There’s not much to say after last night’s ass-whooping. For the third straight NCAA Tournament, UNC ends the season getting run, jumped, and shot out of the gym. For a team that had seemingly turned a corner in the last few weeks, the Tar Heels’ youth and inexperience reappeared in an event that often punishes such weaknesses.
It’s hard to put in words what transpired last night, and yet, many one word sentences can accurately sum up the debacle in Indiana. They include:
Sobering. Ugly. Predictable. Re-run. Infuriating. Unimpressive. Maddening. Unwatchable. Disappointing. Sad. Painful.
You get the point. If you were in my house, you heard many other one-word sentences that cannot be written on this site. My wife did not appreciate my vocabulary in front of our child, but I am positive that one day my daughter will understand.
Regardless, the season is over and we must put forth one last effort to address what we learned. So, let’s finish this season with the following lessons.
These Badgers deserve credit. They were tough, physical, disciplined, and unbelievably efficient. They dictated every facet of the game, even outrebounding UNC 37-34 and recording eight blocks. Every single UNC guard was torched on defense and were a borderline liability on offense. Considering the improvement UNC had made over the last three weeks, Wisconsin deserves a tip of the hat for imposing their will.
Much of that, though, wasn’t so much about superior talent as it was superior experience. Wisconsin started four seniors and a sophomore. Including last night, their starting five have a combined 578 appearances, with 434 combined starts. Three of them, Nate Reuvers, Brad Davison, and D’Mitrik Trice have each started over 100 games.
North Carolina is, uh, on the other end of the spectrum. The Tar Heels starting five of Garrison Brooks, Leaky Black, Armando Bacot, Kerwin Walton, and Caleb Love boast just 336 appearances and 273 total starts. Brooks accounts for 133 appearances and 103 starts by himself. Love and Walton won’t even appear in their 30th game until next season.
Those differences were on full display all night long. Backdoor cuts, confident step-back jumpers, aggressiveness at the rim, and ball security confounded UNC. At times it looked like Trice and Davison were toying with the entire Tar Heel lineup like a cat playing with a mouse before he eats it. It was a master class in mind games and throat punches.
So, whatever frustration you may have with talent levels, recruiting, program philosophy, or in-game strategy, save those for another day. Last night is best and most accurately explained by Wisconsin’s seniority and UNC’s youth and inexperience.
It was a recurring theme throughout the season, but it reared it’s head one last time last night. In a win-or-go-home game, nobody stepped up to carry the team on their back, especially the upperclassmen. As they had so often throughout the season, an inconsistent showing from Leaky Black, Andrew Platek, and Garrison Brooks led to a spectacular defeat.
Brooks did finish with 10 points and 10 rebounds in a workman-like performance, but on a rather inefficient 4-12 shooting. At halftime he had attempted seven field goals, while Kessler, Sharpe, and Bacot had combined for just four attempts. Many of those attempts were not of the “point-blank range” variety and instead were the “rushed 15-foot mid-range jumper” selection. He was also blocked four times and committed two turnovers.
Black finished with two points, three rebounds, and one turnover in 21 minutes. He only played less than that against Virginia and in the first loss to Florida State. He was also consistently torched by Davison in the second half, failing to display anything resembling the defense abilities he has occasionally shown.
Meanwhile, Platek played seven minutes, contributing two rebounds and a turnover. In the first half, he entered the game and promptly turned the ball over on a poor entry pass and was then beaten on a backdoor cut for a lay-up on Wisconsin’s next possession. He was quickly replaced by Anthony Harris.
On a team that desperately needed direction and guidance from experienced veterans in a foreign environment, this triumvirate once again failed to deliver on the court.
Foundation for the Future
If you’re looking for a silver lining, then consider this.
The foundation for future success is now in Chapel Hill. Whatever the future holds in terms of transfers in, transfers out, or departures to the professional ranks (wherever whose ranks may be), North Carolina has six freshmen (not even including injured Puff Johnson) and a sophomore that can return UNC to the top of the college basketball landscape. Those seven underclassmen were the backbone of an 18-11 team who endured a non-traditional season due to extraordinary circumstances.
UNC has been in this position a few times during the Roy Williams era. 2004 comes to mind, when he inherited a raw, talented, emotionally immature team that eventually won the 2005 title. That 2004 team finished 19-11 (8-8 ACC), falling as a #6 seed in the second round to Texas.
You could also point to the 2012-13 or 2013-2014 teams as comparable seasons. Those teams finished 25-11 (12-6 ACC) and 24-10 (13-5 ACC). They stumbled to #8 and #6 seeds with two second round exits. The main parts of those teams eventually went to back-to-back championship games, winning one title.
And yet, none of those teams had the youth of this team.
The year was certainly a roller coaster of emotions, and we can’t possibly begin to understand how it felt for the players. But, history has shown that if he can keep a core group of players together for two or three years, then Roy Williams will have UNC in the middle of another potential title run.
Now we wait and hope they return to Chapel Hill to build on eventual legacies.
P.S. If you’re still sad, just remember:
1) UNC swept Duke
2) Kentucky and Duke didn’t even make the tournament
3) See #1 and #2