By Doc Kennedy
Stop me if you’ve heard this before … UNC has a second-half lead against a quality opponent with a chance to boost its postseason resume, yet finds a way to let the game get away with another close but disappointing loss.
Or maybe you’ve heard this one before … Carolina is engaged in a rock fight against Duke, in a nail-biting, close game in the last four minutes, only to go ice-cold and unable to score more than two points down the stretch and the Blue Devils scratch out a win.
You’ll forgive me if this all blends together for me, as I watched the game fighting a 101° fever, but as Yogi Berra was purported to have said, it seems like deja vu all over again. You can’t help but feel like you’re tumbling down a wrought iron staircase watching this Tar Heel squad play out the same scenario over and over throughout the season, from Iowa State and Alabama early to Pitt in the middle, to Duke twice down the stretch.
With that in mind, here is the bubble-popping edition of the Good, Bad, and Ugly Report:
Coming off a one-point performance on Monday at Florida State, the senior big man chalked up another double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, plus added four blocks. The question is, will this performance be enough to resurrect his ACC Player of the Year chances in a wide-open race?
Davis also added 17 points on 6 of 13 shooting, including 3 of 5 from three. He also chipped in with six rebounds, three assists and two steals against only one turnover.
To UNC’s credit, the Tar Heels held Duke to 38% shooting and played the taller Devils to a draw on the boards, even with Pete Nance only playing 24 minutes due to foul trouble. If you had told me going in that Carolina would hold Duke to less than 40% shooting and only 31% from three, I would have felt very good about their chances. There’s only one problem with that, which is …
UNC’s game finish
Carolina was 1 of 9 from the floor down the stretch, including 0 for its last 7. They did not score a basket in the last four-plus minutes and their only points came on a pair of Bacot free throws. And in spite of it all, the Tar Heels had the lead with 90 seconds to go. It would be just one of those things that happens if it was an outlier. In nearly every UNC loss this season, there have been long stretches where Carolina goes four to five minutes or more without scoring or only making one basket. This game played out over the last four minutes almost exactly like the game in Durham, where the Heels only scored one basket in the last five minutes, going 1 of 9 from the floor.
UNC players not named Bacot or Davis shot a combined 7 of 35 (20%) and the Heels’ 30.4% field-goal percentage was a season-low. The Caleb Love Experience™, which is generally positive against Duke was not so on Saturday, as Love went 3-12, including 0-6 from three. Leaky Black was 3 of 16, including 1 of 7 from three, and Nance was only 1 of 4, including 1 of 3 from three, bringing his Lemon Oreo run to a sour end. What is becoming clear is that, over two seasons, with an outlier game here or there or an eight-game run last March, this is a poor shooting team. UNC is 10–0 this season when they shoot just 32% from three. As has been said in this space many times, Carolina just needs to be a below-average shooting team, not a good shooting team. Unfortunately, they are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. It just is what it is at this point.
So, where does this leave the Tar Heels heading into the ACC Tournament? The general consensus is that they are on the wrong side of the bubble. Putting aside the ridiculousness of the NET and its quad system, ultimately, Carolina only has two wins against teams that are likely in the field. On the other hand, none of the Heels’ 12 losses would be considered “bad losses”. This time last year, living on the bubble, UNC had some big wins and some bad losses. What is all this going to mean? Carolina probably needs to win at least two in the ACC Tournament to re-enter the NCAA discussion, which would mean another win over Virginia. Given this team’s talent and tendencies, it would not be surprising to see them win 3 games and make the final game, nor would it be surprising to see them lose to BC or Louisville in the first game. That is the roller coaster ride this season has been. Buckle up, friends. This week will be interesting.
Doc Kennedy is an alum and longtime UNC fan, and a former high school and college basketball coach who wrote this report for years on Tar Heel Blog.
Photo via @UNC_Basketball