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Where is the Leader for UNC Basketball?

Is the season salvageable because of a leadership void?

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

To say frustration is running high among Carolina fans is stating the obvious. All one has to do is look around the various comment sections, Twitter replies, and message boards to get the angriest reaction among fans after yet another blowout loss. This one on Tuesday night to Miami, 85-57.

Frustration leads to a lot of takes so hot the sun is jealous, and there are a myriad of reasons to basically ignore them because of the place where they come from. One take, though, deserves attention because no less than Coach Hubert Davis confirmed there’s an issue: lack of leadership.

Of all the reasons to not blame Davis for these constant blowouts, it’s this one: he’s still not the primary constructor of this roster. Yes, he brought in three transfers, recruited some talent, and worked hard to keep guys that Roy Williams first brought in on the team. Still, the guy that he’s referring to: the guy who steps up when the team needs a kick in the backside doesn’t appear to be there, and that’s something he just can’t control yet.

A “leader” isn’t just an old guy for the team, either. Think of guys who would fit this mold: Joel Berry, Marcus Page, Tyler Hansbrough, Jawad Williams, and George Lynch among others. At least a couple of those players exuded that leadership quality from the jump, and the rest of the team just fell in around it. Ask yourself, does someone like that exist in the locker room right now?

To that point, my colleague Brandon asked your opinion yesterday on who it should be:

On the surface, Bacot is an easy answer. The big man is a beast with the basketball right now, coming off two ACC Player of the week awards and was a national player of the week last week. As the only post-dominant big man on the team this season, the offense should flow around Bacot and he has the strength to demand the ball when others around him are deciding to play hero ball. As you saw above, there’s a history of dominant big men being that leader.

The problem is that some people just aren’t meant to be leaders, and to an extent true strength is recognizing when others should lead and you should follow. After three years, Bacot has not shown that he desires to be that leader on the court. That’s not a character flaw! As he showed off in his hit with Jay Bilas, he’s ridiculously intelligent, has a lot of interests, and there has been very few people that have been as loud an advocate for UNC and Carolina basketball as Bacot. As a highly heralded recruit, it’s easy to say his career so far has not gone as he thought, and yet he has persisted through a pandemic, coaching changes, and various point guards.

But that likely also means he’s not the “leader” that Davis is looking for. If he were a player that the team were to rally around, he’d likely have shown it by now. It makes sense when you think about it, as he’s played with ball-dominant guards who had a goal of making it to the NBA, all while trying to find his place with someone like Garrison Brooks who was fighting for the time in the middle. In short, he’s never been asked to lead, and at this point in his career it’s almost unfair to ask him to do so.

The other main option listed was one of the two guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis, and unlike other years where there’s been a Joel Berry to a Marcus Paige, Love and Davis are in the same class. Both came in without being known as the singular point guard, both have the ability to get hot at any moment, and it’s unlikely either wants to step on the other due to this.

Those are your three best options, because everyone else is either too new (Manek and Garcia) or it’s just not their lot in life (Leaky Black). So you put all of this together and you suddenly get a leadership void that shows up time and time again when things get tough.

On some level it does actually speak to how much the guys likely do enjoy each other, because no one wants to step up and essentially hurt someone else on the team by trying to assume a role they didn’t have. It also speaks to why you can have so many feast or famine type of games, because when it goes well, since there isn’t one guy who seems like he is in charge, everyone feasts and everyone has a good game. It also speaks to how easily Carolina can get thrown out of their rhythm.

Can this be fixed? The thing is this is something Coach Davis can’t really do here. He can say they need a leader, but it’s up to someone on the team to actually step up. To do that, he’s going to have to step on some toes, and do it in such a way that makes everyone else realize that it’s for the ultimate goal of winning a championship. Is it possible for one guy to not worry about the rest of the egos on the team and do this?

If the answer is no, then the chances of this being a successful season for Carolina are non-existent.