs more run with the starters so White can bring his offense to a second five that needs it.
The other story that I will be watching closely over the next few games is the interior help defense. Texas drove the ball and half-hearted help allowed a ton of easy baskets in the paint. Against Michigan, it was the same problem but with passing instead of driving. This is a real concern going forward.
Looking Forward: A quick peak ahead.
The Heels return home to host the Seahawks from UNC Wilmington. This is a pre-exam exercise and should provide an opportunity to tinker with the lineup and challenge the leadership. Effort and execution should be expected.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of the Mack Brown hire, but this is the first December in a while that has generated genuine excitement for the football team. On the hardcourt, the Michigan game confirmed that the Texas loss was not an anomaly. This is a very good Tar Heel team that looks like it could be its own worst enemy. Stay engaged on the defensive end and play as a team on offense.