Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our 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.
A slow start on Saturday led to a first half deficit for the Carolina football team. That, however, did not last long. A second half explosion fueled by turnovers, big plays, and red zone conversions resulted in a blow out of NC State and most importantly, a bowl game. By all reasonable accounts, a .500 record for this young team and a program in transition marks a successful campaign.
On the basketball court, the Battle 4 Atlantis brought the team’s first loss of the season. Thanks to some great play off the bench the damage was limited. Scoring continues to be a concern but the defense is for real.
Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .
Hats off to Mack Brown and the entire football coaching staff. With more one-possession games than any team since the 1930s, this has been an incredibly exciting season. Even when the team was down, there was just never an attitude of surrender. Needing wins in its final two games to reach bowl eligibility, the offense came through with a ton of points and the defense held strong.
The win against NC State is truly meaningful for a number or reasons. The Wolfpack had gotten the better of the Heels four of the last five times they met. Breaking that streak, along with the the win over Duke that broke a similar streak, gives the team a sense of confidence in emotional rivalry games. Second, this win can only help a strong recruiting staff that is bringing in big time players by the bunches. Third, bowl eligibility means at least an additional two full weeks of practice. That is critical for a young team that will look to play like veterans next year.
Finally, making a bowl has been the true measure of this team’s success for the entire year. Keeping games close and putting on a good show in prime time were secondary marks that were also easily achieved. Regardless of the opponent or outcome of the bowl game, Carolina fans should feel very good about this team and its future.
Switching to the hard court, last week provided plenty of food for thought. As the prolonged drought against Michigan demonstrated, it will be very difficult for this team to score at times. Outside of Cole Anthony, there have just not been any consistent deep threats. Brandon Robinson certainly poses the possibility of a good three point shooting, but he only went 6-16 from beyond the arc for the three game spread (including 0-3 against the Wolverines). This is a big part of the reason why the team has yet to break the 80-point mark this year.
There is plenty to be positive about with this team. First, the defense has been tremendous, especially on the interior. No one has scored 80 points against the Heels yet. Carolina is averaging six blocks and six steals per game. They are getting offensive rebounds on just under 50% of their misses. Very impressive statistics for a program that is typically offense-first.
Second, there was a lot of heart in the comeback against Michigan. Down by as many as 24 in the second half, the Heels put on a furious effort to shrink the lead to eight with an open three in the corner that could have made it five. Ultimately, the comeback came up short, but the effort was there. In many ways, the bit of redemption from the final 10 minutes against Michigan may have fueled the win against Oregon.
Finally, the Oregon game proved that there is some depth off the bench for this team. With an injury to Leaky Black and Cole Anthony picking up his fourth foul with more than 10 minutes remaining, it was time to buckle down. K.J. Smith stepped in for nine huge minutes and served up a couple of assists to preserve the lead. If only the shots off the bench could fall (5-25 for Christian Keeling, Justin Pierce, and Andrew Platek combined).
Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.
This is another huge week for the Carolina basketball team. On Wednesday night, the Heels host undefeated and 10th ranked Ohio State in the ACC-Big Ten challenge. The Buckeyes are a well-balanced team with no player averaging over 25 minutes or 13 points per game. That will be a challenge to defend, although Ohio State averages just over 78 points per game (which would seem to be in the Carolina wheelhouse this year).
On Sunday, Carolina travels to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. Talk about a challenge for a team that is not moving the ball well and is having trouble scoring. The Cavaliers have held their last two opponents under 50 points. Maintaining defensive energy for the full shot clock and converting on the few open shot attempts will be key to escaping with a win.
A very good Thanksgiving holiday for the Heels leads to an extremely challenging upcoming week. With Michigan sure to be highly ranked this week, this will be a four-game stretch against teams ranked in the top 15. Only one of those is in conference and only one is at home. Roy Williams schedules in November and December to win in March and April.
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