Exactly one month ago, I thought it would be a good idea to put some context into where the Carolina Basketball program stood in terms of games played compared to a few comparable seasons. The result of the dive showed us all that while this Carolina team was already deep in ACC play, in terms of a per game standpoint, they were just scratching the surface of years past.
Since then the Tar Heels have essentially proven that they’ve been on a similar track to those teams, just later in the actual calendar thanks to...multiple reasons. They’ve also shown the value of playing games by not playing games. After their great win over Duke a couple weeks ago, a win that is starting to look better considering the Blue Devils’ recent play, we all know they ended up having to sit for a week. Being able to build off that game against an inferior opponent in Miami and then having to play the likes of Virginia showed as the team missed bunny after bunny, keeping the door open for Virginia to push their way through. When that game tipped off, the Tar Heels knew they were going to have to find another opponent to replace Virginia Tech or they’d face a similar issue this weekend against Louisville.
This resulted in a Twitter call out and a game against Northeastern that was something that Tar Heels haven’t had a lot of this season: a chance for the team to give some different lineups an extended look and give some guys an honest shot at playing. Walker Kessler may have been the biggest beneficiary of this, but the team as a whole showed the difference in playing a midweek game and not in their thumping against Louisville on Saturday.
So, with that, I thought it’d be a good idea to check in again on where we were on the calendar with similar teams. This time I’ve added another number: home games. We all know by now this Tar Heel team has had rotten luck in playing at home, as almost all of their postponed games were ones in Chapel Hill. When you see how many Carolina has played at home in prior seasons versus this year, it’s yet another layer to explain why it seems like this team is slower to come together. For reference, Saturday was Carolina’s 8th home game this season.
We’ll use the same seasons at before: ‘06-’07, ‘10-’11, ‘12-’13. As a reminder, the comparison here is for talented but young teams that all saw a first year point guard take over at some point.
Game 21 (including two exhibitions): 1/20 vs. Georgia Tech
Record after Game 21: 19-2
Opponents: St. Augustine’s (exh), Pfeiffer (exh), Sacred Heart (Charlotte), Winthrop (Charlotte), Gardner-Webb, Gonzaga (L, NYC), Tennessee (NYC), Ohio State, Kentucky, High Point, UNC-Asheville, Florida-Atlantic, St. Louis (road), Rutgers, Dayton, Penn, FSU, UVa, Virginia Tech (L, road), Clemson (road), Georgia Tech
Home Games played after Game 21: 14
Games Played by 2/22: 30
Despite being 21 games into the season at this point, the Tar Heels had yet to take on the Blue Devils once, and really hadn’t gotten into the heart of their ACC schedule. It’s easy to forget considering it took the Tar Heels until 2009 to win it all, but this squad was absolutely loaded. Their only hiccups were to Gonzaga in New York, and Virginia Tech on the road. Even more astounding is to look at that schedule and see that, literally, 2⁄3 of the games the Tar Heels had played by Game 21 were at home.
Also important to note here, look at how many “Northeastern” style games this team had with a freshman point guard and shooting guard in Lawson and Ellington. They basically got to spend a month staying in Chapel Hill, working together as a team and beating inferior opponents which allowed them to get into the ACC season on a role. That long stretch at home may have been what bit them in their loss against Virginia Tech, their first road game of the conference season.
The Tar Heels went on to play 40 games that season, meaning that they were barely halfway through their schedule at game 21 in 2007.
Game 21 (including one exhibition): 1/29 vs NC State
Record after 21 games (including one exhibition): 16-5
Opponents: Barton (exh), Lipscomb, Hofstra (San Juan), Minnesota (L, San Juan), Vanderbilt (L, San Juan), UNC-Asheville, College of Charleston, Illinois (L, road), Kentucky, Evansville (road), Long Beach State, Texas (L, Greensboro), William & Mary, Rutgers (NYC), St. Francis, Virginia (road), Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech (road), Clemson, Miami (road), NC State
Home Games played after Game 21: 11
Games played by 2/22: 27
Yes folks, Larry Drew is still on the team at this point. The last game Drew started for the Tar Heels was against Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and so by the 21st game Kendall Marshall had only started three times. A quick check of the minutes showed that Roy Williams was still being judicious in how he split up the time, as while Marshall got the start against the Tigers, Drew played more minutes. Marshall played the same number of minutes against Miami but Drew played less, and the same thing happened against NC State.
Drew suited up with the Tar Heels one more time that season, February 1st in Chestnut Hill against Boston College. I was at that 106-74 blowout win, and with the minutes returning to more of an even split, it really looked like the Tar Heels weren’t going to be stopped. Drew, of course, shook all that up after that game and the Tar Heels had to adjust.
The funny thing is, the Tar Heels went on to play another 16 games with only Marshall as the lead guard. They were still barely halfway through their total games played, and they had time to make the adjustments that were needed. If Drew left earlier or stayed the whole season, does this team go on to the Final Four? Who knows, but if a team that played 38 games struggled to adjust to this sudden change, how do you think a team in the current situation is going to do?
Game 21 (including one exhibition): 1/29 vs. Boston College
Record after 21 games (including one exhibition): 15-6
Opponents: Shaw (exh), Gardner-Webb, Florida-Atlantic, Long Beach State (Road), Mississippi State (Maui), Butler (L, Maui), Chaminade (Maui), Indiana (L, Road), UAB, East Tennessee State, ECU, Texas (L, Road), McNeese State, UNLV, Virginia (L, Road), Miami (L), Florida State (Road), Maryland, Georgia Tech, NC State (L, Road), Boston College (Road)
Home Games played after Game 21: 11
Games played by 2/22: 27
Again, if you’re looking for a season that might be the most analogous to the current one, it would be the 2012-13 season where Marcus Paige had to step up after the early departure by Marshall. The current team is only one game worse (14-7) than that team was, and arguably had many more “fluff” games built in which allowed for Paige to try to get a feel for his team. Even with that, the road was still rocky. Losses to Butler and Texas before the conference slate, and then the Cavs, Canes, and Wolfpack all managed to take a bite out of Carolina.
That State game is notable because we remember Marcus Paige being someone who couldn’t be stopped when he stepped on the court in Raleigh, and yet in that game he was only 2-11 overall and 1-5 behind the three-point arc. Seven points, four assists, three turnovers, all in 29 minutes of action. It showed that the young point guard still had plenty of room to grow, and this is with a player that knew he was going to be the lead guard 25-30 minutes a game.
It wasn’t until after the Duke game before this team seemed to really gel, as they won six of their last seven in the regular season, made it to the finals of the ACC Tournament, only to get that dubious eight-seed that just so happened to be the region Kansas was in. We don’t need to relive the anger over that season, only to point out that it took that team time to still figure things out and go on a roll.
The scary thing for this team is that as of now, it only has four more games scheduled: Marquette, FSU, Syracuse, and Duke. Three of those four are at home at least, but those three would only bring them to the number of home games that the ‘11 and ‘13 teams had played by this point, and they would have several more to go.
Are there things this team needs to be better at? God, yes. Unfortunately history and this current squad have both shown that the best way to get better is to play games. Unfortunately, in 2021, they may just run out of time to do that.