UNC 93, UVA 81: Ready to Dance?

Grant Halverson

Make no mistake, the UVA win Saturday will put the Heels back in the national conversation and certainly provides some spark for an otherwise less-than-brilliant season. But is it really the kind of win that can take you off the bubble?

Here are three overly-optimistic arguments that the overly-hopeful will glean from Saturday's win--and the three equally troubling responses that reveal Carolina's real need to shelve their dancing shoes for now and keep strapping on the work boots.

1. "The new lineup has saved our season."

Strike up the band: The Heels treaded water long enough for Roy to find a starting lineup that could put us over the hump. Now that we've found it (and with the hardest part of our schedule behind us), we've staked a claim to tournament territory that we're not going to lose. The only direction is up.

Keep lacing up the Nikes: The Carolina offense (especially with the new, smaller lineup) is far too reliant on jump shooting. The traditional bastions of reliable offense--post play and foul shooting--have abandoned Chapel Hill this year. The only thing worse than James Michael McAdoo's free throw percentage is his layup percentage. Most of McAdoo's damage has come from baseline and elbow jumpers, and when your five-man's milieu is 12-15 feet from the basket, consistent offense is never a given. He's been taking it to the rim lately, which is a good thing. But it doesn't do any good if you can't finish, get fouled, or make your foul shots when you do. Three-point shooting generates upsets, not championships, and it's the basis of our offense right now.

2. "We finally got a 'good' win."

Strike up the band: The biggest obstacle to the Heels' tournament chances this year was their mediocrity--we beat the teams we should beat (except Texas), and lose to the teams we should lose to (except UNLV). Now that we've finally beaten a team ahead of us in the ACC standings, the scales are tipped in our favor.

Keep lacing up the Nikes: While Virginia has been pretty stellar against top-tier teams (7-0 against the Top 100, until Saturday), they have been equally disappointing against lesser competition (6-5 against RPI 101-200 teams). The net effect is that the Cavaliers are a remarkably unremarkable team, which has kept them largely out of the national conversation, and not one worthy of providing that "signature" win. The only thing signature about the win Saturday is that it put us on the same playing field, avenging our January loss. At worst, we're in the same place we were before Saturday. At best, it gives the selection committee a reason to choose us over Virginia if we both land on the bubble.

3. "We're on the road to a second-place finish."

Strike up the band: As bad as we're supposed to be this year, we've still got a legitimate shot to finish second in the conference. If we win out (the two biggest impediments here are State and Duke at home, which isn't out of the realm of possibility), we will separate ourselves from State, and get one game closer to Duke. The Cavs still have to play Miami (and could potentially lose to GT, BC, FSU, or Maryland as well), so we'll count one loss coming in those five games, which will put us in a tie. They also still have to play Duke, and somebody has to lose there. If Duke wins, we finish third. If the Cavs win, we all tie for second. (As far as seeding in the ACC tournament goes, UVA would win the tiebreaker for the 2-seed in this scenario, with the Heels winning the tie-breaker for third. If we want to win the 2-seed, we'd need to win out and have UVA beat Duke while losing two other games.)

Keep lacing up the Nikes: That's a lot of "if"s there. A "legitimate" shot at finishing second is a far cry from a "probable" one. Take it one game at a time, and hope for the best.

Bottom line: The UVA win isn't terribly significant to our tournament hopes, but it does mean we're doing what we need to do to get there. If we stay on pace, beating who we should beat (GT, Clemson, FSU, Maryland) and losing to who we should lose to (State, Duke), we should be on the inside of the bubble looking out (10- or 11-seed). It's certainly doable, but the work still needs to be done.

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