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 much needed win over Yale brought Roy Williams into a tie with Dean Smith for career wins. Then the wheels fell off against Georgia Tech at home on Saturday night. This team has issues all over the floor and there do not seem to be a lot of answers. At this point, a NCAA tournament bid is a dream. There is still time, and having so many injuries will be noticed, but at some point there must be wins.
Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .
The scoring is an issue. It has been an issue all season. Not being able to consistently run or knock down perimeter shots will lead to scoring droughts. It took 13 minutes and 10 seconds for the Tar Heels to finally hit a shot from the floor on Saturday. Now, all fans have seen scoring droughts against good defensive teams, but Georgia Tech is just not that good. This was a case of Carolina being terrible.
Then the offense suddenly started to click. Four points through the first 10 minutes and 79 for the rest of the game. To put that into perspective, only against Gonzaga did the Heels score more points for an entire game than they did in 30 minutes against the Yellow Jackets. Shots started to fall, the transition game was working, and the team regularly converted from the line. If nothing else, those minutes should prove that the team can score.
Of course, just as the offense started heating up, the defense went non-existent. Its not just that Georgia Tech put up 96 points (the highest given up by Carolina this year), it was how easy most of the baskets looked. Dunk after dunk after layup after wide open three. The second half full court pressure did force some Yellow Jacket turnovers, but that was about all the Carolina defense could muster. Tech shot over 59% from the floor for the game.
The biggest problem was the total absence of Armando Bacot. Despite starting, Bacot managed only 16 minutes and contributed just four points and three rebounds. In the six Carolina losses, Bacot is averaging just over five points and five rebounds per game. His presence on the floor is needed to protect the rim and provide some assistance to Garrison Brooks. Without Bacot, the 6’7” Justin Pierce is required to slide down to the four. Pierce is a good rebounder from the wing but is outmatched as a post player. He simply could not match the Georgia Tech front line and that led to lots of points in the paint and lots of rebounds for the Yellow Jackets. It is unclear if Bacot is still struggling with the ankle injury or perhaps just hitting a freshman funk, but either way the team needs him to be healthy, focused, and energized.
Speaking of focus, the most disappointing part of the Saturday debacle was the day dreaming on defense from team leaders Brandon Robinson and Leaky Black. When Carolina really needed defensive stops amidst a second half scoring flurry, neither could stay with their man for simple baseline cuts and both apparently forgot how to rotate. They just stared at the ball time and time again. They are long athletic wing players who must help in the post, especially without Bacot on the floor. Yet even the senior Robinson looked lost on the defensive end for long stretches.
Despite the good offensive numbers for the last 3⁄4 of the game, there are clearly issues on that side of the court as well. The highly anticipated Christian Keeling has turned in to a liability on the offensive end. Having cut the lead to 11 with just over six minutes remaining, it looked like Carolina was poised for one final run. That was quickly snuffed out by back to back Keeling turnovers. He is trying to force the action because his shots are not falling. What he should be doing instead is working within the offense to get open looks.
Of course, Keeling is not alone in his offensive struggles and it has affected the entire team morale. Even with Brooks having a monster game, there did not seem to be leader on the floor to rally the team. Especially during the first ten minutes, the team collectively looked lackadaisical and lost. That is a rarity under Coach Williams.
Nowhere was the team’s mental state more on display than during the final two minutes. Without Brooks on the floor, literally no one wanted to shoot. Every wing player passed up open three point looks at a time when threes were desperately needed. It seems that the collective confidence is gone.
Perhaps Anthony Harris was just one too many injuries. Maybe the shooting slumps have grown contagious. Coach Williams is running out of games to find solutions.
Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.
I thought Georgia Tech may have been a must win game. I am convinced that Pitt now becomes one. The Panthers travel to Chapel Hill on Wednesday.
Sure, there are plenty of games remaining on the schedule, but at some point the deficit just becomes too large to overcome. That happened within the Georgia Tech game and is happening across the season. This team will not build energy and confidence by adding losses. Winning cures a lot of ills. It is desperation time.