Carolina’s move back into the AP Top 10 lasted less than half a day, when mere hours after they were anointed once again as one of the nation’s ten best teams, they engaged in a maddening no-show at Virginia Tech.
Unlike their last trip to our northern neighbor (a January 6
61-49 loss at UVA)
the points were there in Blacksburg. The general effort and any sense of intensity, on the other hand, was left in Chapel Hill, which is a burgeoning theme as this season wears on. While the Heels have ground out some rather impressive wins at the Dean Dome, they often look like a different team when in their road blues.
At home, these Tar Heels often play with an intensity befitting a stalwart top-ten squad, and that was no different in Saturday’s matchup with N.C. State. The game was exciting and high-energy wire to wire, with neither team leading by more than six at any point.
Theo Pinson played like a man possessed throughout the day, though his baseline-to-baseline effort against the Wolfpack would be in vain, as State absolutely could not miss from deep. Pinson’s stat line, while stellar, hardly told the entire story. He was seemingly everywhere, batting passes, interrupting open lanes and closing out defensively, hinting at a more well-rounded game than we’ve seen from him thus far. If he can harness whatever it was he had on Saturday, this team might be able to weather the storm that is currently plaguing their usually sure-handed point guard.
The Nitty Gritty
After dropping back-to-back games, the Heels tumbled nine spots in the Top 25. They’re a middling 5–4 in-conference, which nets them the sixth position in ACC standings. While the argument could be made that they’re two or three plays away from a 7–2 ACC record, which would have them in second place, it’s looking more and more like the Tar Heels are exactly where they should be in the standings.
The Good News
Luke Maye is turning into a bonafide star, and it goes far beyond the numbers. For Maye, it’s the eye test that is most telling. Watching him on the court, his hustle, his quick release, and the ease with which he moves up and down the court is the best way to truly appreciate the ways in which his game has evolved.
The way he switches hands to shoot down low belies any idea that he is a natural. Those mechanics that he now possesses are moves that are taught, and, in Maye’s case, moves that are learned. He’s got the basketball soul of the old man on the blacktop, operating as efficiently as possible, taking only steps that need to be taken, knowing where his highest percentage shots are going to come from and knowing exactly how to get open in those spots. He’s become one of the absolute joys to watch in college basketball.
The Bad News
Joel Berry appears to still be mired in a mid-season funk. His handle was off against Georgia Tech, his patience and vision uncharacteristically timid against Virginia Tech, his shots against State were abominable. Tar Heel fans are holding out hope, no doubt, but with only a third of the regular season left, Berry and his coach need to find his groove fast.
And while only three of Carolina’s final nine games come against currently ranked opponents, they still have to play very stout squads like Notre Dame, ’Cuse, and Miami. To presume that they will drop more than half of their final slate of regular season games is not much of a stretch, given their play of late. Suddenly, Carolina is facing the reality that they may not finish the season in the top 25.