Think, for a moment, of how your life was in college (or as a young person). The social desires constantly at war with the schoolwork demands; free time full of studying or working or hanging out with friends; plus occasional trips home to visit your folks, if you were within driving distance (and had a car). I remember my time in Boone as a blur, mostly; the daily comings and goings and meetings and classes melting together into a mostly-pleasant four-and-a-half-year mélange in my memory. It was busy, by which I mean there was always something. By the time I graduated, I was so sick of school that I laughed off any and all questions about advanced degrees.
Now imagine adding a college athlete’s schedule on top of that blur. Daily practices, weights, conditioning, games—and it doesn’t stop, even in the offseason. The rigor of a Tar Heel athlete’s schedule spikes my anxiety, just imagining trying to keep up with everything mentioned above whilst still consistently performing at the incredibly high level that Carolina fans expect, regardless of sport. Just another example of my own relative mental weakness, I suppose, but I’d bet that the daily grind even begins to take it’s toll on the most mentally-strong athletes on campus.
That’s why, when a break comes along, it’s so welcome and celebrated. When the ball leaves the ref’s hands agaist Pitt tomorrow evening, it will have been a full eight days since the Tar Heels beat Syracuse. For a team used to playing two games a week, this must have felt like a month’s rest. Eight days to recover from a nasty elbow to the face, eight days to continue working back from a knee, an ankle, or any of hundreds of other bumps and bruises sustained in the midst of a tough ACC schedule. Over a week to practice, to improve on things learned in the course of that aforementioned ACC gauntlet. It’s a luxury, much like a bye week in the football world, and one that comes around less than once a season.
In the Coach Williams era, Carolina played 14 games on at least eight days of rest and won all but two of them. In two seasons since Coach Davis has taken over, the Tar Heels will have had four opportunities like this in total. Both instances last season were wins, whereas the team from Chapel Hill lost their only other previous long-rest game for this season; on December 30th, to Pitt.
With eight day’s rest and a familiar opponent waiting tomorrow evening, it feels like the Tar Heels may be primed for a return to normalcy. At the very least, we can all hope so.