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UNC vs. Wake Forest: Three Things Learned

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Um...

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Well, crap. After two games against great competition that featured a UNC team that showed that it could possibly make some noise in whatever postseason it attained, first through stifling defense (FSU) then through the type of offensive execution we hadn’t seen all year (Duke), UNC turned in one of its worst performances all season and lost a game that wasn’t even as close as its 74-57 final line. To Wake Forest. We’re all running out of things to say about this team, but here’s what we learned from this latest embarrassment:

Duke was never sustainable

A lot of us, myself included, tried to find a silver lining in the Duke loss - and it wasn’t hard to do so, either. Cole Anthony was playing like a pro with his double-team splits, good decisions, and consistently stunning passes; the rest of the team was moving for him, UNC was scoring in transition with hit-aheads and vision, this looked like a well-coached team. It looked like something in the week prior had finally connected between them and Roy Williams, or maybe between them and one of the team’s leaders, and they were playing Carolina basketball, not the mess that would’ve gotten most of them laughed off a pickup court that we saw for most of 2020.

But the ball movement, I think, made us forget about where, exactly, the offense was coming from. The Heels took and made a lot of long 2’s against the Blue Devils: Anthony made a couple, Garrison Brooks hit at least 3, Christian Keeling discovered his midrange touch, etc. And long 2’s are not good shots: They go in as often or less so than three-pointers, and don’t give you the same offense. It worked against Duke, but one of the worst foibles in sports is pointing at something that worked once and not investigating trends before assuming it will work again. And against Wake Forest, Anthony’s jumper had an off day and Brooks couldn’t find the basket, leaving the Heels desperately wanting for offense. Keeling continues, so far, to find the bottom of the net from midrange, but I don’t expect that to last much longer, either. This is all going back to a simple truth - this team is capable of moving the ball like a Carolina team should. But that doesn’t suddenly make it offensively capable, and until they figure out how to consistently create high-percentage looks (hint: it starts with effective post entries and 2-man games between the wings and bigs), we can’t expect a Duke kind of night no matter how good the passing is.

This team might actually be broken

On the topic of responding to coaching, though, this might be the most distressing thing I’ve read about this team. Per Adam Lucas:

“We didn’t listen to the scouting report,” said Cole Anthony, who tied with Christian Keeling for the team scoring lead with 15 points. “The stuff the coaches told us, we didn’t pay attention and didn’t follow through on it.” “There were a couple plays we ran through in the scouting report, and we didn’t guard those correctly either,” said Walker Miller, who played 15 minutes. “We didn’t come prepared mentally.”

One game. We’ve had one game, plus a glorified scrimmage against a Miami team as depleted as they were, with this team where they looked like a unit that knew what it was doing. Is this just a result of binary W/L thinking? A “no moral victories” machismo? This team hasn’t earned that - they’ve got to take everything they can from the games they’ve played, and if they didn’t see that the Duke game, as heartbreaking as it was, was a positive outcome for them, I just don’t know what to say. Because it feels like they were either wallowing in the feelings of that collapse for a day longer than necessary, or they decided that if following directions wasn’t going to get them a win, what’s even the point? Either way, this feels like the kind of loss, and the kind of attitude, that’s hard to come back from while the results still matter. I don’t doubt that these kids are trying. I just don’t think they’re trying very intelligently, and at this point, it might be too late to get them to see things in a different light. Virginia is another opportunity to get right for this team. With significantly more time between games, will they take advantage?

This team is definitely cursed

We’ve talked enough about the injuries. We don’t have to say again that Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce are the only rotation players on this team that haven’t, at least publicly, been affected by injury. But let’s run through all the ignominious distinctions this team now holds: Slowest UNC team to 80 points in Roy Williams’ tenure. First team to lose to Clemson in Chapel Hill. First team to lose to Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill. First UNC team to lose to Wake Forest since 2014. A loss in Carmichael Arena. This team loses to Kenpom’s top 51 by an average of 5 points and to teams ranked 75-100 by almost 10. This team isn’t good. This team isn’t cohesive. This team is relentlessly injury-bitten. This team can be described by a lot of adjectives, most of them not charitable. But this kind of season usually just fades for otherwise good teams. This one is going to live forever, and I have no other recourse than to call it supernatural, in the worst way. Please, whatever force is causing this, just end it.