Heels show December form in ACC Tournament ouster
Posted March 14
Greensboro, N.C. — Unfortunately for North Carolina, the Tar Heels began their basketball postseason Friday in early-season form.
The team that fell hopelessly behind early en route to an 80-75 loss to Pitt looked a lot like the same group of players who lost 83-80 to Belmont on Nov. 17, then 63-59 to Alabama-Birmingham on Dec. 1, 73-67 to Wake Forest on Jan. 5 and 63-57 to Miami on Jan. 8.
At no point during the ACC Tournament quarterfinals Friday did the Heels resemble the team that won 12 straight down the stretch and ended the regular season last week with an impressive offensive performance in a 93-81 loss at Duke.
Why the Heels showed up at Greensboro in the way-back machine is anyone’s guess.
Maybe it was rust. Pitt (25-8) was impressive Thursday in an 84-55 walkover second-round win against Wake Forest. The 5th-seeded Panthers probably won’t run out of steam until about midway through the second half of Saturday’s first semifinal game, when they will take on top-seeded Virginia.
Carolina, on the other hand, had been idle for a week since the trip to Duke and clearly displayed re-entry trouble Friday. It was deep into the second half before the No. 4 seeded Heels (23-9) seemed to get in gear. By then, it was too little too late.
Whatever happened, the early-season Heels reappeared.
They missed 11 free throws (21-32), shot 39.3 percent on field goals, got outworked on the boards (43-35 Pitt including 21 rebounds by Talib Zanna alone) and got nothing to speak of from starters Leslie McDonald (no points, two rebounds, five fouls, three turnovers) and Kennedy Meeks (one point, three rebounds, loose defense in eight minutes).
While Roy Williams and his players now have ample time to sort through the ashes, they also will live with the aftermath of the performance Friday.
The Heels no longer are in the hunt to open the NCAA Tournament at Raleigh's PNC Arena. They now have the profile of a No. 4, 5 or 6 seed somewhere.
Virginia (26-6 with the regular-season title) is in line for a PNC start on March 21. Duke is another likely ACC team marked for the Raleigh second- and third-round games.
If recent NCAA patterns hold, the Heels are prime timber for a starting spot in San Antonio on March 21 and, as much as the selection committee probably wants to line up another Carolina vs. Kansas meeting in the early rounds, that’s a stretch at the moment. The Jayhawks are in line for a No. 2 spot in St. Louis.
But of more importance than seeding and site selection is the issue of improvement, which may have something to do with incentive to win.
“I thought they had a great sense of urgency,” Williams said of Pitt.
He couldn’t say the same of his team. Carolina’s first five or six minutes amounted to a textbook example of poor effort and execution.
If the rest of this postseason is to be better than Friday for the Heels, that situation has to be reversed.