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
What a difference a week makes. Last Monday, I was convinced that the Heels were playing themselves into a second place ACC finish and a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Two losses later and they finish the regular season in sixth and are trying to hang on to a four seed.
What’s worse; Duke is almost certainly going to get a one seed now.
The inconsistent play that plagued the team early in the year returned last week. The torrid second half comeback against Miami masked the struggles of the first half. Chalk it up to Senior Night nerves, but it was a shaky effort to say the least. Nevertheless, one had the feeling that an overtime win was looming before the desperate half-court heave.
Against Duke, a great defensive first half was aided by poor shooting from the Blue Devils. That certainly changed in the second half. Duke shot over 50% from three while the Heels went cold. Carolina’s final points came with 3:19 remaining.
This week was a tough pill to swallow.
Words of Wisdom? A Thought from MGD
The post game calls to My Grumpy Dad this week were filled with silence.
Some of the feeling now heading into the postseason is disappointment. This was a team on a roll just a week ago. Now, there is a two game losing streak, a shockingly poor finish in the conference, and Wednesday start in the ACC Tournament.
There is also a sense of confusion about his team’s identity. Inconsistency breeds confusion. Is this a National Title contender that could beat Duke at home and win at Louisville and Syracuse? Or is this the team that lost to Wofford and will be fortunate to make the second weekend?
In truth, this team is both. Perimeter oriented teams are going to rise and fall with their ability to make outside shots. Luke Maye has proven that he can hold his own against larger post players, but he certainly met his match in the second half against Duke. Joel Berry II was on fire down the stretch against Miami but could never get it going offensively at Cameron. The bench has grown less productive as their minutes have dwindled.
For a team coming off a National Championship, the ups and downs of a tumultuous year are no surprise. The upperclassman presence provided the promise of stability. The end of the regular season, however, has only served to temper expectations for the next month.
Lying In Bed, I Am Worried About. . .
The starting five have logged a lot of minutes through February and a potential four games in four day stretch for the ACC Tournament is a daunting prospect. Needing the starting five to play cohesive and consistent basketball is a given. They key to surviving lies with Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks, Seventh Woods, Brandon Robinson, and Andrew Platek. This group has to provide quality time over prolonged minutes to keep the starters fresh and out of foul trouble.
It would not be surprising to see Roy Williams tinker with the substitution pattern a bit this week. I am looking for earlier substitutions from the bench with more frequent rotations that limit the lineups to no less than three starters at a time. There is plenty of offense in the Lightning Lineup to sustain rest. Where the bench must step up is on the defensive end. Contested shots, long possessions, and defensive rebounds are crucial to burning minutes.
Looking Ahead . . .
This week will essentially be a preview of what the NCAA Tournament could look like. If chalk holds, Wednesday night will bring a rematch against Syracuse. The Orange look like a last four in possibility. That would equate to a 12 seed, which is close to what a fourth seeded Carolina would face in the opening round.
Miami would be next up on Thursday. They could certainly be a 5 seed in the NCAA, which a 4 would play in the second round.
If a 4 seed wins against the 13, and then the 5, then next up would be the top seed from the region. Enter Duke.
Win there, and another high seed would await for a trip to the final four. Virginia could represent that matchup in the ACC Championship. The big difference is that in the NCAA those games take place over two weeks. At the Barclays Center, they will take place at the end of next week.
Final Thoughts . . .
The last UNC team to lose to Duke in the regular season finale and win the ACC Tournament was 1997-98. Could this team do it? Of course. Roy Williams is an excellent tournament coach and it is unwise to bet against Joel Berry II.
Will they do it? That’s a whole different question. UNC is not typically a great ACC Tournament team. This squad has no momentum at this point. Incredibly, they could have the opportunity on Thursday and Friday for rematches from their losses last week.
Building momentum for the madness is most important now. This team has responded to adversity before. The key to finishing this season strong lies in finding a way to repeat that response.