And so the curtain draws to a close. As the final seconds ticked off the clock in Kansas City and good ol’ Roy was forced once again to give a congratulatory shake of the hand to his KU replacement, the hardwood Heels took their final bows. But what should we, the audience, make of this year’s production of Tar Heel basketball? For once, it’s hard to tell.
In a season as unpredictable as any in recent memory, one thing was certain: if the Heels weren’t knocking down shots, they weren’t winning games. Sunday was no different, as Carolina’s fate was sealed by a horrid 30% shooting mark. And yet, hope burned bright at halftime as the feisty Heels maintained a solid 9-point lead over their more athletic but incredibly sloppy counterparts from Kansas. In what was initially a pleasant surprise, the opposing team didn’t score at a blistering pace. Having witnessed in-person Duke’s torching of the nets in the Heels’ season finale and Miami’s shooting clinic in the ACC tournament final, it was refreshing to see an opponent struggle.
But Carolina didn’t capitalize on the Jayhawks sluggish start, failing to jump out to any substantial lead and shooting an appalling 11 for 42 in the first half. When Kansas started to knock down outside shots early in the second half, it spelled doom for the offensively-challenged Heels. With their small lineup unable to compete on the boards and their shots not falling, Carolina was dead in the water.
Thus ended what was an atypical year, to say the least. Having lost the likes of Barnes, Henson, Zeller, and Marshall, the new look Heels met varied expectations when they hit the court in November. The young squad experienced an up and down start that saw landslide victories (granted, against the likes of Florida Atlantic and Chaminade, among others) and blowout losses. At times the Heels simply looked lost (the Indiana and Texas games come to mind), leading the Carolina faithful to worry about the possibility of another NIT-bound season.
But then, of course, the Heels found new life. Despite starting conference play with two losses, they rallied to finish third in ACC standings and rode Coach Williams’ 4-guard experiment all the way to their third ACC tournament title game in as many years. Though the finish line came sooner than fans had hoped, there is certainly no shame in a 25-win season.
In glaring contrast to his teams of the past, this year’s crew lived and died by the three-point shot. With great shooters like Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston at your disposal and few experienced big men to be found, why not fire away from downtown? When Reggie and P.J. were lighting it up from outside, it was relatively easy to mask other deficiencies in, say, rebounding and interior defense. But when the rims are unkind? Well then you have Sunday. What happened Sunday night was simply the drawback of Roy Williams’ calculated decision to sacrifice size for firepower. Without a traditional lineup anchored by a stout frontline, the Heels lacked the consistency of recent years. With names like Zeller, Barnes, and Henson in the post, the woes of streaky shooting were more often than not erased by domination of the boards, physical inside play, and easy buckets. With these names now gracing pro rosters, there was very little that came easy to the 2013 Heels.
So where do we go from here? Will Roy stick with his guard-heavy lineup? All signs should point to no. Though Carolina doesn’t boast a fantastic batch of talent in its incoming class, it should have a freshman of relatively immediate impact in 6’ 8’’ power forward Isaiah Hicks (who finished his high school career with a 34 point, 30 rebound performance in the NC 3A state title game). Depending on whether or not James Michael McAdoo bolts early for the NBA, the Heels could have a solid pool of big men to choose from in Hicks, McAdoo, Joel James, Brice Johnson, and Desmond Hubert (though as much as I hate to say it, I don’t know if Hubert will ever develop his offensive touch to the point where he’ll be anything more than a solid post defender).
In reality it’s hard to know what next year has in store, if for no other reason than that no one has any idea who will be coming and going in Chapel Hill. While McAdoo is most likely to make the jump to the pros there is certainly the possibility that Bullock and Hairston could join him as late first round picks. And of course, the jury is still out on the Andrew Wiggins decision. Should Wiggins decide to call the Dean Dome home, the Tar Heels would roll into next year with quite a bit of momentum. The coming weeks should answer many questions for the boys in blue.
Though a Round of 32 loss to Kansas is not on my list of favorite ways to end a season, I’m proud of the resilience shown by our team in finishing out a tough year. Coming back to a place where expectations are always lofty, the Heels will return to meet a town with its arms wide open. Though they’re not champions, they will forever be our own. And no matter how far away it seems, early November will always find them back at work.
All Chapelboro.com Hoop It Up photos provided by Todd Melet.