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UNC Basketball: Carolina doesn’t have a “toughness” problem

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The Virginia Tech game is evidence of this team’s hunger for winning.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll start with a classic Roy Williams phrase (and one he uttered after this game): Everything looks better when the ball goes in the basket. That’s exactly what happened for the Tar Heels when they welcomed Virginia Tech to the Dean Dome on Monday.

After a slow start, it looked like the Hokies were going to have their way shooting the ball from the perimeter, but things seemingly changed on a dime. The Heels closed the first half on a 20-2 run to go up 45-31, and they never looked back. They continued their dominance in the second half and ultimately won 103-82.

This game was very pleasing to watch, and it came at a great time for these Tar Heels. Carolina hasn’t had a bad season by any means, but there have been some head-scratching losses here and there. It started with with a loss to a now 11-9 Texas team. Then, the Heels travelled to Ann Arbor and got boat raced by Michigan. Most recently, they suffered their worst home loss under Roy Williams to a then-unranked Louisville team.

These games brought up some concerns about this Tar Heel team. Careless turnovers and not being able to respond to adversity have been the most common talking points after losses. The Heels’ effort and focus have been questioned at times, and justifiably so. But if you’ve ever wondered if this team could play with that hunger and drive necessary to compete with the best of the best, the Virginia Tech game was living proof that they can, and will. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the team’s reactions to Garrison Brooks’ and-one.

That right there is a team that, beyond just about everything else, wants to win. It’s a team releasing frustration after not playing as well as it’s capable of up to this point. It makes sense to question the players’ intensity when they are out-performed by a less-gifted roster, but it doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.

I’m not saying that these Tar Heels never experience lapses in effort, because they absolutely do. They’re human, just like us. But effort and toughness are very difficult to quantify. There’s not a particular number in the box score you can point to. And these qualities are rarely harped on after a win.

Well, since that dreadful Louisville game, things have started coming together for the Tar Heels. Nassir Little is doing less thinking and more doing, and he’s playing his best basketball of the season. Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black are giving some nice contributions off the bench. When these sorts of things happen, and Carolina starts winning, we tend to forget about “toughness”. Or, we flip and say “they’ve finally started playing with some intensity”.

Those things can be true to a degree, but it’s not always so black and white. What I do know with full certainty is that I haven’t seen a team that animated during a regular season home game in a long time. These Tar Heels have just as much of a desire to win as any team in the country, and they’ve got the tools to do so.