After the first meeting with Notre Dame in which Cole Anthony scored 34 points and Carolina won by eleven, most people would have called you crazy if you told them that the Heels would win just two more ACC games before the teams’ second matchup. Yet, here we are. The Tar Heels are coming off another heartbreaking home loss, this time to Virginia, and are now riding their second five-game losing streak of the season. Here are three things to watch tonight as Carolina travels to South Bend:
In a season littered with disappointing endings, the mood after the Duke game was easily the most somber it’s been. The Heels had what seemed like 200 chances to win the game and still managed to fumble it away. Not only that, but the Blue Devils somehow hit two buzzer-beaters, the latter of which sealed the game for good.
Carolina followed up that performance with an absolutely abysmal showing against Wake Forest, falling 74-57. The Duke game completely drained this team mentally as they were basically sleepwalking for 40 minutes. Some of the players even admitted that they didn’t really listen to the scouting report. They just weren’t engaged at all.
I thought, for the most part, the Tar Heels responded well against Virginia. Christian Keeling continued his hot streak while both Cole Anthony and Garrison Brooks looked like the best versions of themselves. However, ultimately it was an all-too-familiar story. Carolina had a great chance to secure the win after Keeling hit three free throws to give them a one-point lead. Then, like clockwork, Virginia’s Tomas Woldetensae knocked in a three-pointer with under a second remaining.
The question is how will the Heels respond after this most recent heartache? Despite the devastating ending, the locker room was generally much more optimistic about how the team performed. Can Carolina refocus for a tough road tilt against the Fighting Irish?
A Stroke of Luck
This is probably an odd thing to put on a “three things to watch” list for a Tar Heel team that has been anything but lucky, but the tide has to shift at some point...right?
Carolina has seen eight of its scholarship players affected by injury over the course of the season. Of those eight, six have missed at least one full game. Say what you want about talent or effort or whatever it may be, this team was snakebitten from the very beginning. Honestly, it’s been so bad that even fans of other bluebloods are expressing sympathy:
UNC has had the worst luck this year I honestly feel bad pic.twitter.com/Lb9bh0sS43— bbn_united (@bbn_united) February 16, 2020
Also, in the audio picked up from the sequence pictured in that tweet, you can hear Cole Anthony scream, “Why am I always getting hurt?” followed by some expletive language. I think that pretty accurately sums up this Carolina basketball season.
Even beyond injuries, the Heels can never seem to catch a break. Sure, blowing a double-digit lead in the final minutes can’t be solely attributed to misfortune. That being said, teams such as Clemson and Duke had seemingly everything fall their way in order to complete their comebacks over Carolina. Given how upside down this year has been, it would almost make sense for the Tar Heels to reverse their bad luck versus a team nicknamed the “Fighting Irish.”
Handling the Two-Day Turnaround
For the third time in four weeks, the Heels will play a road game on a Monday, giving them just one full day of preparation. Surprisingly enough, they are 1-1 in those two previous Monday games with a win over NC State and a close loss to eighth-ranked Florida State. However, there was an ugly stretch in that FSU game in which the Heels missed seventeen straight shots.
While the short turnarounds haven’t necessarily been a major issue comparatively, it’s hard to imagine Roy Williams is very ecstatic about them. Obviously, the bevy of injuries have only made matters worse. Throw in the fact that South Bend is roughly 700 miles away from Chapel Hill and there could be some serious fatigue.
Brandon Robinson was dressed for the Virginia game but at the time of this writing, it’s unclear if he’ll be available to play against Notre Dame. The Tar Heels could really benefit from getting their senior guard back, but regardless of whether Robinson returns, Coach Williams must figure out how to keep fresh legs on the court. If not, it could be another long night in South Bend.