Alright, let’s talk about it.
Yesterday, the Tar Heels took on Baylor in what ended up being way more eventful than anybody could’ve bargained for. The Heels came out and punched Baylor in the mouth, with most of the punching being done by RJ Davis and Brady Manek. The two Tar Heels combined for 56 of the Heels’ 93 points, and knocked down a combined nine three-pointers from the field. Readers, as much as I would love for this to be a story about how glorious of a win this was for Hubert Davis’ team in his first year as a head coach, I’ll be honest: it was ruined for me a little bit.
Let me say this first, though: I am as excited as everyone else is. The Heels overcame adversity and played with a level of toughness that I didn’t know they were capable of. I am sure I said something along these lines after the win against Duke, but somehow they managed to impress me even more with this win. It was a win that really should go down in Carolina history, but see, we still have to talk about the “adversity” part of this.
With 10:08 left in the game, Brady Manek picked up a flagrant 2 foul for hitting Jeremy Sochan in the face with his elbow. This ended Manek’s 26-point three-rebound night, and he had to sit in the locker room for the rest of the game. This sent things into quite a spiral, as the Heels were up 67-42 at the time of the foul, but ultimately this game went into overtime. Ultimately, Dontrez Styles and Justin McKoy gave the team what they desperately needed in the final minutes, and they managed to hold off the reigning national champions and punched their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen.
There are two things about Manek’s ejection that really bother me: the first thing is the foul itself. I watched the foul repeatedly after the game, and I really cannot find a way to justify the call. We’ve seen all kinds of elbows flying, tripping, and, punching this season. With the last of those examples, Buddy Boeheim wasn’t even called for a flagrant 2 foul, and was allowed to stay in the game, which then led to a one-game suspension because the referees messed up. Officiating this season has been extremely inconsistent to say the least, and Manek was a victim in a situation that almost cost the Heels the game. Why do I feel like he’s a victim? Look back at the highlights: Manek gave Sochan a shove out of the way before turning towards the basket, loading up for the rebound, and hitting Sochan in the face…without looking. Let me say that again: he was NOT LOOKING when he hit Sochan in the face, meaning that it’s really hard to say there was dangerous intent behind what he was doing.
If you think that my take on this is because I’m a “homer,” then just look at what a few people on Twitter had to say, including Seth Davis who historically hasn’t been super keen on Carolina as a program (in my opinion).
When I first saw the replay I didn't even think about a Flagrant 2. Just thought it was an easy call for a 1. If Carolina loses this game that's gonna be a major topic of conversation.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 19, 2022
Brady Manek got hosed. Didn’t deserve a flagrant 2 and ejection.— Curtis Fitzpatrick (@cfitzfox) March 19, 2022
Manek ejection was a joke. Boxing out No-Look elbow is an ejection? GTFO— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) March 19, 2022
I could keep going, but by now you get the point. There’s a minority of people on Twitter that thought Manek’s no-look elbow warranted a flagrant 2, but many more people saw a flagrant 1 to be a more appropriate call. Alas, the absolute worst-case scenario transpired, which left the Heels without one of their best players for not only the rest of the second half, but also overtime.
The other thing about last night’s game that I can’t get over is Caleb Love fouling out of the game, which put the Heels in an even worse position going into overtime. One could argue that Baylor received no special treatment — they had 27 fouls to UNC’s 26 — but it is the egregiousness of some of the calls that are the true issue. Regardless, the Heels persevered, and they made it to the Sweet Sixteen despite spending most of the season being told that they weren’t making the tournament at all.
I’m going to be blunt: the NCAA has had a lot of tremendously bad officiating season. UNC fans saw how bad ACC officiating was, but I watched a lot of teams in other conferences play, and I honestly saw a lot of bad calls. A. Lot. Of. Bad. Calls. I wish I could make this a “Ft. Worth + Baylor = favoring the crowd” problem, but really the problem is that these referees need to spend the spring/summer getting their acts together before next season. For Tar Heel fans, however, this is a time to celebrate. The Tar Heels not only overcame adversity throughout the regular season, but overcame adversity in a big way to move on to the second weekend. That is the most important takeaway, and one that we should be extremely happy about.