There are times when, as a fanbase, we think the sky is falling no matter what. Usually you can explain away a loss and look ahead for lessons to apply to the next game.
And then last night happens.
The final score may only indicate a seven-point loss, and sure, maybe the Tar Heels deserve a little bit of kudos for coming back the way that they did. The problem is, when you get down by 26 points, you really shouldn’t get any sort of credit for finally acting like you cared about the result of a game. In the end, it still goes as a loss, and just accentuates that if you played better at the start you probably would have won.
So what exactly did we learn in the 92-85 loss to Wake Forest?
Armando deserves better
The frustration that Bacot has been feeling has been visible for a while. For the most part, it has shown in the way that he feels like he gets continually attacked when going to the basket and still doesn’t get any calls. Last night, it wasn’t just that — it was the fact that if you take out his 6-12 shooting, the Tar Heels shot 5-21 in the first half.
He’s just not getting any help. At all.
The frustration got to him early in the second half as he was called for a quick third foul, didn’t get another call down low, and then committed a pretty obvious and silly foul for number four. That required him to sit for the majority of the second half. He was able to come back for some portion of the run, but eventually he fouled out going only 7-15, 17 points, and 11 rebounds. The rest of the team shot 23-59 — just 38.9% — and a horrid 22.2% from three.
In case you had any doubt left as to whether or not Bacot is beyond frustrated with the rest of the team, after the team stayed in the locker room for over 30 minutes at the end of the game. Hubert Davis decided to go with the “we’ll keep it in the room,” while Bacot...didn’t keep it in the room.
Armando Bacot said he spoke to the team after the game and that he said if you don’t want to be here quit. #unc— Pat Welter WRAL (@PatrickWelter) February 8, 2023
Will it work? We’ll find out soon.
They are not an NCAA Tournament Team
Joe Lunardi may still have them in, as the discussion during the game indicated, but right now this team is going to follow up their magical run last year by staying home in March. They don’t really have a signature win, and they seem to be too far into the season now to where you can think they can just suddenly turn their shooting woes around. They are in their own head right now about shooting the ball, and if they continue to try shooting their way out of it it’s just going to make things worse.
All of that said, they can turn the narrative around pretty quickly. This weekend they face league leader Clemson, then host another leader in Miami who just throttled Duke, and then have the NC State revenge game in Raleigh. They also host Virginia, so on paper they absolutely have every chance to show that they deserve to get an invitation to the dance.
But at this point, why would anyone have hope? What has this squad shown this year to make fans actually believe they can do it? The benefit of the doubt is gone, and at this point you’d be justified to think that they are just as likely to go 0-3 in that stretch instead of 3-0. Honestly, you have to think they’d need to go 3-0 in order to restore any faith that this year’s squad will be able to make it.
Hubert Davis’ hands are tied
A common refrain that has come out is a concern — or frustration — as to why Davis hasn’t pulled guys more and tried to develop the bench, a la Roy Williams. The problem is that when you have guys like Bacot, Black, Love, and Davis to an extent believe in you and come back, it’s understood that they are going to play a lot. There’s not much reason for that to have changed after last season’s success, and Davis has made it clear by now he isn’t going with the “expand the bench early and shrink it late” philosophy.
What’s happening now is the downside to that strategy. The problem is that it’s too late to change it for this season. At this point if you were to pull these guys who grinded the way they did for you last year and up to this point this year, you’ve probably lost them. On top of that, you’re showing the guys on the bench and your future recruits that any promises you’ve made, any word of “loyalty” you’ve given, is meaningless. There’s no faster way to lose a room than to be seen as someone who’ll stab you in the back.
Anyone on this squad knew what it was going to be like this year once all of those guys said they were coming back. They knew that core was going to play a ton and the rest of the minutes were going to be hard to come by. But they also knew that at least two, likely four and maybe all five, of those spots were going to be open next year, so it would create a hard reset going into 2023-24.
To that point, Carolina only has two guys coming in next year so far, and Davis has clearly turned his attention to making the ‘24 class a big one. There will be chances for all of them next year, and in a lot of ways next year is likely going to be when we really see what Davis has in store for the program. So, it’s too late really to try and change up how you were going to play this season, and thus all Hubert can really do is just ride these five the best he can.
We’re going to know really soon how long that ride is actually going to be.