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Tar Heel Hangover: Consistently inconsistent

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Another head-scratching loss furthers the trend.

Marquette v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

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 has happened over the last week.

How does the same team beat Louisville by 45 and lose to Marquette by 13? Even with the Cardinals coming off of an extended COVID break, that is a good team that the Heels absolutely dominated. It was the complete opposite of what happened last night when Carolina was dominated by a mediocre Marquette team.

The Tar Heel tourney hopes look like a game of ping pong; back and forth and back and forth.

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

Wednesday night was just a complete lack of passion and energy. Sometimes shots will not go in; that is college basketball. Everyone has down shooting nights. Good teams, however, fight through those lulls and crank up the energy in the other elements of the game.

Defense would be one possibility. Preventing the other team from scoring can be a powerful counter to having a bad shooting night yourself. Carolina was as miserable on defense as on offense, and perhaps worse. Marquette shot 51.8% from the floor and nearly 38% from three. Far too many easy baskets resulted in 83 points.

Perhaps rebounding could be a strength as it has all season for the Heels. Nope. Carolina only outrebounded the Eagles by one (35-34). The starters only had 14 rebounds total. Freshman forward Dawson Garcia managed 11 rebounds himself.

Winning the turnover battle can also pick up for a bad shooting night, but that did not happen either. Nineteen Tar Heel turnovers more than offset the 18 for Marquette, many of which came in the second half against the full court pressure. Even worse, a lot of Carolina’s giveaways were just sloppy. Caleb Love dribbling into Garrison Brooks on the break was the perfect summary of this effort.

What is so confounding is how different these numbers were from Saturday. Louisville shot 32.8% from the field and went only 1-16 from three. Carolina outrebounded the Cardinals by 11 and won the turnover battle by 5. How can this be the same team?

Bad nights happen in college basketball, but this team has had a lot of bad nights lately. What is so frustrating for fans is that those outings are mixed in with great games. This is neither a bad team or a great team, but it is some of both. What really hurts is that the group is still searching for an identity with March starting next week.

Key stat for the week.

With all of the great post players, the truth is that this team turns on the performance of Kerwin Walton. Among the least heralded of the freshman class, Walton is perhaps the critical piece for Carolina. He is not a great defender and does not rebound particularly well from the guard position, but he is a great shooter and takes care of the ball well generally.

In the last three losses (Clemson, Virginia, Marquette), Walton has gone a combined 7-19 from three and has not scored in double figures in any game. In the last three conference wins (Louisville, Duke, Pitt), he is 11-16 from three and scored in double figures every game. His shooting is critical to open the lane. For the first time in a long time, he looked hesitant against Marquette. That can not happen again.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

Difficult games coming up: Florida State on Saturday followed by a trip to Syracuse and then the regular season re-match with Duke. The good Carolina team is capable of winning all three. The bad Carolina is capable of getting blown out three times. Taking two of the next three and keeping things close against Florida State should be enough to get this team into the NCAA Tournament.

Final Thoughts

One good game one bad game is not a recipe for success this time of year.

Go Heels!