Thanksgiving break and then a week-long work trip to Arizona caused an extended hiatus from the blog, one that unfortunately coincided with a nationally relevant up-and-down stretch for the Heels. It was never my goal to provide timely breakdowns of game-by-game happenings (that should be left to the ESPN folks), so the break can partly be attributed to a lack of urgency on my part. There wasn’t a whole lot new to say, especially after the Kentucky loss. But as my goal is to chronicle my experience of Carolina basketball, there were some observations that I would have liked to publish a while ago, and will just now get to. Here goes:
UNLV 90, UNC 80
Those rare completely unforeseen losses such as the one we took to UNLV frustrate Carolina fans in a way that exemplifies how spoiled we are as fans. Psychologically preparing for most games with the comfortable assurance of victory is a luxury not afforded to most programs, yet when one of those allegedly assured victories ends up as a loss, the disappointment for us is even more profound. I was certainly guilty of this: I entered the weekend looking forward to the upcoming games as holiday family entertainment, obviously leading to a feeling of being cheated during the disaster against UNLV.
Rather than understanding that early season road losses to good but not elite teams remain a part of college basketball even in this new era, our immediate impulse is to search for explanations. In my case, it was to identify chronic problems with the team indicating that we cannot possibly be as good as our expectations; for those less negative than me it was to find comparisons between Saturday’s loss and the surprising setbacks experienced by the 2005 and 2009 teams.
Yet after the frustration settles, reality is somewhere in between. The loss differs from the one to Santa Clara in 2005 in that there wasn’t a significant starter on the bench suspended, and it differs from the one in 2009 to BC in that it didn’t come at the hands of a team with NBA talent playing at their best on offense. Not to mention the fact that the 2009 team made that loss a close game, while against UNLV we lied down and took punches right until the end.
Yet that does not mean there is a chronic problem that diminishes the ultra-high expectations for this team, nor even that should indicate that we are not the best team in the country. This team is nowhere near the level of 2009’s, but since that 2009 team is one of the best in the history of the sport, it doesn’t have to be. Much of this loss can be blamed on the differences in style between 2012 and 2009 rather than differences in quality. Though our most recent win against Evansville suggests potential for otherwise, this version of Carolina is not one to blow teams out of the gym with its scoring. We hang on to victories with our defense rather than dare teams to outscore us, and when the defense lapses, we aren’t often going to score our way out of trouble. Late last season, however, the defense – and clutch late game play – was there more often than not, and we remained a tough team to beat.
The point here is that this team is far more susceptible to losses like this than 2009 Carolina ever was, and even 2009 Carolina lost three regular season games. We’ve come back down to earth a little bit, but are nonetheless one of the best teams in the country. The main lesson may end up being that there is more than one route to a national championship. 2005 and 2009 took the team of destiny, no one is going to beat us when it counts route; 2012 doesn’t have that option – we lack the offensive firepower to control our own destiny, and a hot shooting Kentucky team will beat us in March.
But maybe Kentucky will be cold. Carolina hasn’t yet experienced this under Roy, but as Florida learned in 2006 and Duke in 2010, one doesn’t have to be the team of destiny to a win a national title.
Kentucky 73, UNC 72
This was one of the stranger Carolina viewing experiences of my life, and especially after the nature of the game, it will certainly be one of the more lasting. After finishing up a long and fast-paced week in Arizona for ALEC’s large winter meeting, I went out with coworkers to celebrate Friday night, returned to my hotel room and went to bed a little after 2:00, woke up around 9:00, packed my stuff, and sat down to watch the game in my hotel room at 10:00 in the morning. A brief walk through the lobby discovered that all of the televisions there were showing college football. I couldn’t believe that people in the western half of the U.S. do this every weekend.