Young teams might be forgiven for being a bit erratic (especially five games into the season), but who thought we'd see the best- and worst-case scenarios for the 2012-13 Heels play out on back-to-back nights?
For those of us who recall the sheer joy of watching Wayne Ellington and Danny Green trail on the break, and who remember that Carolina offense can be more than waiting for Larry Drew to hurl balls into stands or Harrison Barnes to dribble them into opponents' laps, Monday night was a thoroughly nourishing and therapeutic experience. It was the satisfaction of a three and a half year craving for unbridled long-range offensive bombardment (Carolina's 15 threes were the fourth-highest output in school history). All our shots fell, it opened up the middle, all the boards bounced our way, and our defense was on the spot behind six steals from Strickland. Clearly, when the Heels put together a combined defensive and offensive onslaught like they did Monday, they can beat anyone in the country.
Then there was last night.
It doesn't get any worse than Tuesday's first 29 minutes. Eighteen first-half points (the lowest output since '98). One first-half offensive rebound. Zero free throw attempts until 13:13 in the 2nd. Zero second-chance points until 10:25 in the second. McAdoo was soft, Paige was lost, and everyone else forced things. It was the sum of our worst fears for this group. Then, with 11 minutes left, there came an "Oh $#!%!...we're down 30" moment.
Credit Carolina for a 23-point comeback that made it a six-point game with a minute left. (The 2010 Heels would have just mailed it in and lost by 30.) Bright spots were P.J. Hairston (team highs 15 points and 7 boards) enforcing the comeback, Paige stabilizing himself down the stretch (props to Roy for letting him play through 20 minutes of awful to get to 7 minutes of good) to finish with 13 points, 5 assists, and 2 turnovers on 5-10 shooting, and the fact that we were about a steal and a bucket away from possibly winning this thing even after allowing Butler to play 40 minutes of basketball while we chose to play only 11.
Down sides were that we chose to play only 11 minutes of basketball, got absolutely pushed around on the floor and manhandled on the boards (-10 margin while securing only 61% of our defensive rebounds), Butler made and attempted twice as many free throws (20-25), nobody who saw more than 12 minutes of action shot better than 50% from the field, and McAdoo never regained any semblance of composure as a result of the physical play (5-11 FG, 4 fouls, 7 turnovers). The most frustrating part about last night was that we were basically playing Duke Lite. Rotnei Clarke was Seth Curry, and it was ball screen, ball screen, ball screen...three...long offensive rebound...three. Need to get that figured out before February.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of last night was the four-guard lineup that coincided with the comeback and that will probably see some more time throughout the season: Paige-Strickland-Bullock-Hairston-McAdoo. With a solid 10-man rotation, Roy will be able to do some fun things rotation-wise this year.
On a further optimistic note, you never want your Fall tournament to be the highlight of your season. And if the last two years are any indication, a November tournament loss puts the Heels right on pace to win the regular season conference title, lose the conference tournament championship, and make the Elite Eight in March.
What? It could happen.