After being the preseason No. 1 team in the country, UNC Basketball likely is done after losing in the ACC Tournament. Where do they go from here?
What is it called when the thing you’ve been conditioned to expect to happen, happens? In a movie, it’s called bad writing. Give us a plot twist, or at the very least some character development. M. Night Shyamalan might not always hit the mark, but at least he keeps us guessing until the end. For the 2022-23 Tar Heels, the season ended the way it played out since the very beginning.
Despite the Carolina faithful wishing for this team to transform into the one that stormed through March and vanquished Coach K, this time around offered no surprises and no growth. Thursday night, it ended the way, deep down, maybe we’ve known it was going to for weeks: in disappointment.
Season finale against UVA
Even during Thursday night’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal against Virginia, I kept waiting for the Heels to flip the switch and take over the way they did early in their last game against the Cavaliers. For most of the game, neither team could break away, even after Virginia went on a second-half run to take the lead. Several times, Carolina cut the deficit to four or less, and every time, they failed to get over the hump. Virginia and its constant offensive motion got open look after open look, while Carolina stagnated, committing crucial turnovers and getting trapped not only by tireless Cavalier defenders but by a shot clock that always seemed on the verge of expiring.
Even on the few occasions that Carolina did get open looks, time after time, they missed the mark. Caleb Love, who has spent much of the season as the face of Carolina’s troubles, once again epitomized the failings of this team. Love was 3-15 from the field and just 2-10 from three, and it would take two hands to count the number of times he lost his man on defense.
Armando Bacot was clearly less than 100%, and I was pleasantly surprised that Hubert Davis sat him for long stretches when it was obvious that he and his ailing ankle couldn’t be effective against Virginia’s aggressive post-traps. Puff Johnson got many of those minutes with Bacot on the bench, and although he helped space the floor just by his mere presence, he too failed to make an impact, missing two open threes that could have changed the course of the game.
If not for the singular effort and 24 points of RJ Davis, the final outcome would have likely been decided much earlier. Individual heroics can only do so much, though, when the rest of the team doesn’t play a supporting role. All of the clutch shots made by Caleb Love last year were only made possible by the steady hand of RJ, the tenacity of Armando, the lockdown defense of Leaky Black, and the sharpshooting of Brady Manek.
This year’s Heels never really coalesced into a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s why it seems all but certain that Selection Sunday will include 68 teams, but none from Chapel Hill. Like the one kid in class that doesn’t get invited to the party, it’s a terrible feeling. All year we look forward to March Madness like it’s some kind of birthright, but in reality, it’s a lot tougher to reach than we as Carolina fans realize.