“We have had some outstanding wins this year, both in and out of league play, over teams that received some very high seeds in the field, so we know we are capable. But we must play better than we have over the last two weeks if we want to reach our big-time dreams.”
Last weekend, Marcus Paige was strolling through the mall when he ran into a TV with one of Duke’s ACC Tournament games on. He watched the end of it, and then it hit him smack in the face: “WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING IN A MALL RIGHT NOW!!??!!?”
Yes, the Tar Heels no doubt harbored expectations to be playing on Saturday and Sunday in the Greensboro Coliseum. I am sure it was painful for them to see such meaningful basketball being played without them. But the bottom line is that they didn’t really show up to the Coliseum when they were actually there. There were players masquerading as Tar Heels against the Panthers in the quarterfinal round, shadows of their former selves – the ones that reeled off 12 straight ACC victories.
But now? That’s 2 straight rough defeats. The NCAA Tournament awaits.
So what are we to expect out of this Carolina bunch in the next call to action? Should we heed Roy’s advice? Let’s take a look:
Why we SHOULD bury the Tar Heels: Easy.
1) Softness. The Tar Heels continue to find it hard to finish at the rim. Kennedy Meeks, Joel James, J.P. Tokoto and company get close-range chances right underneath the basket, but frustratingly for Tar Heel fans, they refuse to go up strong to the basket. What happened to the emphatic dunks of Carolina yesteryear? Yes, occasionally we will see some high-flying, highlight reel acrobatics from Brice Johnson and Tokoto. But those are few and far between. No, what the Tar Heels need is that consistent enforcer inside. And it doesn’t appear that they have it.
2) Transition, what? Carolina’s patented up-and-down “track meet” style of play that would have opponents gasping for air seems to have been forgotten with this squad. These Tar Heels seem to be content to let the other team dictate the pace of the action. That’s a shame, too, because Carolina is not well suited to the half-court, slow-it-down mode of play. Syracuse, Miami and Pittsburgh, anyone? The Tar Heels can play with pace and still have the athletes to beat people down the court. But for now, at least, it seems the transition points have all but disappeared. Sad day.
3) Perimeter shooting woes. Yes. There is always Paige. But what about after that? Who do the Tar Heels have who can hit that clutch outside jumper, or heaven forbid, drain it from behind the arc? That’s right. The answer most of the time is… nobody. At the end of the day, in March, you need great guard play. You need guys that can knock down shots from all over the court. If they see daylight, they must be able to knock it down with regularity. What’s that? Leslie McDonald, you say? No way. He’s far too unreliable.
Why we SHOULDN’T bury the Tar Heels: Ok. Let’s give them a break.
1) Defense. After all, if somehow, some way, Carolina taps back into their team defense mantra that had ACC opponents baffled earlier on in the year, the Tar Heels could find themselves in nearly every game in the Tournament despite how they’re shooting the rock. I guess that’s possible. But it will have to be a 40 minute effort, not the 10 minutes desperation crap we witnessed in the ACC Tournament.
2) Marcus Paige. This “tough little nut,” as Roy calls him, is special. He has the ability to take his game to another level in the second half – the money minutes. Be honest with yourself: don’t you just expect every shot to go in for the UNC point guard when the game is hanging in the balance? I know I do. And that kind of moxie and poise is something that can greatly aid in a team’s quest for a deep run in March, where seemingly every game comes down to the wire.
3) Quality wins. You can’t ignore it. As much as I’ve tried to, as Roy has pointed out, these Tar Heels rose to the occasion in showdowns against a few of the favorites to cut down the nets in April. They took down Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing. That’s miraculous. They bested Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals in a preseason tournament championship game. Granted, those teams are undoubtedly playing a lot better now, but a win is a win. And UL and MSU are now installed as two of the top five favorites to win the national championship by Vegas odds. That’s got to count for something, right?
No matter what side of the fence you’re on as to the NCAA Tournament fate of the Tar Heels, one thing is for sure: it should be exciting stuff to watch. Unpredictability breeds good drama. Will Carolina achieve its “big-time dreams?”
I’ll leave you with a superb quote by Coach Williams. It can be applied to any walk of life. In fact. I think I’m going to throw it up on my wall of quotes somewhere.
“Be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems. We’ve all got problems, but this time of year I think you should be really enthused about your hope – what you might be able to do.”
Ok, Coach. We won’t bury you just yet, but we’ve got the shovels waiting and ready to go – then again, we won’t complain if we have to wait a little while…