It’s not every year that Joe Lunardi tries to play the role of the Grinch who stole Tar Heel Nation’s Christmas, but this year he made an exception. In the latest release of ESPN’s Bracketology, our beloved UNC team was left off of the bracket completely despite finally breaking their losing streak by taking down UCLA. This noticeable omission takes place after Lunardi’s previous bracket had the Heels listed as an eight seed in the East just last week.
Before we dive into some discussion about feeling cold and lonely on Christmas Eve, let’s quickly hit some other bullet points from this week’s bracket released:
- Duke is back to being a #1 seed. Shocking, I know.
- NC State made an appearance on the bracket(!!!) despite having played one of the nation’s easiest schedules yet again and are coming off of a loss to Auburn.
- Kentucky has dropped to a #6 seed in the East.
- The other #1 seeds aside from Duke are Gonzaga, Kansas, and Ohio State.
- Louisville has dropped to a #2 seed in the Midwest.
- UNC’s next opponent, Yale, is a #12 seed in the East.
Going back to UNC being left off of this week’s bracket, I think it’s safe to say that none of us are terribly surprised that national media is giving up on this team. On the surface, this team is without Cole Anthony, has lost four out of their five games in December, and in terms of overall production have looked like they are allergic to putting the ball into the basket. When trying to look for a reason to argue that if the NCAA Tournament started today that they should receive an invite to the big dance, there is simply no argument that can and will be made right this moment, and it’s a pretty depressing reality for a program that has had an immense amount of success throughout its history.
With all of that said, however, there is some reason to find some shred of optimism this holiday season. Freshman guard Anthony Harris had a spectacular second half against UCLA, scoring 14 points and going 5-7 from the field. Jeremiah Francis is also another reason that fans should be able to breathe a little bit, as he’s showing a level of point guard play that nobody would’ve ever expected from a player that hasn’t played a competitive basketball game since his sophomore year of high school. Is he perfect? Of course not, but he deserves all of the praise in the world for stepping in after Cole Anthony went down and providing significant contributions to this team.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, UNC’s losses really haven’t been that bad in hindsight, but the sheer quantity of losses is indeed a problem. Following the AP Top 25 poll release yesterday, we can now say that this team has lost to the current #1 team, the current #2 team, a former #5 team, a former #4 team, and Wofford. While the loss to Wofford is easily the one that stings the most, one could argue that there’s no shame in losing to the other four teams when the Heels have dealt with an outrageous amount of injuries and are still trying to find ways to get this team to gel. In fact, the injury problem quite possibly could’ve played a bigger role in all of this than we tend to focus on, as their ability to score has been so glaring that all of our attention tends to gravitate to that particular factor.
Let’s take a look at which players were unable to play in their five losses. We’ll leave out Sterling Manley, as we have been able to confirm that he won’t play this season.
- Jeremiah Francis and Anthony Harris were unavailable for the Michigan and Ohio State losses.
- The “full roster” was available for the game against Virginia, though it was the first time Francis and Harris had seen the court in a competitive setting in at least two years. It is also very possible that Cole Anthony wasn’t healthy during this game, but we’re still unable to prove it.
- Cole Anthony and Leaky Black were unable to play against Wofford.
- Cole Anthony was unavailable against Gonzaga.
Injuries are certainly tough, but as Roy Williams likes to say, they are indeed part of the game. However, that doesn’t make them any less significant, and it’s fair to say that this has played at least some role in this team’s struggles. Now that Anthony Harris is stepping in as a contributor on the offensive side of the ball, hopefully things will only get better and better going into ACC play. The schedule gets much easier, and according to the ESPN Matchup Predictor the Heels are currently favored in each game in January except the away game against Pitt, the away game against Virginia Tech, and the away game against NC State. It won’t be ideal to lose three games in January if they want to silence those that are predicting that this team will end up in the NIT, but it’s also worth noting that Cole Anthony’s expected return should be within the window of the Virginia Tech game and the NC State game.
So wrap things up, Joe Lunardi may have tried to bring us all down this holiday season, but there’s more than enough reasons to still maintain hope that this team will be dancing per usual in March. It still won’t be easy, even though the schedule doesn’t have a ranked team on it until February, but Roy Williams isn’t one to let his teams sink to the bottom of the ocean. Let’s hope things only get better next week against Yale so that the Tar Heels can end 2019 on a high note.
What do you think of UNC being left off of this week’s Bracketology bracket? let us know in the comments below.