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.
A great win against Florida State and a disappointing loss against Syracuse continue the cycle of ups and downs. The huge upset win versus the Seminoles put Carolina comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field just to have the game at Syracuse put them right back on the bubble. Rinse, repeat.
Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .
This has been a frustrating season in so many ways; cancelled games and constant schedule changes, poor shooting, no fans in the stands, turnovers. There have been some big wins and some head scratching losses. On any given night, the Heels could beat just about any team in the country or could lose to any team in the NCAA Tournament. That is the reality of the situation. The focus now, for fans, the coaching staff, and the players, has to be on the next 10 days.
While I think this Carolina team is currently in the field of 68, most pundits have them hovering around the cut line. Life on the bubble is filled with uncertainty and trending in the wrong direction this time of year can be fatal. Fortunately, unlike a lot of other teams in the country, the Heels absolutely control their own destiny.
It all starts Saturday with Duke. The Blue Devils are not good. They will not make the bracket unless they run the table in the ACC Tournament. Saturday is of limited impact to their tournament hopes. Plus, Carolina dominated the first match-up all the final score was much closer than the game felt.
For Carolina, however, Saturday is critical. Even though Duke does not even qualify as a good win anymore, they still carry name recognition. A regular season sweep would boost the Heels resume just enough to lock them into the tournament field. It would also provide another feel-good moment that could be used as a springboard to a post-season run.
Additionally, for some fans, a season sweep of Duke is all that it takes to define a successful year. That goal is well within reach.
Playing without the baggage of the last two years is key. This can no longer be a team that carries the weight of the world onto the court. They (and their fans) need to remember that basketball is fun. They need to collectively forget about shooting slumps and missed opportunities and instead feed off of positive energy. It is not a light switch that can just be flipped on, but look for the little things like holding their heads up instead of down, communicating on the court, and smiling.
Key stat for the week.
Carolina needs to score. Their last four losses have all been dreadful shooting performances, especially from three. They shot 20% from deep against Syracuse, 27.8% against Marquette, 12.5% against Virginia, and 26.3% against Virginia. This s a post-heavy team but there has to be enough production from the outside to keep teams honest. The open looks will continue to be there as opponents double the post.
Carolina also has to take care of the ball. I love the faster pace that the team has played with these last few weeks, but too frequently they arrive at their own end without the ball. Tempo will lead to some turnovers and that is understandable, but the break looks more like chaos than coordination. Staying calm in the open court will go a long way toward putting more points on the board.
There always seems to be a lot at stake in Carolina-Duke games. This one, however, seems especially important. A NCAA Tournament bid and psychological bump could mean big things for the next month. High stakes, high reward.