The stage was set for a special day on Sunday. Carolina was going to play in Carmichael for the first time in 24 years, they were wearing the sweet Charlie Scott throwbacks, and they even brought out a retro scoreboard like the one Dean Smith had in the corner. Despite the losing streak, the opponent coming in offered a “get right” game for the Tar Heels.
Then the hope was pierced a couple of hours before tip off with the news that Cole Anthony had a knee injury and was out “indefinitely,” Leaky Black had a sore foot and was a game-to-game decision, and Sterling Manley was done for the year. It cast a dark cloud on the event, one that never fully lifted and ended with a thunderclap as Wofford won their second in a row in Chapel Hill.
So what on earth did we learn in this?
This is Not a Smart Team
Basketball-wise, the IQ of this team is pretty low compared to previous incarnations of the Tar Heels. This isn’t questioning the actual intelligence of the players, but the simple fact that so many new pieces have been shuffling in and out has created a bad mix to where they just don’t have a high basketball IQ.
Need examples? Christian Keeling on a drive to nowhere under the basket when guys are open, entry passes going into big men at their knees instead of at their heads which bring them down to their defenders, defenders missing assignments and allowing wide open layups, and Brandon Robinson taking the rare missed free throw at the end of the game and instead of quickly taking a three, dribbling for an additional seven seconds for a poor mid-range shot. These are but a few examples, and you don’t have to go far to find more.
The biggest sin yesterday may have simply been the fact that the Tar Heels had a ridiculous advantage down low with Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot, and yet they only took a total of 24 shots. Brooks was 8-10 and Bacot was 2-14, but when you take 63 total and you’re missing Cole Anthony, that’s just bluntly not enough. That’s on Brooks and Bacot as much as the rest of the team, by the way, because they are clearly not demanding the ball as much as they should.
As they play together more, one would think the IQ of the team goes up, but at this point one wonders if it’ll click too late...or at all.
Second Half Runs...Again
Once again, Carolina was able to hang with their opponent in the first half, taking a lead into the locker room. Once again, the opponent pulled off a massive and game-deciding run in the second half to defeat the Heels.
Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia, and now Wofford all saw massive runs by the opponent that completely flipped the game to the point where the Tar Heels had no answer. This one was 16-0 by Wofford. It was a familiar script for this team, and it’s unfortunately one that is likely to continue until someone has the confidence to get a basket and stop a run.
That lack of confidence is troubling. No one on the team right now seems to want the ball in their hands, and if there were ever a day for someone to take a chance and step up, it was Sunday as they all knew they didn't have Cole Anthony to pass it too. There’s taking a shot, and there’s demanding the ball. Right now no one seems to be doing that for Carolina and it leaves them susceptible to these massive runs.
Cole Anthony Better Not Be Out Long
The mystery surrounding Anthony’s injury can’t be good news for Carolina fans. The staff kept his injury so quiet that it was a pure surprise when it was announced, and that does nothing but make people fear the worst.
All of the things described above, in that no one wants the ball, disappears when Anthony is out on the floor. His decisions may not be great but he’s the one player who has the confidence in taking a shot right now. It was an attitude sorely lacking on Sunday.
KJ Smith and Jeremiah Francis each had moments leading the team, and there was a noticeable increase in ball movement with Anthony out. The problem is that no one fears either of them on offense, and this allowed Wofford to pack the inside to try to negate the size advantage. The above mentioned poor passes to those inside didn’t help.
If Cole is gone for a significant amount of time, the whole potential of this team completely changes. There’s still plenty of time to right the ship, as the ACC is not particularly strong and the tone of the season can be flipped by the time March hits, 2018 being a great example of this. Without Cole, there's no doubt this team will struggle to make the tournament based on what they displayed yesterday. Either way, if Cole misses Wednesday, be prepared for an ugly outing against Gonzaga.