After every game the North Carolina Tar Heels have played this year I have had a conversation with myself, like I assume many fans have as well, about the direction the team is heading after said game.
After the Michigan loss, I was furious, but saw good signs of fight in the team. After bouncing back to beat Oregon, there was reason for optimism, but there were also a lot of factors in the win that were tough to replicate, like making 20 out of 21 free throws.
North Carolina has lost 6-of-8 games since then, but after every game I can’t help but keep repeating to myself, “It can't get worse from here, this has to be rock bottom.”
But what is “rock bottom” for this team? One would think it would be losing to Wofford at home. Or maybe it could have been the historically-bad first half against Georgia Tech and the team turned the corner at halftime. That’s what it looked like during a majority of the game against Pitt, because the Tar Heels looked like that team that showed up in the second half against Georgia Tech.
But every wide open three Trey McGowens and Justin Champagnie knocked down in the second half buried the Tar Heels deeper in their own grave. How deep does the grave go for this team? Is it the first losing season since 2001-02? Is it another NIT appearance for the Tar Heels, their second in eleven seasons?
The list of things that would need to break right for this team to make the NCAA Tournament is very long. And the top thing on that list is likely a deep run in the ACC Tournament.
Roy Williams’ statement earlier this week via his weekly radio show that this was “the least gifted team I’ve ever coached in the time that I’ve been back here” took a lot of people by surprise, despite it being completely true.
Questioning a coach that has 879 career wins and three national titles about how he motivates his team isn’t what I'm here to do, but Williams is exactly right with his sentiments.
This season, barring an incredible turnaround, looks lost. But Roy Williams, as all great coaches do, know how to get small victories, even in the toughest seasons.
What are the things that the Tar Heels can salvage this season? They have to focus on the improvement of players that will play big parts of the future of the program, as well as playing hard enough to win some games that will be tougher than normal (looking directly at the Clemson home game).
Jeremiah Francis will have the keys until Cole Anthony comes back, if he does, to learn from his mistakes at his pace. It’s reasonable to think that Francis would benefit from Anthony sitting out the remainder of the year, although it may not benefit this year’s team.
Continuing to feature Garrison Brooks should be a goal for this team, because he has proven that he is undoubtedly the best offensive option on the team in the absence of Anthony. The development of Brooks from year one to year three has been amazing to watch, but he is going to be an integral part of next year’s team, which means him becoming an even better player is crucial for the future.
Many believe the future of the team looks bright, in regards to the top-five recruiting class they are bringing in next year. But next year’s recruiting class still fails to address the biggest problem with this year’s team: An elite wing forward who brings shooting, slashing and stingy defense to the table.
Recruiting has been a problem for the Tar Heels before and now may not be the time to complain about it because it is better than it was, but the absence of an elite wing forward could be a major issue for North Carolina going forward.
The Tar Heels have a top two coach in college basketball when it comes to full body of work. Roy Williams isn't giving up on this team, or the program, despite his sometimes perplexing comments.
It’s time for him to use his gifts and help turn this ship around for this year and the long haul.