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Tar Heel Hangover: The home stretch

An up and down week leaves some unanswered questions as conference play winds down.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Wake Forest Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning opportunity to review last week’s games, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

A seven-game win streak and the advantage of a favorable conference schedule were both lost with a home defeat to Virginia. As injuries started to mount, doubt began to creep in. Another impressive road victory has seemed to right the ship for the time being but all eyes are looking ahead to Wednesday.

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

Monday night could have been a killer from a morale standpoint. The team shot a mere 30% from three, just over 35% from the field, and gave up a whopping 53.3% field goal percentage for the Cavaliers. A game that was not only winnable, but looked to actually be in-hand at the 8 minute timeout in the second half somehow slipped away. From that point, Virginia outscored Carolina 21-6 for an impressive road victory.

Hats off to Coach Williams. Against Wake on Saturday, the Heels did not give up a point for the first 6 minutes and cruised to an easy conference road win. The team came out focused and aggressive, hit shots, and put to rest any chance of a sustained drought.

Cameron Johnson was particularly impressive Saturday hitting 7 of his 10 three point attempts. This follows a pair of 2 for 7 games from deep against Miami and Virginia. His shooting is going to be a key statistic to keep an eye on down the stretch of the season.

It was also good to see Nassir Little return Saturday for 11 first half minutes following the ankle injury during Monday’s game. He did not play in the second half after taking a shot to the chest, but this appears to have just been a precautionary move. His status for Wednesday looks promising and his energy and talent will be needed.

At this point in the season, it is clear that in order to win, Carolina needs to score. All the way back in November, it was obvious that the team possessed a ton of offensive weapons and that on most nights, it would not be possible for everyone to go cold. While the defense has been up and down, and there is no doubt that good defense contributes to wins, the bottom line is that scoring more points than the opposition is the whole point of the game.

First, let’s put aside the Texas game as an anomaly. That early season contest was a scoring fest for both teams and is not indicative of what fans have seen the rest of the year. That was the one game where a lot of points for the Heels did not equal a victory.

Carolina has failed to score 75 points in four games and they are 0-4 in those contests. 67 against Michigan. 72 against Kentucky. 62 against Louisville the first time. 61 on Monday against Virginia. While the defense is improving, it is just not good enough in high possession games to be the deciding factor.

Prolonged scoring slumps have been a killer. Against Michigan, 8 points in the first 8 minutes of the second half turned a 4 point halftime deficit into 20. Kentucky held Carolina to 6 points over the final 6:33 of the first half to take a nine point lead that could not be overcome. The Heels scored only 11 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half against Louisville at home, including two scoreless stretches of over 3 minutes. Against Virginia, those 6 points in the final 8 minutes were not enough.

Finding ways to manufacture points when the shots aren’t falling will be critical to this team’s success in February and March.

A Word of Wisdom from My Grumpy Dad . . .

Continuing on the need to score in difficult situations, MGD has definitely identified the problem. “The issue is that they just don’t have a go-to scorer in the half court set. They have some great shooters, but they can’t get into the lane off the dribble and earn fouls consistently. This puts pressure on the outside shooting and when those don’t fall, they are in trouble.”

Coby White has shown capability of breaking his man down off the dribble and hitting difficult shots. Kenny Williams can exploit openings to get to the hoop on occasion, but those instances tend to be initiated by good passing on back-cuts. If Luke Maye is struggling to get mid-range shots off and Garrison Brooks can not convert close to the rim, then the threes better fall.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

This is certainly one of, if not the, most difficult weeks on the schedule. Wednesday night, Carolina will make the short trip to Cameron to take on the likely number 1 ranked Blue Devils. This will be an interesting match-up because the typically outside-in home team prefers to play in transition and slash to the lane. Carolina will need outside shooting to win. The high school gym provides excellent sight-lines, which generally aids shooters.

Saturday is a brutal follow-up with a home game against Florida State. These two games are a great opportunity for wins against top competition.

Final Thoughts

Look for much more this week on THB ahead of college basketball’s biggest regular season game of the year. The Heels missed a chance Monday to make a national statement. They get another couple of chances this week.