When the North Carolina Tar Heels lost to Wofford in December of 2017, it felt surreal that it was happening to North Carolina inside the Smith Center. When the Tar Heels lost on Sunday, there were no weird feelings about the game, it just felt on par with how things have gone so far this year.
Don’t get me wrong, we should not normalize the Tar Heels losing to Wofford. It’s a massive upset when Wofford beats UNC, no matter how good or bad the Tar Heels are in that given season.
When news broke that Cole Anthony would sit out for the Wofford game, as well as the foreseeable future, my expectations were tempered for the game against the Terriers. Still, a loss should not have been in the cards for the Tar Heels on Sunday.
Now moving forward without Anthony, where does North Carolina go from Sunday’s loss? Speaking literally, they will travel to Spokane, Washington to face Gonzaga on Wednesday. If the Tar Heels play that game without Anthony, as they are expected to, things could get ugly.
But just thinking long-term, how can this Tar Heel team get better, mainly just to assure that they can make the NCAA Tournament? Roy Williams-led teams are notorious for starting slow and eventually coming around and molding into a team that is a threat in the tournament. We have seen it year after year. But is there enough talent on this roster to push this team into the tournament?
I do not think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is one of the least-talented teams North Carolina has had in a few years. There are certainly talented players, but whether it be because injury, lack of major recruiting at certain positions (small forward), or just lack of development, there are legit talent concerns about this roster.
The absence of Cole Anthony could be a blessing in disguise for this team. When he is on the court, he dominates the ball so much where it doesn’t allow the other four teammates to get into much of a flow. But that’s the way it has to be, because Anthony is so good.
With Jeremiah Francis and KJ Smith at the point guard spot, there’s a lot more fluidity in the offense, allowing other players to get more involved. This could help spark the development of secondary scoring options for North Carolina. The inefficiency of the Tar Heels has been a big talking point. They are ranked 256th in scoring offense in the country, an all-time low for a Roy Williams UNC team. It would also be one thing if they were 256th playing at a slow pace but still shooting a decent percentage from the field. But they are still playing at a break-neck pace, but only shooting 39.8 from the field.
The road to getting this team back to what their expectations are long. It would be very tough to expect this team to finish as a top ten team in the country. But assuming Cole Anthony returns at some point this season, this team will likely be a tournament team.
The Tar Heels need to use this upcoming two game stretch against Gonzaga and UCLA to build confidence in their younger players — Francis and Harris — and to also get Brandon Robinson and other perimeter players some extra shots to hopefully get them in a rhythm.
We have yet to really see this team fully healthy for a game, aside from Harris and Francis playing very late in the Virginia game. If this team can get Anthony back in early January and not sustain anymore injuries, February and March could be when Roy Williams works his magic.
Give this team a chance, they need it now more than ever.