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Tar Heel Hangover: What really happened to UNC Basketball in 2019-20?

It was a difficult year and this is a great time to debate why.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is normally the time to review last week’s games and set the stage for the week ahead. Instead, there have been no games for over two weeks. Life is filled with replays of tournament games and there is this bizarre time when weekends do not really seem like weekends.

With plenty of time at home to surf the internet and stew on the current status of isolation, I thought it was time to start the debates! Combining with a general recap of the season, let’s dive in to what went wrong. Spoiler alert: fans will not agree with all (or any) of the following points. That’s what makes for a good debate.

Just a quick recap for those who were living in a cave for last six months. The Heels finished with a 14-19 overall record including a horrible 6-14 in league play. They were consistently viewed as the better team down the stretch and yet continued losing games. This was a season to forget, as soon as this debate is over!

The Tar Heel Hangover season recap debate: What was the biggest factor that shaped the 2019-2020 season?

  1. This is a no-brainer - it was the injuries.

There were a billion games lost for the Heels this year to injuries. Sterling Manley never saw the court. Anthony Harris was a budding star that was gone in a flash. Jeremiah Francis showed promise but was extremely limited. None of these players were even projected as starters.

Cole Anthony’s knee was the absolute killer to the season because it took away the most prolific scorer and best player on the team. His loss was only magnified by missed time from Brandon Robinson, Leaky Black, and Armando Bacot. Garrison Brooks played through injuries all year including what must have been a record breaking three scratches of the same cornea. Robinson was hit by a drunk driver. Absolutely unbelievable.

This was a very good team when most of the starting five was healthy early in the year. As the missed games compounded, however, fatigue and pressure overtook the depleted team and the losses added up. With everyone healthy, this would easily have been a 20 win season, a top five finish in the league, and a certain berth to the non-existent NCAA tournament.

2. Cole Anthony was just not as good as this team needed.

Anthony is clearly a great player and will have a long and storied career in the NBA. His college days, however, did not quite live up to the considerable hype. On this team in this year, Carolina needed Anthony to be a top 10 freshman of all time. He was not, and his heavy requirement for shots ground the offense to a halt.

Anthony was not a good shooter, largely because he took such difficult shots. As a freshman, he averaged a whopping 18 shots per game. That is unheard of in the Roy Williams system. Far too often, Anthony relied on the referees to bail him out of bad drives and contested shots. Granted, some his high shot output was due to extended minutes but even averaged to a per 100 possessions, he would have taken over 25% of the shots. This was flatly not good as defenses focused on him and Garrison Brooks dominated inside.

Anthony shot over 50% from the floor four times on the year, and the Heels were 4-0 in those games (first Notre Dame game, then NC State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest in a row). In the games that he was under 50% from the field, the team went 6-12. Simply put, this was not a good enough offensive team to overcome Anthony taking and missing so many shots. He needed to be better for the Heels to be better.

3. Roy Williams has difficulty coaching one-year players.

The roster turnover from last year was extraordinary so there had to be an abundance of newcomers to the team. Anthony and Bacot were slated as starters. Justin Pierce and Christian Keeling were highly touted transfers that could have been key pieces. Bacot had a productive freshman campaign, but often looked a step out of place on the interior. His triple spin off balance semi-hook was my least favorite shot of the year and I got to see it a couple of times every game.

Justin Pierce had a very rough go of it in Chapel Hill. He never quite found his place on the floor and could not be the reincarnated Justin Jackson or Cameron Johnson that many had hoped for. Keeling also had a very difficult time acclimating to major college basketball and it wasn’t until he gave up shooting threes late in the season that he began to increase his productivity.

Anthony is a great player but could not succeed in an offense where he took so many shots and alternated speaking to the officials while making off-balance drives. Coby White was the exception to the rule but he played on such an offensively gifted team that finding his role should have been relatively easy.

Roy Williams is a great coach, but the Carolina offensive is very complicated and takes time and patience to master. It is this structure that makes the team so successful on a regular basis (this year aside) but it is not an easy place to just step in and play. As the one-and-done era continues, Coach will need to find a happy medium between individual development and team success. I think he tried this year by allowing Anthony to play huge minutes and take a big role in the offense. It did not work.

If the NBA does away with the one-and-done rule, no program in the country will benefit more than North Carolina.

4. This was just a team that was a bit overrated and suffered horrible luck.

At no point should this team have been ranked 5th in the country. Maybe if they played perfectly every night, but that’s not basketball. Still, they were clearly much better than their record. As the last seed in the ACC Tournament, they were favored in their first two games (and of course got blown out in the second).

The Clemson baseline three at the buzzer. Two missed chances to beat Virginia Tech on the road. The phantom Boston College foul. The oblivious official that missed the Duke mugging on the inbounds play. UVA at the buzzer. Notre Dame at the buzzer.

Flip these games, all of which Carolina should have won, and the team would have been 20-13 including 12-8 in conference play. That would have been fifth in the league. None of that even takes into account what the added momentum and confidence from those games would have meant.

For all of the worry and concern, this team was a total of 5 seconds away from having a reasonably good year.

You make the call!

So which of these was the real culprit? Was it injuries in the hall with the candlestick or bad luck in the conservatory with the revolver? Maybe is was all of the above. What is missing here.

Enjoy the debate this week. Feel free to get active in the comments and point out what was missed.

Most of all, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and stay safe.

Go Heels!