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Tar Heel Hangover: End of season whirlwind

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The world of Carolina men’s basketball has changed quite a bit in the last ten days.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Washington vs North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. Normally, this weekly article serves as our opportunity to review last week’s game, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead. There were no Carolina games last week, however, and there are no games this week. It is time to wrap up the year and turn out the lights.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

Carolina basketball has undergone a dramatic shift in the last 10 days. This does not even include the allegations that have surfaced against the women’s coaching staff. A devastating loss to Auburn preceded a mass exodus from the players. Next year will be very different for sure.

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

College basketball turns very quickly. A short 10-0 run can move a small deficit to a late insurmountable lead. A two-game losing streak can look like the end of the world while a six-game win streak is like being on cloud nine.

Two weeks ago, the Tar Heels appeared to be one of, if not the best team in the country. They possessed an offensive balance that finally appeared to immunize against prolonged droughts. The defense had grown to a menacing force. This was a team on a roll. Destiny was calling for a championship game against Duke.

Then it all fell apart with a bout of illnesses and a quick 20 minutes of game time in the second half against Auburn. The Tigers could not miss and the Tar Heels found themselves uncharacteristically unable to keep up. Two days later, the incredible collection of talent from Durham could not advance to the Final Four. The basketball world had changed.

For Carolina, it did not take long to see that next year would be totally different. First, Nassir Little executed on the anticipated one-and-done plan by declaring for the NBA draft. Coby White followed suit a few days later. For White, it was a move that seemed improbable at the beginning of the year, but had become inevitable as the talented freshman improved throughout the season. They both have earned the next phase of their careers.

So where does this leave Roy Williams for next year? Well, first of all, if Williams can put up another 29-7 record with another ACC regular season title and a NCAA number 1 seed, then he will garner considerably more votes for conference coach of the year than he did this season. For a coach that year after year develops players and creates successful teams (instead of merely managing collections of talent), Williams’ is shockingly underappreciated.

He will have his work cut out for him. The 2018-19 Tar Heels averaged 86.1 points and 43.5 rebounds per game. Gone will be seniors Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams, along with White and Little. That’s 66.3 points per game. The leading returning scorers will be Garrison Brooks at 7.9 and Sterling Manley at 3.5 (in limited action due to injuries). Over 65% of the rebounding will be gone as well. Nearly 70% of the assists per game will be moving on.

Regardless of the recruits that come in and the development of reserves into starters, that is a tremendous amount of turnover. This is the end of an era for the Tar Heels. Fans accustomed to highly anticipated success with upper-classmen leadership are in for a shock.

It was clear this dynamic shift was approaching. This is why it was so much fun to get caught up in the season. It is also why the loss to Auburn was so painful.

Looking Forward

College basketball will draw to a conclusion tonight when Virginia and Texas Tech grind to a halt for the National Championship. It could be a game played in the 50 or even 40-point range. This is certainly not the finale that most Carolina fans anticipated. Personally, I am torn between rooting for the conference representing Cavaliers and rooting for a Red Raiders team who has few fans that I will have to listen to after the game. Normally, I would just root for a good game under these circumstances, but I like the one characteristic of college basketball that will be on endangered species list tonight: offense.

Final Thoughts

Just as it is the end of the road for the Heels and for the season, it is now time to conclude the Tar Heel Hangover weekly article. The results on the field and court since September have not always been as desired, but writing this piece has consistently been a blast. Thank you to all of the loyal readers and commenters who have traveled the ups and downs of the last seven months with me. A very special thank you to my wife who has put up with the Sunday evenings sequestered in the office while ruminating and cogitating.

Look for a new series to start next week and carry through the summer until the Hangover returns for football.

Go Heels!