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Tar Heel Hangover: Another pair of wins

Thoughts on the week and why I am scared about the future of college basketball.

Western Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning opportunity to review last week’s games, second guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

Two games and two wins. The hardcourt Heels looked disjointed at times and let an early lead slip to just one in the second half before maintaining a steady double digit margin in route to the win. On the gridiron, the Heels turned an early seven-point deficit into a blowout win thanks to 65 (yes, you read that correctly) straight points.

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

The Heels may finally have found a quarterback. Looking back to the summer, it is almost amusing how much time was spent debating the quarterback situation with barely a mention of Nathan Elliott. The Celina, Texas Sophomore had a rough first start against Miami but has since thrown six touchdowns with no interceptions. Granted Pitt and Western Carolina are not dominant teams, but there is some sense of hope for the future at least. Without a doubt, it was a good way to end a terrible season at home.

Against Bucknell, the Heels just did not look in sync. With sky-high expectations on the shoulders of Joel Berry II, it was an almost predictable slow start. Shooting only 1-11 including a very meager 1-5 from three point range, Berry finished with just eight points and six assists in 30 minutes of action. Luke Maye was once again the go-to scoring threat, especially when the game got close in the second half. However, one has to wonder how many Luke Maye top of the key three pointers can be the shot that the team relies on.

A note on those threes for Luke Maye: two years ago it was Marcus Paige coming through the elevator screen out of the box set for the designed top of the key three. Last year it was Justin Jackson. Thus far this year, it has been Luke Maye except he is not getting the shot from the elevator screen. More tape study and game experience will lead to clearer observations, but Maye’s shots seem to come from the typical NBA pick and pop. Forcing bigs to guard that shot will help keep the middle open.

Finally, kudos to the combo of Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. Against Bucknell, the pair put up a combined 26 points and 16 rebounds in just 28 minutes of game play. Manley had most of that production, but those are solid numbers regardless of the opponent.

Lying In Bed, I Wish I Could Change . . .

The future of college basketball. My unofficial review after one week of catching games in hotel rooms, bars, and at home leads to the way-too-early fear that the greatest game on the planet is forever changing for the worse.

The culprit is not the federal investigation into illegal payments to players. It is not the NBA one and done rule. Shockingly, it is not even the result of some demon related influence in Durham. No, the downfall of college basketball is the three point shot.

This is not an accusation that I level lightly. I am a fan of three point shooting and there is nothing so energizing and dramatic as the deep dagger three. But therein lies the problem. A substantial percentage of set offenses now involve nothing more than probing around the arc to get the best possible three point shot. The fluidity of motion that makes the game so beautiful is slowly fading away. At some point, college basketball may be nothing more than a glorified game of horse.

I firmly believe that this year will set the record for most threes attempted for a season. Teams will continue to look to the Warriors and say, “hey, if it works for them, why not us?” The Heels are not immune from the trend. Although their 35 attempts through the first two games falls below last season’s average of nearly 20 per contest, it is only a matter of time (and the return of Cameron Johnson) before that number creeps above 22 or 23.

The only restraint on an unencumbered series of more distant shots is the fact that college basketball is still a tournament game. Unlike a seven game NBA series, one bad night in the NCAA tournament means an end to the season. Teams that shoot from outside a lot tend to have a bad night now and then. Likewise, undermanned squads can get hot for just 40 minutes and prevail on a single evening. Balanced offense is still the best prevention against an early exit. But I fear those days are numbered.

Looking Forward: NC State and the West Coast Swing

During the offseason, I posed the question as to what constitutes a successful season. Many readers believed that defeating a rival or ending on a win-streak could qualify. No one will believe that a four-win season could be considered successful. Going out with a win, however, would go a long way toward healing the pain from this year.

On the basketball front, a visit to 3-1 Stanford precedes the biggest birthday party of the weekend. The Phil Knight (turns) 80 tournament begins on Thanksgiving day at 2:30 against Portland (mental note that we need to eat earlier than planned to allow time for the meal, the game, and then Black Friday shopping that begins at 5:00 on Thursday). A win will mean either a rematch from last year’s tournament against Arkansas or a game against Oklahoma. Michigan State lurks on the other half of the bracket for a potential Sunday matchup.

Final Thoughts

This will be an exciting sports week with my second favorite holiday of the year. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Enjoy your week, stay safe, and Go Heels.