Laissez les bons temps rouler!
For the first time in 29 years, the Tar Heels are headed to New Orleans to play in the Final Four. In what seemed unthinkable about six weeks ago, Carolina easily won their game against this year’s Cinderella Saint Peter’s to scan their ticket to the Big Easy. So before we slip down the Mississippi, let’s take a look back at what we learned against the Peacocks yesterday.
Narratives shouldn’t be written in February
We can blame it on several things — not being used to how Hubert Davis coaches, extra time that it would take to build the chemistry with a team that endured a lot of change, constant turmoil with a changing roster — but what held true for Roy Williams held true for this inaugural Hubert Davis squad.
We thought from the multiple blowouts from Kentucky, Miami, and Wake Forest, as well as the losses from Purdue, Tennessee, and Pittsburgh, we had pegged this team as an underachieving bunch of guys who ran Roy Williams out of town and were just in it for themselves, unable to change. The thing is, they were learning. Now with hindsight, we can see all the extra hurdles this squad faced that would have delayed this learning process.
Start with a new coach and a new system, then add three transfers, sprinkle in some freshmen, and then right when you think you have an idea of where everyone sits take away a solid backup due to academic issues, and then take another one of those transfers out due to family issues. The Pitt loss happened about a week after Dawson Garcia’s exit, and was the game right after a domination of Florida State when the Tar Heels got a little too sure of themselves (more on this in a second). We were all ready to sign off on this team from there, but as it turns out the story hadn’t been written.
We know the rest — no more losses during the regular season and now this amazing run. In the end, a college basketball season is so short compared to professional sports that there is plenty of time to turn your season around. As fans who have seen this before, think 2000, we should have known this. Alas, Hubert Davis and Carolina had to teach us this again.
The Pitt loss made this happen
One great thing about Carolina this season is that, up until that Pitt game, they would win the games they were supposed to win. Coming off that 20 point thrashing on Florida State, we all thought the same thing would happen and the Tar Heels would roll on into Blacksburg.
A 76-67 loss later, and what we thought we knew was wrong.
It turned out it was a great lesson to this group of Tar Heels that they still had a long way to go, and that they couldn’t afford to sleep on any one. The sight of the Panthers celebrating a win under the Smith Center roof seemed to shock this team into a realization that they were going to have to fight from here on out. We can debate whether or not Jason Capel’s supposed words to BDaht had something to do with this, but what was clear at that point was that they were not good enough to just run out on the court and beat a less-talented team.
It also created this fire for the team that meant, in a lot of ways, they were playing in the NCAA Tournament from that point on, because any loss would have likely knocked them out. All of this came into play yesterday as they looked across at a team that had already knocked out Kentucky and Purdue. They knew they had more talent than Saint Peter’s, but they had to play like it or it would be Pittsburgh all over again, and this time their season would be done.
Even if the offense wasn’t the best at times, Carolina’s defense was suffocating early on, and they very quickly did what they didn’t do against the Panthers: force the other team to play their game. Without that loss, the Tar Heels may have suffered the same fate that the other squads had.
The team is that Michael Jordan Meme
Hubert Davis got one vote for ACC Coach of the year. Armando Bacot lost ACC Player of the Year. Leaky Black got SEVEN votes for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
(If you’re reading this on Apple News I dropped an MJ Gif there)
Since those awards dropped, Hubert Davis has shown a mastery of coaching this group of guys, leading to two blowouts, almost a third and then completely regrouping the squad after losing a huge lead, and refusing to go away when UCLA kept coming at them. He may not have had much of a bench, but his subs came in at the right time and they had the confidence to step up when needed, and while the ACC Coach of the Year lost in the NIT, Hubert is heading to New Orleans.
What else can you say about Armando Bacot? In the NCAA Tournament he’s averaging 16.5 points and 15.8 rebounds a game. He’s right there alongside Tim Duncan in terms of double-doubles in a season, and despite not being 100% he had the game winning shot against UCLA and just used the fact he was the best player on the floor against the Peacocks. That East Regional Most Outstanding Player trophy will look good on his bookcase.
Leaky, meanwhile, continues to draw the assignment of guarding the best player the other team can throw out there, and kept rising to the challenge. Only two players scored above 20 against the Tar Heels, and both were on Baylor — considering the circumstances those totals are understandable. His defense allows others to thrive, and the frustration he creates on that end of the floor has helped feed the UNC offense, giving them space to make mistakes and get into the flow of the game.
You could sense that chip on this team’s shoulders before the game last month in Durham. Something tells me this week is going to put it right back on there.