Well. That game was one to forget, wasn’t it?
The game started off promising, at the very beginning, with Carolina taking a 3-0 lead. That would be the only lead they’d have the entire game as Louisville dominated from that point onward, handing Roy Williams his worst home loss in his UNC tenure, and the worst loss for UNC in the Dean Dome since 2002 against Duke. So what did we learn from this game?
Punch this team in the mouth, they may not get up
It’s becoming a common theme in the losses: when a team comes up and throws some haymakers at Carolina, they don’t respond well. In this case, Louisville answered Carolina’s 3-0 lead with their first of eleven three pointers. They never looked back, and Carolina seemed to expect to be facing a different sort of team.
Credit Louisville for coming with a different effort than they did with Pitt, but as with Texas, Michigan, and Kentucky, the opposition came out and grabbed a good lead on the Tar Heels and they just didn’t seem to be able to play from behind. This is a worrying trend, and one the Tar Heels need to try to fix if they are going to try to be successful in ACC play. It felt like they had figured this out after State kept answering UNC’s leads with run after run, but that was different in that Carolina started with the lead. It’s a different mindset when you are ahead than when you are behind.
Worrying still is that this is another loss to a team that Carolina is easily better than. Really, only Michigan is a loss that is easily explained away as being to a better squad. Kentucky has been up and down, as has Texas, and Louisville just lost to a Pitt team Carolina beat last weekend by over 20 points. Teams are quickly going to learn that if you can get this team in a hole, you have a good shot of winning. Maybe this loss will be the wake up call needed for a team that shouldn’t need it with three senior leaders.
It’s tough to win when nothing goes right
All that said, if you could name something to go wrong Saturday, it likely did. Louisville out-rebounded Carolina 40-31, Carolina had their turnover issue pop up again in the second half, they only shot 3-22...yes, *3-22,* from behind the arc, and only shot 34.5% overall. Coby White found himself with two fouls early in the first half leading to a Seventh Woods/Leaky Black combo that just threw the team off rhythm. Garrison Brooks, coming off a couple of great games, had zero rebounds. Nassir Little continues to look lost on offense, missing a layup and still taking ill-advised shots. White came back in the game in the second and managed to land on his wrist, requiring a wrap. Cam Johnson couldn’t knock down a three pointer to save his life, making one wonder if he was still feeling off from Tuesday night.
Credit Louisville for their style of play and causing a lot of this. They forced Carolina to play exclusively in the half court, which is easier to do when you’re making shots and getting rebounds. Cleary, Carolina is going to have to get their half court game figured out because more teams are going to look at this and the Kentucky tape and realize their best chance of winning is to make Carolina work for their shot. Again, making shots really helps you play this style, but it’s difficult to think of any transition baskets that Carolina got on Saturday, and when shots didn’t fall and Louisville was able to get the rebound, it’s not a winning formula for this team.
There are still fifteen games left in the regular season
There’s a lot of Chicken Little going on after this game, that the sky is falling and that this team has no shot of going anywhere.
Funny thing, a lot of this happened in 2012 when Carolina lost by 33 at Florida State, in the infamous game where Roy walked off the court before the game was over. That team managed to make it to the second weekend, within a whisper of the Final Four had a certain point guard not broken his wrist.
There was also a lot of consternation after Carolina lost to Wofford, at home, last season. That team turned out OK, including going two out of three against Duke and making it to the ACC title game. The National title team seemed to fail to show up against Indiana, and then lost to Georgia Tech, who were expected to not win an ACC game, to start the ACC season. The Final Four team of 2016 lost to Northern Iowa, the Sweet Sixteen team of 2015 only scored 46 points against NC State at home.
All of this is to say that under Roy Williams, Carolina has a tendency to have a few games where you scratch your head and say “WTF?” The rest of their ACC schedule is better than last year, and they still have two road wins of nine in the bank. It’s hard to imagine another game where, literally, everything goes wrong. On most nights things will go right, and Carolina should still easily get to double digits in ACC wins. Yes, they have things to figure out still, which is to be expected from a team that has a freshman point guard leading them, but it’s still early January.
Could we look back at this game and point to where it all came crashing down? Maybe, but giving the history Carolina has had under Williams, it feels more likely that this will be one we point to as a loss that shouldn’t have happened. Come March, it’s also just as likely we’ll have forgotten about this loss. The easiest thing for this team to do is learn what they can and focus on Notre Dame coming in on Tuesday.