2020 started off with a resounding thud after UNC fell to Georgia Tech 96-83. There were plenty of problems and very few bright spots as UNC fell to 1-2 in the ACC. Everyone has an opnion about what the hell is going on with this team, but we’ll try and keep this short and sweet. Here are three things we learned after yesterday’s loss. This certainly is not a comprehensive list. That what the comments section is for.
UNC allowed 1.32 points per possession. That’s the worst defensive performance of the season and, according to Dadgum Box Scores, the fourth worst for UNC in the Roy Williams era. A whopping 58 of Tech's 96 points came from the paint. They only made six three-pointers. Georgia Tech essentially out-Carolina’d Carolina.
It’s easy for the Heels to point out that they only dressed nine scholarship players, but that doesn’t excuse the defensive breakdowns or lack of effort. I usually avoid “toughness”, “effort”, “pride” or whatever buzz word former-coaches-turned-television-analysts want to use, but sometimes the game is not complicated. Giving up 1.32 points per possession, 14 lay-ups, 10 dunks, and 58 overall points in the paint rises to that level of simplicity.
Yesterday wasn’t an opponent that got unconscious from deep. UNC didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with a sub 50% free throw shooting performance. This goes beyond being less physical, less talented, or learning UNC’s systems. I don’t remember a UNC team that was as consistently lazy, unfocused, and fundamentally inept for so many game-defining stretches as these Heels. Add the 30-6 opening run to the second half runs against Michigan, UVA, Ohio State, Wofford, Gonzaga and UCLA as another example of their inability to play for a full 40 minutes.
We are about to leave “disappointment” in the dust and are fast approaching “pathetic” as the appropriate description for what we’re watching. For the season, opponents have outscored UNC 139-18 in approximately 48:38 of game-deciding blitzes. That kind of ass-whooping ain’t a talent gap. It’s a mental toughness discrepancy.
UNC grabbed 19 offensive rebounds (7 by Brooks), good for an offensive rebounding efficiency of 51.4%. Considering they were manhandled inside the paint all night long, that’s an effort that deserves some praise. It led to 19 second chance points, tied for their third highest total this season. That wasn’t the problem. The issue was that UNC only finished with 15 defensive rebounds, their lowest total of the year.
That low defensive rebounding effort is only partly contributed to the Yellow Jackets’ highly efficient “shooting” performance. Georgia Tech finished the game with 12 offensive rebounds of their own. That was good enough for an offensive rebounding efficiency rate of 44.4%. That’s the highest efficiency rate by a UNC opponent this season, besting Michigan’s 44.0% performance. They turned those 12 extra opportunities into 12 second chance points. In a game like this, those points mattered.
Hypothetically, if UNC grabs a six of those Tech offensive rebounds and converts those into points, that 13-point deficit could be reduced to a two-possession game in the closing minutes. Instead, Georgia Tech just avoids being as dumb as UNC was in the final minute against Yale, and walks away with the victory.
Junior guard Jose Alvarado and junior forward Moses Wright combined for 47 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. Center James Banks III, a senior, chipped in 12 points and 7 rebounds (4 of them offensive). Junior guard transfer Bubba Parham, added another 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. What the Yellow Jackets lack in talent, they make up for in experienced players who have mostly been together for three years and understand what their head coach wants. This is not a good team, who have nothing to play for (they are banned from this postseason), and they still manhandled the Heels.
Meanwhile, the Heels started one senior, one junior, one sophomore, and two freshmen. One of the freshmen, Jeremiah Francis, made only the second start of his career. The bench consists of two graduate transfers, and two juniors – one of which was a family legacy walk-on until this season. Four other scholarship players are out with injuries. This is a Tar Heel team that is lacking experience (collegiate and with each other), cohesiveness, and chemistry.
Most disappointing, after a decade of Zeller, Marshall, Marcus, Joel, Kenny, and Luke, there is zero leadership. Every time it has looked like UNC was ready to take two steps forward, they take two steps backward, three steps to the right, and fall down. When they are clicking, UNC has looked every bit the part of a top-20 team. When they lose focus for five minutes, they look like a middle-of-the-pack Southern Conference program.