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Tar Heel Hangover: A fitting end to the year.

2021 can not get here fast enough.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Another conference road loss, this time to Georgia Tech, has the Heels sitting at 0-2 in conference play. Unfortunately, the ACC is not strong this year which means that bids to the NCAA tournament will be limited. This puts a premium on every game and slims the margin for error. Once again, there were plenty of errors.

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

A week ago, I called for a big change to the starting lineup, writing:

“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.”

Well, Santa showed up in a huge way. Not only did Andrew Platek join the starting lineup in place of Caleb Love, Kerwin Walton and Day’Ron Sharpe also were in the first five. They replaced Leaky Black and Garrison Brooks in what was clearly a message-sending move.

It worked, sort of. This was one of the very few games this year that Carolina did not dig a huge hole for itself in the first half. In fact, the Heels led throughout the first 20 minutes but the action never looked smooth nor the lead comfortable. While the defensive intensity was better with this starting group, there were still far too many turnovers.

For veteran players like Brooks and Black, and to some degree for freshman stars like Love, getting benched should get players angry. They should enter the game with high energy like their hair is on fire. That did not happen for the Heels off the bench. It was another stoic effort that brought no spark and did little to expand the lead.

I would like to think that the lack of fans is really affecting this team. It would be very convenient to say that empty gymnasiums make it impossible to play with passion. That, however, would be an assumption that totally disregards the recent history of this program. For years, this has not been a particularly vocal group. There were exceptions, of course, but the philosophy generally is stay above the fray. This is a team that is consistently below the fray and the missing passion could be what is needed to get over the hump. Without fans, it is incumbent on the players and coaches to find the fire within. Until they do that, the ghosts of the recent past will continue to haunt them.

Key stat for the week.

Better shooting from three point land combined with another truckload of turnovers. Those are important numbers.

My stat for the week, however, is a single number; 366. This is the last day of leap year 2020. Normally on New Year’s Eve, we sit around and talk of the way our lives have changed. A year older, a few trips, some accomplishments, some memories.

This year was different because we sat at home while the whole world changed around us. We experienced tremendous loss and sorrow while sitting still. There was a sadness that brought perspective to sports. At a time when we typically think about all of the extraordinary things to come, I am simply looking forward to normal.

Good riddance 2020. I did not have the time of my life.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

The sports seasons have not been all bad this year. Carolina is in the Orange Bowl on Saturday. That is a tremendous accomplishment for a program that could only manage a win or two a couple of years ago. Now, they are growing into a force. Saturday is a celebration and a sign of the bright future to come.

Final Thoughts

Wash your hands and don’t touch your face. Enjoy this New Year’s Eve in a responsible way. Hit the reset button. Take advantage of the opportunity that only this holiday brings for a fresh start.

Go Heels!