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UNC at NC State: Three Things Learned

Hello darkness my old friend.

North Carolina v NC State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

It’s a feeling that we just aren’t used to as Carolina fans: hitting that point where you realize you aren’t going to make the NCAA Tournament. That moment came yesterday against NC State, as the Wolfpack blitzed the Tar Heels late in the second half, turning a six point deficit into an eight point win.

There’s no polishing this result, so let’s just go ahead and dive right into what we learned from this latest loss:

Go ahead and make March plans

Look, as long as the team can win the ACC Tournament they aren’t completely out of the NCAA Tournament discussion, but let’s face facts: they had to win this game to be able to build momentum like they did last season. They didn’t, and for a team that is already on the outside looking in, there’s really very little chance now they can scrap together an impressive streak to get back in.

Carolina doesn’t have any wins against teams that rated as Quadrant 1, but frankly, the bigger reason their tournament hopes are gone is that they are just trending in the wrong direction. They’ve lost five out of their last six, with the only win being against a Clemson team that completely fell flat against Louisville this weekend. There are a lot of close losses, but nothing they can really hang their hat on.

Thus it’s not really the lack of a resume that’s doomed Carolina so much as it’s the fact they are just not playing good basketball at the wrong time. There was nothing about yesterday’s game to make you think that is going to change over the last four-and two of those games are with bottom-feeders of the ACC that won’t amount to much in terms of building a resume. The brand of basketball also just doesn’t give you hope that they can put together the type of game needed to beat a strong defensive team in both Virginia and Duke. So, yeah, if you are deciding whether or not to make plans during the weekends of the NCAA Tournament, go ahead and treat yourself to something else. Anything else, because this team likely will not be playing.

This team is not fun to watch

Fun is contagious. When players on the court are having a good time, it spreads from there to the stands and through the TV while you’re watching. Winning, of course, helps that but even when the team was winning it doesn’t look like they were enjoying being out there. There’s a lot of going through the motions, a lot of bad passes, and a lot of failures to play good basketball that just adds to the frustration.

There was one moment that stuck to me. No, it wasn’t Caleb’s technical nor the multiple clanks off the iron. During the second half, Carolina grabbed a rebound, the ball was pushed up court to where the Tar Heels had a two on one. Armando Bacot was in front of the bench, beyond the three point line, a State player was guarding him about two feet away, and Puff Johnson was standing wide open under the basket. Bacot didn’t pass it to him, pulled up to wait for more help, and the play ended up going for no points. It was emblematic of the problems this squad has scoring.

Even when things finally go their way to where they have a six point lead in the second half, they can’t extend it. Sure enough, after missing a couple of chances to go up eight, State blitzed the Tar Heels with a 7-0 run to retake the lead. They played even for a little while, and then at around the five minute mark, State hit the hammer again to turn the game into a laugher.

In short, the team had a “oh well here we go again” moment that has happened all too often this season. They have arguably checked out already, and there’s no reason to think it’ll change. I talked on Friday about how Hubert’s hands are tied in this situation, and while folks have misread that into me saying that Hubert is without blame-he’s not-I think we can all agree that it may just be time to say this squad has done their bit for king and country, and move on to the next group.

Put it this way-even if this squad somehow turns around and reels off eight in a row to take the ACC Tournament Championship, it’s going to be really tough to enjoy it thanks to all of the bad play we’ve seen to this point.

ESPN’s broadcast is garbage

I note I don’t tweet during games, but I do catch up during halftime and sure enough, my timeline was filled with a lot of hate of how ESPN spent the eight to four minute section of the first half doing nothing but talking NCAA Bracketology. Sometimes Joe Lunardi was on a split screen, sometimes it was on a full screen, and after talking bout the two teams playing, the conversation turned to other conferences. All while, you know, a pretty important basketball game was happening.

As I saw multiple times-it was the biggest “This could have been an email” example you could have created.

Look, I don’t hate Lunardi. He has a schtick, and because he also had a day job teaching at Saint Joseph’s and was able to retire doing that, he likely doesn’t have to command a lot of money from ESPN for basically a part-time job. Like it or not, he spends his time really digging into the brackets, ESPN asks him for content, and he produces it. Seriously, though, there is no reason to interrupt any basketball broadcast with an interview from folks court side, wading through the delay as the audio goes to his AirPods, and him slowly respond with stuff that we all know. Fans turn into the game to watch the game, and then you have a halftime period where you can crunch this stuff in.

Seriously, as contentious as Carolina and State fans were on Twitter, that they were able to agree that Lunardi needed to get off the screen was something akin to a miracle.

On top of that, there was a moment in the second half when Terquavion Smith went down holding his stomach. The refs went to the monitors to make sure there wasn’t any sort of flagrant foul-aka a punch-that caused him to double over. What they got was footage that would have made 7-Eleven security camera look like it was IMAX Quality. They ended up spending five minutes looking at the grainy footage to determine if this pixel was a fist from Pete Nance, and then the refs went over to the ESPN Crew to see if it were somehow...better?

This isn’t the first time that the substandard quality of the production on the main ESPN was brought into the limelight. You have an important college basketball game to start the day, and you effectively have no good shot of a place that should easily be covered. Just add it to the list of reasons that the ACC continues to be treated as a second-rate conference as opposed to the SEC or Big 10, that rate more cameras and games on broadcast networks.

It’s okay, though, we only have to wait until 2036 to push ESPN to do more.