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Tar Heel Hangover: A big dose of reality

Two more losses have the Tar Heel basketball team in a tailspin. Recovery at this point looks unlikely.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson 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.

A big halftime lead and a second half collapse led to a loss against Pitt. A big halftime lead and a collapse in the final two minutes led to a loss against Clemson. Ending the streak was a big story this weekend, but the mounting injuries are the real villain. The reality is that North Carolina does not have enough healthy players to put even an average team on the floor. This could be a very long couple of months.

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

One can certainly question in-game coaching decisions, such as not committing a foul up three with ten seconds remaining. One can question Roy Williams and his extreme reluctance (to put it mildly) to call timeouts when the opposition goes on a run or in the end of game situations. Fans should not, however, question his character.

With enough injuries to field a pretty good lineup just from those in suits on the bench, it would be very easy for Roy Williams to put all the blame on bad luck. The reality is that this could be a good team if everyone was healthy but in the current condition, the team just does not have the weapons to perform. What Williams continues to publicly state is that the team needs better coaching. Saturday’s press conference was a great example. Coach Williams did not commit a series of mind-numbing turnovers in the last two minutes. He did not continually throw the ball away instead of staying calm against pressure. He did not fail to cover the three-point line against a team that was down three with five seconds left. Regardless, he took the blame claiming that he should have fouled up three as time was expiring in regulation.

The truth is that Williams never fouls in that situation. Perhaps this was going to be the game that he flipped the script on decades of coaching. Maybe he had an epiphany about intentionally fouling. What is far more likely is that he found a way to take the heat for a team that is falling apart.

So how does this reconcile with the quote from a week ago that this was “probably the least gifted team” that Williams has coached at Carolina? That seems like a harsh assessment. Is it true? Almost certainly with the current injury issues, but perhaps not when playing at full strength. It looked like a gambit to me; an attempt to send a message that full effort was needed from a team that has a recent history of losing focus.

It did not work and now this team is in a hole that it likely can not recover from.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

The season does not get any easier. After three home league losses in a row, it is time to take the show on the road. Another game against Pitt on Saturday is the only contest this week. This team can certainly use the break and it may even be good to get out of town for bit. They have to find a way to shed the pressure of losing.

This has been a frustrating six weeks for fans and must have been excruciating for the players. For Brandon Robinson, his senior season has been full of turmoil. Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce certainly did not expect this in their only year in Chapel Hill. It is also a foregone conclusion that this will be Cole Anthony’s only year playing in Carolina blue. This is all relevant in considering what future the team is building toward.

Its possible that Anthony and Jeremiah Francis get healthy in the next couple of weeks, the team gels, and a miraculous run is in store. With a very mediocre ACC this year, success is not an impossibility. More likely is that Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot are learning to share the paint and can anchor a future team with high quality guard play. Leaky Balck is developing in fits and spurts, but could be an excellent asset off the bench. The same is true for Andrew Platek, who was a bright spot on the court Saturday.

It just helps to view this difficult year as a step toward a successful future.

Go Heels!