Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. Another week in the books at home and another one coming up. In my yard, frisbee golf has been the closest thing that qualifies as sport. There have also been a lot of video calls. A lot. Video call Bingo has also become a regular occurrence as we try to make a line out of “your on mute”, dog barking, someone gets a delivery, patchy connection, and everyone talks at the same time.
One constant for the virtual happy hours is the regular discussion about what everyone is watching. High on the list is “The Last Dance”, and with good reason. Perhaps it is the total lack of sports that makes this series an oasis in the desert. It could be that the whole country is yearning for the nostalgia of normalcy. Whatever the reason, that series is fantastic.
The Last Dance also carries a message that should resonate with Carolina fans. As great as Michael Jordan was, championships are won with teammates. Jordan does not come back successfully from baseball without Scottie Pippen. The team needed the mercurial Dennis Rodman to complete the puzzle. Rodman did not fill up the scoring line, but he was the best rebounder in the game and a force on defense.
That type of 1-2-3 punch combo was just never present for the Tar Heels during the 2019-20 season. Cole Anthony was a very good college player, but the volume of shots he needed to get his points was just too high to keep everyone involved. In his first two games in a Carolina uniform, a healthy Cole Anthony took 24 shots per game. He scored a total of 54 points and the team won both games, but the offense generally looked stagnant.
Garrison Brooks had a magnificent year and his return for next season is a bright off-season moment. While Anthony took a lot of shots, Brooks succeeded with efficiency. His 35 points against Georgia Tech came on only 18 field goal attempts (and 18 free throw attempts). At the end of February, Brooks really excelled. Starting with the game against Virginia, Brooks put up seven consecutive 20 point games and averaged only about 14 shots per game. That was a magnificent run.
Outside of Brooks and Anthony, however, there were not any stars on the team. Armando Bacot had a very promising freshman campaign, but was challenged at times by the physicality of the college game. Had injuries not derailed Brandon Robinson’s senior season, he could have been a consistent and reliable third option. Instead, the year had more downs than ups.
The most successful Carolina teams have always had great players across the floor. This is a university that has had some of the best college basketball players of all time, and yet when thinking of the championship teams, there are viable debates as to which player on the floor was the best.
Take, for example, the 2016-2017 team. A fantastic discussion could be had over which player that graduated the previous year was the best. Marcus Paige or Brice Johnson? And yet, there were still great players on the floor. Joel Berry II, Luke Maye, Kennedy Meeks, and Justin Jackson. There were also tremendous role players in Theo Pinson, Tony Bradley, and Isaiah Hicks. Plenty of talent to go around.
What about the 2008-2009 team? That is another squad that engenders great debate about who the best player on the team was. Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson led the way with great support from Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. Once again, these were outstanding players who played well together.
Was Raymond Felton or Sean May a better college player? Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams were also excellent players on the team. Another team with multiple options was another National Champion.
This is the lesson of North Carolina National Championships. They are won by teams who have great players and play well together. While there is a great debate over whether Brooks or Anthony were better players this year, the truth is that they did not play together enough and when they did, they did not both play well.
Bacot and Brooks will need to be stars next season for the team to be successful. Additionally, the freshman are going to have to step up and at least one must be star. It takes great players who make each other better to be a great team.
Stay safe. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face.