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Tar Heel Hangover: Uncertainty

Another crazy week leaves Tar Heel fans without a clear direction.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review the games of the last week, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

What a game on Saturday! Huge win at Cameron has all of life looking up. That was a tremendous game and a great cause for celebration. . . for everyone except for the Tar Heel players.

Celebrating Saturday turned into a game cancellation on Monday and a lot of uncertainty for the upcoming schedule. Put me firmly on the side of undecided; or perhaps, call me maybe.

But first, just in case you are new to The Hangover, check out last week’s preview of the game against the forces of evil. “Small gym with no fans seems to beg for a good shooting night. Duke shoots a bit under 33% from three for the year and will certainly need to make outside shots to win. I like Kerwin Walton to have a huge game with help from either Caleb Love or R.J. Davis from deep.” The result? An incredible 66.7% from three. Walton was 4-4 from three and paced the Heels early. Love had his best shooting performance of the year going 4-5 from three. What will this weekend hold?

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

This part of the article hurts because I am genuinely torn. Who among us did not celebrate on Saturday night? Who did not watch that game end with the kind of smile and relief that only a full season of frustration can bring? Who did not have (at least) one additional post-game bourbon while playing Rock Band and wearing a shirt with anti-Duke messaging? That last one may have just been at my house.

Nevertheless, this is the reality in a pandemic. Everyone is desperate for a reason to celebrate and yet players are vilified for celebrating. On the one hand, these are athletic heroes who have just defeated their arch-nemesis. On the other, these are role models that carry high expectations. They were just doing what every teenager wants to do and yet they were making the kinds of mistakes that young athletes across the country have been avoiding.

As fans, we expect these young men to be everything on the court and to be the model of safety off the court. Heaven forbid they be a little human. Is the emotion that fans so demand supposed to just be turned off like a faucet in the locker room?

These questions have no answers. There are consequences to every action, but there should also be some understanding. I am not condoning a reckless disregard of safety, but I am also not living in a fantasy world where everyone makes the best decisions all the time. I did not on Saturday; I had another bourbon and played Rock Band.

Key stat for the week.

Even the stats against Duke leave a series of questions. Their best offensive output was matched with one of the worst on defense. A great game from Love was met with a terrible game from every guard off the bench. The team managed to shoot 66.7% from three and only 59.1% from the free throw line. Head scratching.

The turnovers also continue to hamper the flow with 16 against the Blue Devils. This would be understandable with high-pace high-possession games and the Duke game was certainly played with more tempo than normal, but this is a chronic problem. Combined with Duke getting 7 blocks and the offense was wildly unpredictable from possession to possession.

Perhaps one looks at the bright spots on offense and thinks that Love hitting his stride means a lot more points on the board. Maybe his 31 minutes does not precisely equate to giving up 87 points to an offensively challenged team. Maybe getting the “W” is really all that matters.

Here is what we know for sure:

1. Carolina is 7-2 in its last 9 league games, but the ACC is generally down.

2. Carolina lost to a downward trending Clemson team last week, missed a game against a bad Miami team this week, and has a difficult remaining schedule.

3. Carolina just beat Duke. Duke is a very bad team. Carolina beat Duke.

I’m still betting on the Heels.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

Virginia is next up this weekend, assuming that the game goes forward. This is certainly not the same Virginia team as the last three years, but they are still stout on defense. I actually like this matchup with Caleb Love developing some confidence and the size of Carolina presenting matchup difficulties.

The Virginia defense is based on forcing bad shots and securing rebounds. There may be some bad shots, but Carolina offensive rebounds could keep the game close. I also like Carolina’s size to present a dilemma for the Virginia defense. Even with Cavalier stretch bigs that draw their defenders away from the basket, there should still be plenty of size to secure defensive rebounds. I’ll take the over on Saturday with what could be a surprisingly high scoring affair. This one will likely come down to Carolina’s ability to convert from the free throw line. Consider me cautiously optimistic.

Final Thoughts

Every win against Duke is a good win. This team has needed good wins for a couple of years now and so did the fans. We all celebrated on Saturday night.

Go Heels!