Murphy’s Law is something that this year’s Tar Heel team knows all too well at times. On any given day, while at full strength, this team has the capability of beating just about anybody in the country. On nights like last night, however, things just don’t go according to plan and even moments of hope turn into tragedy. Concede the victory to Virginia, they were indeed the better team, but there was a lot that happened in that game that would make any player in Carolina’s locker room want to run this one back.
Let’s take a look at what we can learn from the disappointing loss against the Wahoos.
Virginia is still a pain in Roy Williams’ side
Ever since Tony Bennett was able to get things rolling after he arrived in Charlottesville, Virginia has become one of the most predictable, infuriating, toughest, deadliest teams in the conference. Their offensive sets are similar to last year, it’s the same defense year in and year out, and they will do everything in their power to slow the other team down to the point of it being unbearable. However, with all of that said, what the Cavs do works.
For some strange reason Virginia has always been built for the conference but not built for the national championship. Over the last five years they have had a few NBA players, they have had ridiculously good records, and they keep findings ways to win the ACC regular season title, the tournament title, or both. There’s a good chance that all of these things will be true this year if they are touched by an angel and they can finally get a win over Duke in the tournament (or if someone else beats Duke for them). Essentially, this is the long way of saying that Virginia is a legit contender in the conference. Again.
Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter combined for 55 of Virginia’s 69 points in the win against the Tar Heels. Virginia has always been a really good team when it comes to their screening action, and last night was no exception. Much like Miami did against the Heels, the Cavs did a good job of getting favorable matchups due to all of the switching that was taking place, and at times defenders got jammed up altogether and they were getting wide-open looks. On the defensive end, they managed to hold Carolina to just 35% shooting from the field. Even more painful is the fact that the Heels only scored eight points in the last nine minutes of the game.
The Virginia Cavaliers did what they do best, and it was enough to get them out of Chapel Hill with a win. Credit to their team, but of course this doesn’t tell the entire story about what transpired last night.
Sometimes toughness cannot overcome injuries
Entering the game last night, UNC was missing sophomore big man Sterling Manley and freshman point guard Leaky Black. Two injuries to players in a regular rotation for most teams hurts, but when more injuries stack up in a game against a top-five opponent, the bench becomes really thin, really fast. Unfortunately, Roy Williams had to navigate through such a situation.
At about the 12:06 mark in the first half, Nassir Little came down on someone’s foot and sprained his ankle. He left the game and didn’t return, and yet Carolina still found a way to dig themselves out of the seven-point hole that they were in at halftime. After the game was tied 55-55 with six minutes left, Cameron Johnson also came down on someone’s foot and twisted his ankle. Johnson would re-enter the game with the Heels being down by two points with 2:27 left to go in the game. Coby White attempted to get the ball to Johnson, only for it to go between his legs and the turnover led to a game-sealing three-pointer by Kyle Guy.
Despite the loss, Carolina proved once again that they have the toughness to hang with any team in the country. Following halftime, they went up by seven points with a little less than nine minutes to go. While they weren’t able to close things out, it was an impressive comeback nonetheless against Virginia’s stout defense. Unfortunately, injuries and the inability to keep on the gas on both ends of the floor cost them dearly. In fact, the team was literally out of gas by the time this one was over — each starter played over 30 minutes, with only Brandon Robinson playing double-digit minutes coming off the bench. A shorter bench means that players have to play longer than they may be accustomed to, and in a close game sometimes that comes back to bite you.
Carolina is not out for the ACC title
Despite what may be said following this game, the Tar Heels are by no means out of the running for the ACC regular season title. With just two losses, they match the same amount of losses as Virginia, and are just one loss behind Duke. The popular opinion is that Duke is set up perfectly to win the conference, and there’s no doubt that they have a great chance of doing so. However, the Blue Devils have Louisville, NC State, two games against UNC, and a rematch against Syracuse, who has already beaten them in Cameron.
As far as Virginia is concerned, their remaining stretch of the schedule looks a lot better than their competition. They still have to take on Louisville twice, Syracuse and Virginia Tech on the road, Georgia Tech, and Pitt. It’s unclear as to whether or not the Cavaliers will drop another game before the season is over, but the way they are playing will make it a tough scenario to hope for. However, it just takes one loss to open things back up for the Heels.
The two games against Duke will be crucial for Carolina to have any chance of winning the ACC regular season title and locking down a double-bye in Charlotte. The realistic scenario is that they win one against Duke, and hope for a little help from other teams. That’s not to say that this year’s team can’t sweep Duke, but it will undoubtedly be extremely hard to do. The Tar Heels essentially control their own destiny, which isn’t a bad situation to be involved in as a part of the ACC.
In short, last night’s loss was a tough way to end the best start to conference play that the Heels have ever had under Roy Williams. However, their 9-2 record means that things are far from over. They will have to shake this one off fast, because Wake Forest will be waiting for them in Winston-Salem Saturday night.