It does feel like we’ve gotten to a point where all you can say is, “what else can I say about this season?”
Another close loss, another time where fans are scratching their heads and wondering what could be. This time, in an ugly offensive showing for both sides, Florida State was able to pull out a 65-59 victory over the Tar Heels. So in a season where the losses are mounting, what exactly did we learn after this game?
There are three types of Carolina losses this season.
What’s funny about the way the season has gone is that there isn’t just one way that Carolina has managed to lose a game. Keeping this piece family-friendly, they break down in this way:
1) Didn’t even leave the locker room
2) Couldn’t handle the pressure at the end
3) Great effort, but generally wilted away.
For instance, Georgia Tech and the two Pittsburgh games would qualify in the first category. Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Boston College would generally exemplify your second category, and then Gonzaga and last night would qualify as the third.
It’s really remarkable that when you have a season that has this many losses, you can actually debate the levels of losing that this team has suffered, but here we are. In this case, Carolina didn’t have a lead for much of the second half and had that 11-minute stretch where they just didn’t hit a field goal.
The question now is whether or not Carolina will create a fourth category, or if we’ll be able to categorize the rest of their losses this way. Judging by the play tonight, there will be more losses.
This is why you have to finish the winnable games
Now we’re talking about those category two games.
After last night, the Tar Heels go into the Duke game 3-8 in the ACC and have zero margin for error. If the team had been able to finish off Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, they’d be 6-5 instead. 6-5 would have them as a solid fifth place team, and not having to scratch and claw to even hope to avoid Tuesday of the ACC Tournament.
In a season full of ifs and buts, this is the thing that really hurts the most. You actually could excuse losses like last night if the Tar Heels had been able to just take care of business against a soft conference, and their NCAA Tournament viability might actually be something worth discussing.
Now, though, the Tar Heels basically can’t afford to lose again. They only have nine games left, and still have two against Duke and one against Louisville, the other top two teams in the conference. If those end up being losses the best the Tar Heels can hope for is 9-11 and having to win the ACC in order to do anything.
Let’s be real: this team has squandered any realistic shot of being able to play meaningful March games. It’s an awkward position for fans to be in, and it’s starting show when you look at the actual get in price for the Duke game on Saturday. In short, those “category two” losses are the real heart of what will cost this team any sort of semblance of a season.
Cole Anthony’s return has not helped
Now we get to a “chicken and the egg” problem.
Prior to Cole’s return, the Tar Heels had finally seemed to figure out what they were, what their limitations were, and everyone on team had seemed to settle into their roles. Garrison Brooks was a beast down low, Armando Bacot was move the ball as a big man, and the ball was moving around crisply.
With Cole back on the floor, the offense has seemingly regressed to the “stand around and see what Cole does” style that we saw a lot of during the time he was out on the floor. The question then has to be answered, is it because of Cole or because of the team?
Case in point: Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot. In the two games since Cole came back, the two have gone a combined 11-31 from the field. Think about that: in four halves of basketball, the two big men have a combined 31 shots from the field. Against NC State alone, the two went 13-30, and against Miami they went 15-22. Forget the free throws missed by Brooks against BC, it’s pretty clear that since Cole came back the Tar Heels are not feeding their two post weapons, and it’s a problem that was present from the moment Cole was inserted against BC.
Roy has been brutally honest this year, so if the problem were just Cole one would expect him to say so. In his press conference, however, he specifically singled out needing to get Bacot and Brooks involved, including needing them to move properly within the offense. Are there instances that you can point to where Cole played “hero ball?” Absolutely, but again, how much of that is him actually refusing to work with his team, and how much of it is him trying to acclimate to playing just his 11th game as the UNC point guard, and how much of it is his team not working with him? Coby White didn’t exactly mesh easily with his teammates eleven games in, and it’s not like Anthony has Luke Maye, Cam Johnson, and Kenny Williams as options with Brooks. Also, even though Cole is out there, he’s still coming off a torn meniscus that takes time to recover from even when you’re healthy enough to play.
So again, it’s the chicken and the egg. It’s clear from the hustle plays Cole is making that he wants to be out there, and that if he truly didn’t care he would have just decided to sit out the rest of the year. On some level, Cole has to be screaming “help me help you!” The question is, will his teammates trust him to help them when given the chance?