Things got really ugly on Saturday as Louisville dominated the Tar Heels in every facet of the game, winning 83-62 in the Dean Dome. It was Carolina’s worst home loss since Roy Williams returned to Chapel Hill.
It’s easy to sit around and harp on all of this teams’ struggles that led to such a regrettable afternoon, but the rigor of the ACC doesn’t allow you get hung up on any one game for too long. In a game as hideous as this one, the best thing to do is draw areas to improve on, quickly forget about it, and move on to the next one.
Here are three things to watch when the Tar Heels take on Notre Dame tomorrow.
In a game in which the Heels failed to make any sort of significant push to get back in the game, especially considering it was at home, it’s natural to put some blame on this team’s supposed leaders. With three seniors in the starting lineup, you’d think they’d be somewhat adept at responding to tough situations, but this is just the latest rendition of Carolina getting punched in the mouth and folding like a cheap suit.
While alarming, it’s far too early to dismiss this as a team with no toughness, as people seemingly love to do with the Tar Heels. It does mean, though, that something has to give with these upperclassmen.
It’s up to Kenny Williams, Luke Maye, and Cameron Johnson to calm the team down when their backs are against the wall. No matter the score, we should never see the Heels in panic mode in the first half of any game, but that’s what it felt like in the first half against Louisville, and it only got worse in the second half. The seniors, particularly Maye and Johnson, were responsible for many of the forced passes and ill-advised shots. Simply put, that can’t happen.
Look for this trio to clean things up tomorrow, not only for themselves, but for the team. Leaders are expected to be an on-court reflection of coaching. These guys need to get the team to start playing to win each individual possession instead of trying to make up a large deficit in two minutes.
The Tar Heels shot an atrocious 13.6% (3-22) from three against Louisville. It’s fair to wonder whether this team can win when the deep balls aren’t falling, but with the number of capable shooters at their disposal, this type of shooting performance should honestly never happen.
Kenny Williams looked like he might have rediscovered his shot when he made a couple at NC State, but he struggled once again. Then again, so did everyone else. When Cam Johnson goes 0-4 from beyond the arc, that’s when you know it isn’t just a matter of shots not going in. Carolina played passive basketball, regularly settling for contested jumpers.
Look for the Heels to try and get more dribble penetration and find open shooters against Notre Dame.
How will Carolina respond after such a miserable loss?
Sure, there is plenty that is concerning about a 21-point loss to an unranked team at home. But as agonizing as it was, it’s still just one game. Anyone that has followed Roy Williams’ tenure at UNC knows he won’t be going easy on this team in practice, to put it lightly.
How they come out against Notre Dame will speak volumes about this team. If the Tar Heels come out flat for the second game in a row, especially after getting embarrassed like they did, it might be time to question if this team will ever play with the intensity required to succeed in March. Conversely, if the Heels come out with fire and play their tails off, then maybe the sky isn’t falling?
It’s not uncommon for Williams’ Carolina teams to suffer some head-scratching losses early in conference play. The 2017 team lost its conference opener by 12 to a Georgia Tech team that finished the season 17-15. The 2009 team kicked off ACC play with two consecutive losses. Both went on to win national championships.
This is not to say that these Tar Heels are well on their way to a national championship, but I think it’s foolish to be sounding the alarm already. People love to talk about the half of the season that’s already been played but conveniently forget that there’s an entire half that is yet to happen.