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UNC Basketball: Decisions

Making the right moves at the right time ain’t as easy as it looks

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

I think I know what Coach Davis is going through.

You may rightfully be thinking, at this point, that I’ve lost my mind. That, since I didn’t play ball in any organized capacity after middle school, I couldn’t possibly know what goes on in the mind of the head coach at the University of North Carolina. That Hubert Davis has forgotten more about the game of basketball than I will ever learn, and that a few seasons in the Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation summer basketball league didn’t give me the requisite knowledge to put myself in the shoes of Coach Davis.

You’d be one hundred percent correct. Still, though... I get it.

In the game of basketball as we know it today, there can only be five players on the court at any given time. No more, no less. It’s a wonderfully simple thing; take four of your closest friends, and try to toss this ball through the hoop more times than those other five guys can over the next 40 minutes or so. We as fans make so much of this simple game, and put a lot of pressure on the five guys that are wearing our colors, as well as the guy who put them all out there to play.

The only problem is, sometimes we think we could pick those five guys better. Occasionally we’ll mutter to each other about only needing one ball handler on the court at a time, for example, or that younger guys should be used in place of one of the five that are out there at a given time. We are foolish, certainly; but we’re not always wrong.

You see, the five that worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. The five that won the game earlier in the season aren’t necessarily the best suited to the next matchup on the schedule. Sometimes the hardest job for a head coach is to see who is working right where they are, or if someone belongs out there but is playing slightly out of position. Coach Davis, with precious few attempts, has to correctly pick the five guys who are on the floor night in and night out to make sure the Heels are in the right position to win.

Ideally, Coach Davis gets it right (or at least close) out of the gate. Watching the game unfold in front of him, he can see which of the five is where they need to be. If one is out of sync, it grows ever more evident until Coach Davis rearranges the pieces to make a new combination; one that works for the given night.

Each and every day, almost like a compulsion, I play a simple word game on the internet. If you are similarly afflicted, you’ll already know what I’m talking about; you probably clocked it when I started talking about rearranging the pieces until they fit. For the uninitiated: in Wordle, there is a five-letter word that is the correct answer each day. You, the player, get six guesses to figure that word out, and each guess will get you valuable feedback on what letters belong, as well as whether they’ve been put in the right position for that day’s puzzle. It’s so, so simple. Five letters, six guesses.

Yesterday’s answer will not be today’s, and today’s answer may not even have a consonant in common with tomorrow’s. A basketball team may match up extremely well with one opponent on one night, then get blown out with the same five guys on another. It’s all about making the right adjustments to come to the correct answer on that day. You may not have anything close to an answer one night, only to have it all fall into place the next.

So I get it, I think. Luckily for me, though, there’s no pressure riding on my string of word puzzles.