The Tar Heels 4-8 record without Cole Anthony was somewhat expected given their offensive struggles. There were games during the 12-game stretch without Cole Anthony that should have been won, but weren’t. There should have been a more pronounced focus towards Carolina’s post-game, but there wasn’t. Despite these issues, specifically injuries and discontinuity with the roster, UNC was still competitive in multiple ACC games. Late game execution caused 3 of those (Wofford, Clemson and Virginia Tech) to slide into the loss column.
Anthony’s return pushed hope back into the team and fanbase on February 1st. However, his return has not propelled this team to their early season levels. A loss to Boston College was a significant setback for a program trying to progress towards NCAA Tournament selection and consideration. Anthony was eased off the bench into his first live-game action in 2 months, as he should have been, but his presence on the court did little to fuel his team to a victory. Maybe this team was looking ahead to a difficult stretch, or maybe the difficulties of the Tar Heels season has compounded too much to be overcome.
North Carolina remained competitive against Florida State in their next outing and showed a lot of fire in the first half, leading the Seminoles on their own floor. It had the potential to be a huge resume-building win against a top-10 team on the road. However, the Heels slipped again late down the stretch and dropped another game that should have been theirs. Cole Anthony forced a lot of shots and played too loose on many possessions, after getting his first start since returning to the court. Once UNC’s lead faded, the composure of the team really fell away.
Going into their first meeting with Duke, despite their recent results with Anthony back in the lineup, the team’s performances were trending upwards. The team needed to play with an increased amount of composure, stick to the gameplan and give full effort. They checked each of those boxes. The Blue Devils were repeatedly hammered for doubling Anthony and forcing the ball elsewhere. The primary culprit was Garrison Brooks shooting wide-open, in-rhythm jumpers from the free throw line trailing the play. The Carolina offense didn’t force their possessions, found open shooters, shared the ball and gave everything they had to pull out a win against another unlikely opponent.
It played out as a different story with the same ending. The Tar Heels overtime, buzzer-beating loss to their most-hated rival ripped the hearts out of their season in more ways than one. The result not only finalized another game that the program should have won and didn’t, but likely dropped the floor from the rest of this team’s season. Tonight, North Carolina should have recovered from their tiring battle with Duke and taken care of business against repeat bottom-dweller Wake Forest. Instead, they dropped another game and have not lost 4-straight since Cole Anthony’s return.
The remaining opponents for UNC are far from ‘cupcake’ caliber. While Louisville and Virginia are far from offensive juggernauts, they are strong defensive teams that can exploit and focus on Carolina’s offensive shortcomings. Notre Dame, North Carolina State and Syracuse on the other hand do have strong offenses and can outrun the Tar Heels in a shootout. Wake Forest has already proven they can beat this team and will likely have a legitimate shot to do so in the second meeting of the season. Their last game of the season, against the Blue Devils, is likely to be the only remaining game this team will want to show up for.
There will be no tournament this year and possibly even getting passed over for the NIT or the CBI. The only way any of these happen is a finals appearance in the conference tournament or winning it outright. This team stands at 10-14 on the year and could potentially end up finishing 12-19 before the conference tournament. It’s time for Carolina fans to look towards next season’s outstanding crop of recruits and start the championship pursuit over.