The last time Carolina’s men’s basketball team fell to an ACC foe to drop below .500 on the season, Canadian band Nickelback was enjoying the third week of an eventual 10-week stay at the top of the Billboard charts, with “How You Remind Me.” This was 2002, the same year that started with the beginning of Peter Jackson’s chokehold on the yearly box office, as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring straddled New Years with the top box office returns to close out 2001 and begin 2002.
Now, in the year 2020, the Tar Heels are sitting at 8-9 after a lackluster 14-point loss to the Panthers of Pitt, and the chorus of a Nickelback song is echoing between my ears as I stare at this empty browser window where I’m expected to put words about this season.
I’ve been wrong, I’ve been down, into the bottom of every bottle...
Things aren’t great, I think we can agree. The Heels seem unable to find any semblance of offense, and play defense for the most part like so many wind turbines. At this point in the season, most of the mystery has been removed. The Heels just don’t have the offensive weapons to climb back into games, nor the defensive fortitude to keep games close in the first place.
These five words in my head scream, “Are we having fun yet?”
The Pitt game wasn’t fun to watch. The Panthers jumped out to a lead early, and the rest of the game felt like a formality. Even when the team from Pittsburgh experienced a considerable scoring drought to close out the game, the Heels still had no answer.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no.
You’d be forgiven for turning the game off. You’d be forgiven for choosing to check in on the score while doing something else. It’s important to use these precious weekend hours in a way that makes things better for you, and so if you left the TV on so you could just check the score once in a while in between straightening up the garage, more power to you. If you decided to go run some errands and check a few things off your to-do list, consider yourself validated. If you told a loved one, perhaps a more stubborn fan than yourself, to “holler if they make it close” while you went and read a few chapters of the book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for the last five months, that’s a fine use of your time, made all the more valid by what I can only assume was a seething silence from the other room.
Sometimes, it’s tough to be a sports fan. We, as a fan base, are absolutely spoiled by our team consistently living up to incredibly high expectations. As smarter people than myself have written, this year is a perfect storm of bad luck and attrition. That doesn’t make it feel much better when you waste two hours of your weekend watching the Heels lay an egg, but it may help a little bit to realize what an anomaly it is.
It may also help to realize that the parallel I drew to open this piece is not necessarily the best one. The ‘01-’02 Heels started the season a 0-3, then fell to 2-5 before rattling off three straight to get to 5-5, only to fall to Wake Forest in the game I referenced at the top of the article. That team would eventually go 8-20, still the team’s darkest point; a season that started bad and stayed bad. The ‘19-’20 season has had flashes of light amidst the darkness, at one point sitting at a promising 6-1 after beating then-11th-ranked Oregon. There is precedent here, but to compare this team to ‘01-’02 is a bit misleading. Only time will tell whether we lump this season’s team in with the teams that have managed to turn things around, or talk about it in hushed tones years from now like we do the 8-20 season.
In the meantime, if you’ve got other things to take care of, we’ll holler if they make it close.