And then it was done. Not with a roar, but with a whimper.
Last night the Tar Heels effectively saw their season end thanks to a 68-59 loss to Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. We all knew the stakes at this point: The Tar Heels had just had too many losses over the course of the season and in order to even try to replicate their run from last season, they had to make it deep in Greensboro. It didn’t happen thanks to a lot of the usual suspects.
There’s going to be plenty of time to dissect where things went wrong later on, but while others jump up and down over the failure of the season, let’s at least start the process of determining what we learned in this defeat last night.
Injuries doomed this season
One of the biggest reasons the Tar Heels started number one in the preseason is that there was an expectation of a good portion of the roster back and playing better than they did last year in the National Title game, and that portion being 100% healthy.
They almost never were.
Armando Bacot was hurt in Portland, Indiana, and at Virginia, missing time in all of them that led to losses. Pete Nance had back issues that stifled how he played during the middle of the year. RJ Davis started the season with a hurt shooting hand, warmed back up until taking a shot against Syracuse and getting hurt again. Puff Johnson was in and out of the lineup battling nagging issues. D’Marco Dunn saw an injury derail the momentum he had built. Then, fittingly, Armando Bacot rolled his ankle against Boston College and completely negated his effectiveness against the Cavs.
Injuries are not the main reason things went poorly, but when your main roster is never 100% at the same time, it’s tough to build cohesion that results in more wins. When you keep losing games by such small margins, it’s hard not to think “what if” when it comes to how healthy the team wasn’t this season. It’s even tougher when you see just how well RJ Davis played in keeping the Tar Heels in the game.
To win you have to make shots.
RJ Davis had 24 points on 8-14 shooting, including 4-8 from behind the arc.
He was the only player with more than five shot attempts to shoot over 50%. On top of that, the numbers for the rest of the players on the floor were just horrid: Leaky Black went 2-7, Caleb Love went 3-15, and Pete Nance went 2-7. The fact that Carolina shot 35.8% on the game WITH those stats from RJ just tell you how bad it was.
Really, the game was lost early on when UVA was rusty and just couldn’t get any baskets. The Tar Heels had their chances to extend their early lead, but could never extend it beyond four points to put any real pressure on the Wahoos. Sure enough, UVA went on an 11-0 run starting at the 8:15 mark of the first half and never looked back. The Tar Heels couldn’t shoot their way out of it, and UVA refused to take any real transitions shots late, instead pulling the ball out and still scoring while draining the shot clock.
The win against Virginia in Chapel Hill came when the shots were falling, because of UVA’s style when they get into a big hole it’s tough for them to recover, but when you let them hang around, they will make you pay. Just like every other opponent in every other loss for the Tar Heels this season.
We don’t know what’s next
If the Tar Heels don’t make the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, they are going to get an NIT bid. While we would all like them to just put an end to this season, they likely are going to go ahead and accept.
But sort of Carolina team will we see? Will Hubert Davis use it as a chance to give the bench more minutes? Will he just say “forget it” and just run all the starters ragged because he can? How seriously will the Tar Heels actually take this tournament considering none of them want to actually be there?
After that? Who knows. Leaky Black and Pete Nance are out of eligibility, but Armando Bacot, Caleb Love, and RJ Davis all can come back. The Tar Heels have a couple of players coming in, but there’s always the transfer portal that opens soon. That could lead to more players leaving as well as other players coming in.
The on court action may be over but the off court drama is just beginning.