While the feelings after the loss to Virginia on Thursday night were such that we all thought the season was over—to the point where fellow THB writer Brandon Anderson wrote about the feelings of disappointment—the fact remains that this season isn’t officially over.
Tomorrow night, the 68-team NCAA Tournament field is going to be announced and for the first time since 2010 Carolina won’t hear their name called on a selection show. Yes, that wording is intentional since there was no tournament in 2020 thanks to COVID, and yes I’m aware that had there been one UNC wouldn’t have gone. That said, a similar situation to 2010 is setting up to where the Tar Heels will likely be starting at an invite to the NIT.
First off, it is kind of sad that this tournament has turned into the table scraps that it had. Thanks to how exclusive the NCAA kept their event for so long, the NIT in New York had some fierce battles for a long time. In fact, it’s the NIT title in ‘72 that’s credited as letting the country know that Carolina’s success at the end of the 1960’s wasn’t a fluke. Right around that time, though, the NCAA wisely realized that more than one team per conference deserved to fight for a national championship. Television picked their side, and UCLA having its dynasty didn’t hurt.
For some schools, the NIT is still a big deal, but all of this is of course sugar coating the hard reality that this season is just an abject failure for Carolina Basketball. Still, they did play well enough to qualify for a postseason tournament, and as hard as it may be to believe, there’s actually a pretty lively debate to be had about whether the Tar Heels should let this season be done or if they should fight on for a few more games.
So, let’s pro/con this. Let’s actually look at some good reasons to play and some good reasons to call it a year.
Pro: More home games
It’s possible that while Carolina may not be the top seed in the NIT, they’ll be a higher seed and unlike the NCAA Tournament that comes with the right to host early round games. This is an unexpected opportunity for folks who normally don’t get a chance to see affordable Carolina basketball be able to come out and watch the team play.
The Smith Center seating arrangement is based on the regular season. With the bonus games comes the freedom for UNC to decide how they want to divy up the tickets. This usually means general admission, and with that comes a chance for students to pack the lower section of the arena as well as the general public to come in and watch the Tar Heels for, usually, an affordable price.
Don’t discount the idea that they could use this for a game at Carmichael, either. With any luck, the UNC women will be hosting in Carmichael next weekend, but it doesn’t preclude scheduling the men to play around that event. Any chance to see the men play in Carmichael where there isn’t a bad seat could be a once-in-a-lifetime event that would bring some excitement.
Con: Who actually wants to play?
This squad has been playing like they read the writing on the wall for a while. If you go back and watch the video of the players after the Virginia loss, hardly anyone wanted to talk about the possibility of more games with the NIT, and who could blame them? The goal was an NCAA title after coming so close last year, and they won’t even get that shot. The season itself has been more mentally draining on all of them, and we are just starting to get an idea of that after these last couple of losses.
So why prolong that torture? There’s no point in actually playing the games if your heart isn’t 100% into it, and it would be understandable if most of those players, who set the title as their goal, weren’t 100% into trying to play for a consolation title. It could further embarrass a legacy that’s heavily loaded down with that weight already, and even if they make it all the way to New York and take home the title, is it really worth celebrating?
Pro: One Last Time...
For players who are about to leave North Carolina, specifically guys like Leaky Black and Armando Bacot, maybe they don’t want their last time wearing the jersey to be such a sad loss to the Wahoos. While there’s been some debate out in internet circles about how much they actually care about UNC, for sure several of them have warm feelings about the school. The NIT gives them one more chance to add to some fond memories.
That’s where the extra home games come in, as they get to run out to the home court and hear the cheers of the fans one more time before their college careers are over and basketball becomes a REAL job. That is something the NCAA Tournament doesn’t offer, though I’m sure they’d rather be playing in it. Considering how the season ended, getting another game or two in the friendly confines might not be such a bad thing.
There’s also something about fans getting a last chance to show appreciation for these guys who gave us a lot of memories, good and bad.
Con: Injury risk
It’s got to be said, while none of the guys on the floors have the NBA scouts falling over each other, they will still get several months to change minds, as well as work out for G-League and overseas teams. Getting hurt playing to win a consolation tournament isn’t exactly what they signed up for, and you’d hate for them to hurt their earning chances.
Also, if any of the guys who are now bench players but are expected to contribute in a bigger way were to get hurt, that would affect their ability to step up for next year as it would put them behind schedule. For that reason the players may not go at full speed, and thus not really try to actually go and win the game in front of them. That would be a tough watch.
A tournament with very little pressure offers the opportunity for Coach Hubert Davis to see what he has in other bench players, and it also gives Davis more games to coach. Both would be important to set up the future.
Davis has tried pushing the bench a little more here at the end of the season, and with at minimum two positions changing, the tournament would provide him with an opportunity to play more of the youth and actually get them in on game action. If Armando Bacot can’t go for any (or all) of the games, that just adds to the ability to get meaningful minutes for players.
Personally, I have felt that Hubert Davis has wanted to try to run one thing as a coach, but has had to try and adapt based on his personnel. It worked last year, no so much this year, but if the starters took more of a back seat he would be able to rotate around guys on the bench and give them a chance to show what they have. It could keep some guys from transferring as it would show they deserve a chance next year.
Con: Starters usage
Unfortunately nothing has led us to believe that in this case, Hubert would change up his tactics and instead just use the same starting five—or as much of it as he can use—in order to try to get a win.
Call it “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
If you aren’t going to use relatively stress-free game action to actually see what you have in the newer guys that you recruited, then what are we even doing here? A lot of teams use the NIT to build momentum for the next season, and the only way the Tar Heels can do that is by playing guys who’ll be here next season. It’s just tough to believe Hubert would do it when, time after time, he’s refused to do so.
I could keep going but this is enough to start. Broken down, I’m at the point where I’ll understand either decision, but I get some folks have a really strong take on this. Hopefully this will continue to be a rare occurrence to where we can debate it again when/if it happens.