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UNC Basketball: Alarming or Anomaly?

Losing hasn't been very familiar to the Tar Heels, but some consistent trends have been.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone take a deep breath.

It’s been mass chaos amongst Carolina faithful after the Tar Heels dropped another ACC contest on Tuesday night to the hungrier Clemson Tigers. This was North Carolina’s first home loss of the season and second defeat in seven days. The murmur from those who follow the Tar Heels intently seems to be that “North Carolina is fine, but if some signs we have seen in the last two weeks continue, they may not be.”

No one is discrediting the Tar Heels and how good they have been. That said, it may be time to be objective about where they’ve struggled of late. I’ve taken nearly twenty-four hours and tried to digest the hundreds of opinions and takes I’ve come across, and here are the thoughts I’m left with. Maybe you’ll agree, perhaps you won’t, but let’s not act like Hubert Davis and North Carolina were immune to adversity.

Complementary basketball is critical to this team’s success. North Carolina has given up 80 or more in every loss. When the defense isn’t as sharp as we know it can be, the offense goes into what seems like panic mode. The amount of one-on-one offense the Tar Heels tried to play when trailing against Clemson was painful. It felt like certain guys were trying to scratch the deficit with one shot. Zayden High and Jalen Washington three-pointers? RJ double-team stepbacks? Acrobatic layups? Countless times, North Carolina would have the ball in a crucial situation, and I’d say to myself, “Why?”

They play very free-flowing, energetic basketball. When things are working, man, it’s so much fun. When it’s not? Well, there seems to be a sense of “What now?” That’s why they need to be solid on both sides of the court, to neutralize any attempt to overcorrect on the other end. Georgia Tech and Clemson both made North Carolina feel uncomfortable. There was no flow. That has loomed very large in this team’s success, and because of that, they have to rely on their senior leadership and be up to par every night, in all facets.

Speaking of senior leadership, that’s another point about this team that I scratch my head about. This team is, truthfully, too old and experienced to look lifeless as they did on Tuesday night. Rumors swirled that guys were late to shoot around after a bad practice on Monday. Seriously? I’m not inside the locker room, and I will never assume guys aren’t giving effort, but when Armando and RJ are blatantly mentioning that in post-game pressers, something isn’t adding up. There’s going to be off nights, it happens. But a group with National Championship aspirations should know that Clemson was coming in cold, and they were coming in on a high. Knowing it is only half the battle, they have to execute like it, too. Cormac Ryan needs to figure it out in a hurry.

That brings me to my next point: offensive execution. I touched on some shot selection and one-on-one earlier, but this is more about a feel for the style and momentum of a basketball game, another thing an experienced team should have. North Carolina doesn’t. The Tar Heels are 0-4 in games decided by five points or fewer. That’s not good. So many times last night, I got the feeling that no one on the court knew how vital some possessions were. Everyone in the stadium can feel it, and everyone at home can sense it, but they play so free that no possession feels too crucial until it’s too late.

UNC cut it to two 4+ times last night, tying it once as well. They never could get over the hump. Against Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels scored five points in the final four minutes, with so many empty possessions and opportunities to take the lead. Remember UConn? How many times did North Carolina cut it to a reasonable deficit and then go ice cold? It’s a common theme that continues to appear in their losses. The veteran pieces of this team have to be more aware of when a possession could swing an entire game. Don’t take the stepback contested three, make the flashy pass, or drive into heavy traffic. You can call this flaw many different things, but when it comes down to it, the Tar Heels will continue to struggle in close games if they don’t acknowledge and value the ball in swing possessions.

That was a lot of bad to harp on, but it was worth diving into because these weren’t one-time offenses; these are trends. It’s not all doom and gloom, though.

Armando Bacot might have found his offensive rhythm again. That’s highly significant. How about Paxson Wojcik off the bench? He flat-out competed every second he was on the floor. Harrison Ingram continued to shoot the ball at an elite level from behind the arc, making it nearly impossible to match up with him. Also, the Tar Heels are still 18-5 and atop the ACC.

And guess what?

North Carolina played poorly against GT and Clemson and arguably could’ve won both. If there’s anything I’ve learned about this team, they can learn, and Hubert can get them back on track. There is just a little more urgency and a few more recurring trends that I notice that needed to be addressed. Onto Miami.

What are your thoughts on the Tar Heels current position?