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A Long December

For the Heels women’s team, winter is coming.

NCAA Basketball: Yale at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

In the first week and a half of the season, it’s been fairly smooth sailing. Coach Banghart has her team handling business so far; Carolina has beaten four (albeit so far winless) teams by an average of just over 48 points. Akil had a great writeup on Monday about the first three games of the season which, for the most part, saw a balanced group of women dismantling overmatched opposition. Even some early-season hiccups, present in any season but perhaps moreso this year, were overcome handily as the Tar Heels fought back from a steep first-quarter deficit to take control of the game.

This team can score in bunches, and hurt you in a lot of different ways. In each game thus far, the Heels have had at least five players scoring in double digits. For reference, the men’s team has only achieved that feat on one occasion so far this season. These women are dangerous. If you haven’t seen it, the Stephanie Watts step-back three against High Point (the gif included in Akil’s article) is perfectly emblematic of that danger while simultaneously being one of the most gorgeous things I’ve seen in a very long time.

Monsters lurk in the shadows, though. The end of November treated the Heels well, the fairer climes letting the squad work through some early-season yips. A tilt against Charlotte tomorrow afternoon will hopefully allow the team to continue to gel, because there’s an icy wind blowing through the middle of this month. As winter begins its slow creep down the thermometer, the team from Chapel Hill will find themselves staring down a string of four games in which three of the opponents are currently ranked in the top 25 nationally. A week from Sunday, Carolina will make the trip to Louisville to face a top-five Cardinals squad, then head back to Chapel Hill to host the #22 Syracuse Orange.

The Orange are another story, another wrinkle in a daunting December. It’s tough to beat a top-25 team, full-stop. In almost every case, there’s a reason these teams find their way onto that list. It’s also tough to beat a team twice in the same season. To beat a top-25 team twice, not only in the same season but in the same month? That’s a tall ask. It would take a special team to pull off that kind of feat. Two weeks to the day after the Heels host the Orange in Carmichael Arena, Carolina will return make the trip up to the great white north.

Through the first week and a half, this team has looked special. When the calendar flips over to 2021, we’ll know exactly how special.