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Tar Heel Hangover: Wins matter

A phenomenal week has Tar Heel fans looking ahead with excitement.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our 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.

Winning. In what must have been one of the better weeks in all of college basketball this year, the Heels beat two teams with a combined national ranking of 17. One on the road and one at home. They won those games by an average of 17 points. They trailed for less than 2 minutes combined. They gave up an average of 66 points in those games. They looked like National Championship contenders.

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

I can picture Roy Williams making a golf analogy about the Duke game. Tiger Woods steps up to the tee on the fourth hole at The Masters. Jim Nantz has the call. “Tiger, on the tee. He cranks it out of bounds! That’s a really tough break. Let’s make excuses and pretend like it did not happen. Time for Tiger to re-tee.”

Am I sore about the national college basketball narrative this year? Yep. Am I finished with this rant? Nope. Am I interviewing myself right now? Yep.

I wrote in last week’s article that Carolina would have a chance to make a national statement this week. A win on the road over the top team in the country should have done precisely that. What happened was a bizarre first 35 seconds that provided a huge asterisk to the game. That effort was followed up on Saturday with a demolition of the number 16 ranked Seminoles at home.

The top story of the night? How good Duke is for winning on the road at Syracuse without their top player.

Wait, what? The team that just got blown out at home is suddenly on top of the world again, with the same lineup, while the dominating Heels get second billing?

So here is the thing about all of this angst: it is meaningless. This is a silly narrative that I and many fans have become too emotionally invested in over the course of the season. Granted, it has been right in our faces, all the time, but the simple truth remains that a single stat is the most important — the score.

Keep winning games and it does not matter what the media thinks. Play with an edge and a chip on your shoulder.

There are five meaningful goals left in this year: regular season title, season record against Duke, conference title, Columbia opening weekend site, NCAA Championship. Let’s keep our collective eye on the prize.

A Word of Wisdom from My Grumpy Dad . . .

A very special shout-out to MGD who on Saturday watched his first conference game ever in the Dean E. Smith Center. He was joined by my niece, Katie, who watched her first game ever in Chapel Hill. It was a wonderful occasion for both life-long Tar Heel fans made all the better by such a great team performance. Asked about the win, Katie pronounced that the offense seemed scattered and that Nassir Little is “wow!”

These last two games have demonstrated precisely why the Carolina offense has seemed largely immune to droughts, even though it hasn’t been. Coming in to the Duke game, the general sense was that the Heels would need to make a lot of threes to win. They went 2-20 for 10%. For one of the first times all year, however, they truly dominated the interior and shot over 50% for the game. They also gave up only 72 points on less than 35% shooting to the Blue Devils.

Saturday, the defensive effort was just as good giving up only 59 points on just over 30% from the field. The three point shooting was a little better but still not great. Coby White has gone cold from the outside, but the team found ways to win and to win big.

This is certainly a tournament winning formula.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

It would be forgivable to have a little exhaustion after that emotional roller coaster of a week. This time of year, however, there is no room to take the foot off the gas.

A home game against Syracuse looms on Tuesday night. In the past, Carolina has found success against the Orange zone by keying the offense from the foul line. Two years ago it was Luke Maye. Last year it was Theo Pinson. This year, I am excited to see a combination of Maye, Cameron Johnson, and Nassir Little work the high post. All three can knock down the foul line jumper, drive to the basket, or distribute if the defense collapses.

Saturday, the Heels will travel to Little John Coliseum to take on the Clemson Tigers. Clemson is a defense first team that is still hanging around the bubble and would like nothing more than a home win to boost their resume. Carolina will need a productive outing on the perimeter to escape with a win. Coby White needs to get back on track for this team to move full steam into the post-season.

Final Thoughts

The time to celebrate a tremendous last week has already come and gone. The Heels need to get back to business on the court and keep the good vibes flowing.