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Tar Heel Hangover: Gifts needed

A disappointing loss has fans searching under the tree for just the right presents.

Kentucky v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review the games of the last week, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

It has been an uneven effort over the last week, and on the year, for the hard court Heels. A comeback win over Kentucky followed by a comeback loss against NC State. This team still has a lot to figure out. Meanwhile, Clemson came through with precisely the win that the football team needed. A trip to the Orange Bowl is less than two weeks away!

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

Last week, this article put a lot of focus on turnovers. Taking care of the ball has been a real challenge for the freshman backcourt and the team generally. Against Kentucky, it was only 11 turnovers and a victory. Against State, the number was back up to 18 with a loss.

The thing is, however, that the Kentucky game was not as much improvement as the stat sheet suggests. Sure the total number was the lowest of the season, but that was greatly enhanced by the number of fouls. There were a tremendous number of possessions cut short with quick whistles and other would-be turnovers saved by foul calls. In a normal game with only 30-40 foul calls, there would have certainly been more turnovers. In other words, I do not think the problem is getting any better.

I will admit that I was hopeful the first conference game would get the team fired up. I was looking for a strong start, an active defense, and careful ball handling. Instead, we got a lackadaisical early effort, lazy perimeter defense, and lots of turnovers (three in the first 90 seconds). Give the team credit for coming almost all the way back, but these big early deficits are more than a passing trend.

The gift under the tree this year has got to be a change to the starting lineup. This is too talented a team to repeatedly fall behind. I am not advocating a subtle shift in playing time, this needs to be a clear message.

Andrew Platek should start at the two with RJ Davis playing the point and Caleb Love coming off the bench. Playek has been a consistent scorer and one of the best perimeter defenders. The debate I had during the State game with my brother-in-law, Big Bill (a 6’8” former college player) related to Platek’s inability to stay in front of driving guards. Bill was certainly correct to point out that this could be a defensive liability. That issue, however, is really not an issue this year. Carolina has a huge front line that can significantly limit the effectiveness of driving guards. Having two big post players in the lineup at all times means that someone is always protecting the rim. Platek’s ability to guard the three is much more important to the team.

Before the staff here decides that I have totally lost my mind, I will readily admit that Platek is not a cure-all. He made some bad fouls on jump shooters last night and can be a little turnover prone. On the plus side, he has been the most consistent outside shooter this year and always brings a lot of energy to the floor. This is the spot that I am hoping Anthony Harris can fill when he returns.

A change for a game or two could really shock this team to success.

Key stat for the week.

Another quick look at the free throws made vs. free throws missed + turnovers stat. Lots of free throw attempts against Kentucky and limited turnovers yielded a winning ratio of 18:22 or .82. That is one of the highest marks of the year. Against State? It was just coal in the stockings. A mere 12-17 from the free throw line and a whopping 18 turnovers equates to a ratio of 12:23 or .52. Turning the ball over and not shooting free throws is a recipe for disaster. This team needs a better cookbook wrapped with a bow under the tree.

One other stat that stands out is three point shooting. A horrible 2-12 against State and a terrible 25% on the season. Take out Platek’s 40% shooting and the rest of the team is only shooting 22%.

Please Santa, bring this team some confidence and a hot outside shooting. They need it.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

A much needed week off will be followed by what feels like a must win game against Georgia Tech. Let’s hope that Santa is very kind to this team, they get plenty of rest, stay healthy, and are ready to go next Wednesday.

Coach Mack Brown will use the week to fill holes in the roster created by Orange Bowl opt-outs. Put me squarely in the column of fans who are disappointed but fully understand and support the players that have brought this program back from the brink.

Final Thoughts

Stay safe and enjoy this holiday season in whatever way you can. If nothing else, Carolina athletics continues to provide a needed distraction from the difficulties of our collective situation. I am thankful for that.

Most of all Santa, please bring us a fresh start for a new year. Go Heels!