Thoughts From the Other Shade is a regular feature here on Blue vs. Blue where, when we get a chance, we analyze the performance of the Rivalry’s other team in a recent game and see what we can take away. With Round One upcoming tomorow, I thought it might be a good time to put up a few comments on UNC’s struggles this season - from the royal blue perspective. To read all Thoughts from the Other Shade posts, click here.
As many people have noted over the years, the Duke/UNC rivalry has amazing tradition, great passion, and unparalelled proximity. But a good portion of what continues to make it so special is the high level of sustained success for both programs. So what happens when one side is struggling? Or to be more specific in this case since I am writing purely from the Duke perspective: What happens when your rival’s team is having a season of lofty expectations unfulfilled with no easily discernable reason why their team is crumbling like a house of baby blue cards? (it is rivalry week right?)
I cannot deny that it’s been pretty fun to watch the cavalcade of exasperated expressions on Roy Williams face this year. A lot of people over the years have criticized him for not being a great in-game coach, but perhaps a more worrisome demon has reared its head this season: Roy seems defeated. Now granted most of the post-game interviews I have seen are coming right on the ‘heels of defeat’, so it’s natural to be a little deflated. But it seems really really dangerous to me to have your coach, your leader say “I don’t know how much lower we can go”. (not an exact quote but we all read it/saw the sound byte)
Coaches set the tone. In college athletics they matter a lot. It doesn’t bode well for the health of your team to have a coach that really seems like he is at a loss. Its his JOB to figure a way out of the kind of fundamental problems the Heels are having: poor defense, high turnovers,and an inability to utilize their post men - their biggest strength. Maybe Ol Roy just doesn’t know how to deal with the adversity of this kind of season. It’s been a mighty long time since a team of his has been scuffing its horns this badly at this point in the year - and having no clear reason to say why.
But from the Duke sideline it’s never really comfortable to have UNC tripping over itself this badly before the two sides lock horns. Why? Expectations. Given the season’s body of work thus far, there is no reason to think Duke should not win on Wednesday. And the conventional wisdom puts out a lot of pressure. Duke has a better team this year that is playing better - but ask any non-rabid, non-flaming-homer fan how confident they are about beating Carolina. Its 50/50 at best. This is exactly the kind of trap-game setup that brings out the best in this rivalry.
Will I be shocked if UNC prevails? Not really. Could that be a catalyst that reignites their season? Maybe. This UNC team has shown itself to be deeply flawed, but there is talent there. But there isn’t much of a question about the result if they fall at home tommorrow. The crumbling baby blue tower will likely not recover this season. And the only question will be can Ol’ Roy put on his big boy pants and figure out how to lead this team if that happens.