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UNC vs Notre Dame: “Three Things Learned”

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What else can you learn from this season?

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I thought very hard about copy+pasting my last Three Things Learned into this article. For a refresher, those three things were: Duke was not sustainable (still true), this team might be irreparably broken (yup), and this team is supernaturally cursed (ohh yeah). There are only so many times, after all, that we can find new ways to describe the same game script we’ve seen 4 times in UNC’s last four games. An early lead and control of the game into the second half, a scoring drought, sudden inability to defend what had been routine earlier, and an opposing team making good on UNC’s attempt to give the game away, no matter how unlikely. The definition of insanity is... well, you know the rest. Anyways, here’s what we can maybe take away:

Roy is still coaching

If you didn’t get it from his expletive-laden (seriously!) postgame comments, Roy Williams has no intention of quitting on this team, no matter how many times he sees them making the same mistakes. And while I’ve criticized them, and will continue to do so, for seeming uncoachable this season, there were hints last night of the job that Coach Roy has been doing with this team behind the scenes. Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling were the chief exemplars, running two-man games with each other like they were actually teammates. Just two months ago, you couldn’t have convinced me that either knew the other wore the same jersey; watching them try to play off each other back then was painful. Fast forward to now and not only do they both seem to understand the Carolina offense, but they know how to play together within it, finally providing the veteran presence and basketball awareness that we expected of graduate transfers. They still aren’t the players we all thought we were getting when they were recruited, though Keeling particularly is getting closer by the game. But in the last couple of games, they have at least helped give shape to what has been, for three months now, a completely formless squad. Hopefully that shape doesn’t leave with them.

The Simple Things

A week ago, all that anybody in all of UNC fandom could talk about was free throws. All the usual talking points were out in full force, mainly variations on “You don’t need to be an All-American to shoot free throws.” And that’s not wrong, but it also wasn’t a summation of what is ultimately broken about this team; it was a symptom. And the problem is, again, that on the whole this team just refuses to be well-coached, in a viciously circular way. We saw how this season started: players in awe of Cole Anthony’s talent, so they initially refused to move like they were supposed to, so Anthony took shots he shouldn’t have, so they gave up on moving after being reminded that they were supposed to, so he couldn’t trust them and continued to jack stuff up despite his better judgement. Now that that problem’s finally been somewhat addressed, the players seem so proud of themselves for actually doing offense that they’re forgetting there’s still a holistic game to be played. Three times in the second half Notre Dame beat UNC’s defense down the court off something that wasn’t a live-ball turnover. The game-winning shot came down to an offensive rebound that came down to poor execution on the defensive rebounding side by UNC, which was preceded by UNC mishandling an offensive rebound on the other end. This is a good rebounding team! And yet, they got burned by their strength and by something that’s nothing short of a staple in what they’re practicing every day. No excuses. It’s usually pretty obvious why bad teams are bad. And in this case, it’s because this team is failing to execute a lot of things that should be second nature.

Sports are pain and exist to hurt you

I think this occasion bears reminding of Tanya’s all-timer of a headline from the Virginia game. Or, put another way:

Take care of yourselves, folks, and remember, as much as it might not feel like it sometimes, life is bigger than sports.