Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball team doesn’t look like No. 1

Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball team doesn’t look like No. 1
December 02
10:17 2022

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball team came into the season ranked as the No. 1 team in the country. Primarily based on their championship game run last year and their returning roster, there were big hopes for the Tar Heels for this year. Based on their early season results, I am not sure the season will end the way all Tar Heel fans would like it.

Before last season, the last time the Tar Heels men’s basketball team lost in a championship game was 2016 to Villanova in a thriller. The next season’s team was dubbed as the “Redeem Team” and that 2017 squad fulfilled their destiny and brought home the national championship.

I am sure all Tar Heel fans, like myself, are hoping for a similar result this season as well. The problem is that this North Carolina team is not the Redeem Team from five years ago. They have also gotten off to quite a slow start this season. This team doesn’t seem to have the same hunger as the 2017 team. Or could it be that they are just not as talented as that team was?

To be honest, I was a little concerned about my Tar Heels after the first game of the season. Granted, things can look a little shaky for teams during the first game of the year, because many teams are still trying to find chemistry. I didn’t expect that from this team as I thought they would hit the ground running due to all of the veteran players they have returning. Maybe that No. 1 preseason ranking was more of a curse than a blessing.

Coming out of the gate, Carolina beat UNC-Wilmington by the score of 69-56. The Tar Heels only led by nine points at the half. I figured they would pull away in the second half with their depth and experience; however, I was wrong on that assumption as well. The Seahawks fought hard all night and were only outscored by two points in the second half by Carolina. That made me nervous, as the Tar Heels were never able to pull away.

“I think we all came out a little rusty,” said senior forward Armando Bacot. “It’s not easy winning games. I’m glad it’s the first game and not later on in the season.

“We were rushing and taking bad shots,” Bacot continued. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the first game.”

That’s what I sort of thought to myself. I thought they would bounce back for the next game and exert their dominance against their next opponent in the College of Charleston. It was a better performance against the Cougars. It was the defense that was a major concern for me.

UNC allowed four players from Charleston to score in double figures and the Cougars were able to put up 86 points overall. Carolina was also out rebounded by the Cougars, which was a surprise considering rebounding has been a staple for the Tar Heels. The biggest issue I had was that Charleston led 50-43 at the half. I figured the Tar Heels would have learned their lesson from the first game and put the hammer down on their lesser opponents early. If not for Bacot’s heroics in the second half scoring 27 of his 28 points in the frame, who knows what would have happened.

“He caught the ball where he wanted to,” said UNC head coach Hubert Davis. “He outworked whoever defended him to catch the ball as close as he could to the basket. His moves were definitive and strong, and he either scored or got fouled. I was very proud of him.”

Star guard Caleb Love added 25 points in the win. As one of the streakier, but talented, shooters in the country, the Tar Heels need him to be more consistent if they are going to compete against the best teams in the country come tournament time.

“I still think my approach has got to be better. I didn’t think I played a good game today. I don’t know, I guess it’s something I’ve got to think on and just look at film and see what I need to work on and just get better at it,” said Love.

With the momentum gained against the College of Charleston, I really thought the Tar Heels would come out in game three and show why they were voted the No. 1 team in the country. Instead, the game against Gardner-Webb had me on the edge of my seat the entire 40 minutes. The Runnin’ Bulldogs took every punch the Tar Heels had in their arsenal. Each time UNC made a run to look like they would put the game out of reach, Gardner-Webb responded accordingly with a run of their own or a couple key defensive stops. 

Love and graduate transfer Pete Nance paced the Tar Heels in scoring. Love admitted after the game that improvements need to be made.

“We’re used to it by now,” he said. “We’re only three games in, but the mistakes we’re making at both ends of the court are unacceptable. We’re going to fix it. It’s everybody.”

Davis seems to not be on high alert, unlike some of us fans. He seems to think that the Tar Heels’ issues are minor ones.

“I don’t think there’s a red flag in terms of our team,” said Davis. “I think there are some yellow flags. I think there are yellow flags in terms of our toughness. I think there are yellow flags in terms of sustained effort.”

I’m sorry Coach Davis, but I disagree with you on that assessment. That excuse would work if we were dealing with a young team with a bunch of freshmen, or a team dealing with a lot of new additions. However, this is a veteran team that has played together for several years. Toughness and effort are two of the things that I would expect this team to be filled with at this point.

To their credit, the Tar Heels looked a lot better in the first half against James Madison. This is what I expected from them out of the gate to start the season. UNC seemed to take their foot off the gas in the second half, but the first half performance was very promising. They still managed to win by the score of 80-64.

Love led all Tar Heel scorers with 21 points. Once again he was inefficient from behind the arc, shooting 2 of 7 from deep. He must show the consistency that they displayed last year during the tournament if the Tar Heels are to make another deep run in the tournament. 

The Tar Heels were in yet another nail-biter against Portland. It seems UNC is getting everyone’s best shot. There is no way Carolina is going to survive all of these close games. At some point in time their luck is going to run out. This is the main reason why I say they must start putting teams away early and that must start on the defensive end. To give up 81 points to Portland is unacceptable and not sustainable to achieve the championship goals I know this team has.

In their first game against a Power 5 opponent this season, it was more of the same for the Tar Heels. Iowa State battled the Tar Heels all the way down to the final minute. Unlike the previous five games, the Tar Heels were not able to overcome their flaws and lost to the Hawkeyes by the score of 70-65.

Yes, the Tar Heels are 5-1 on the season, but improvements need to be made soon. Those types of mistakes can’t be commonplace during conference play. If they are, expect the Tar Heels to suffer more losses than expected. The Phil Knight Invitational and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge should provide a lot of answers for the Tar Heel players and us fans. I have faith that the Tar Heels can show why they were ranked No. 1 in the country headed into the season. 

Let’s just hope they show it sooner than later.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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