The North Carolina Tar Heels lost to Wofford in the Dean Dome last night. The defeat was UNC’s second of the season, but the first to prompt a full fledge fanbase meltdown. While at this point the number of people criticizing the #FireRoy hashtag far outstrips the number of fans using it seriously, many Carolina fans were left shaken by the Terriers trotting out of Chapel Hill with a victory. Rather than scolding “bad fans” here’s a helpful guide explaining why you shouldn’t worry about the loss.
“This is the worst loss of the Roy Williams era”
I mean I guess statistically speaking that may be true? After all the Terriers entered the game ranked 197th in KenPom -- the lowest ranked team to beat UNC since Ken Pomeroy descended from the heavens to bestow every college basketball writer with his divine metric . So yes, I guess statistically speaking it’s the worst.
But, at least to me, a lot more goes into “the worst” than just the KenPom gap or the spread. To me “the worst” losses tend to be missed opportunities to snag a big win or moments when I thought the Tar Heels would prove themselves. To that point, here’s an interesting question… Would you swap the Wofford loss for a loss to Tennessee this past Saturday?
From a metric/résumé standpoint it’s a no-brainer. Losing at Tennessee, a bubble team at worst, is a much “better” loss than dropping a game at home to lowly Wofford. Yet, I personally would keep the Tennessee win. Winning in Knoxville was a “prove it” game. Carolina went on the road, to a hostile environment and for the first half got punched in the mouth by the Volunteers. That Carolina came back by locking down on defense and making clutch shots in winning time was an indication that the Tar Heels have the constitution to compete for the ACC regular season title. At least from my perspective, the Tennessee win was much more enlightening than the loss to Wofford.
“But I mean Wofford? Michigan State is one thing, but isn’t losing to Wofford worrisome”
I’d actually argue the Michigan State loss concerns me more than the loss to Wofford if you’re thinking in terms of Carolina’s long-term potential. Michigan State suggested that there are certain matchups that may spell doom for the Tar Heels -- namely big, athletic physical teams that will bully Luke Maye and the freshmen bigs in the post and use length to disrupt Carolina’s shooters on the wings. Carolina may just be intrinsically constructed to struggle against such teams.
Conversely, is there anything about the Wofford loss that really suggests an Achilles Heel for UNC going forward? To borrow a turn of phrase from The Solid Verbal podcast, Wofford was a classic “let-down/look-ahead” sandwich, positioned right in between an emotional road victory at Tennessee last weekend and higher profile matchup with Ohio State this weekend in the CBS Sports Classic. Carolina came out looking disinterested, went through the motions, and may have been just a bit thrown off by the insertion of Cameron Johnson into the rotation. None of that is to take credit away from the performance from Fletcher Magee and the Terriers (sweet band name by the way), but I don’t know that this loss makes me tremble in fear of facing a team like Wofford in the first round of the tournament.
“But rival fans and sportswriters now get to call UNC overrated”
Yes, they do. And North Carolina probably wasn’t the fifth-best team in the nation heading into the game. But here’s the good news. Almost every team, aside from Villanova and maybe Michigan State, has some pretty glaring flaws. Given all the players UNC lost from last season and the solid but non-transcendent recruiting class that matriculated this fall, expecting a return trip to the Final Four is both irrational and setting oneself up for disappointment. But given the current college basketball landscape, Carolina absolutely is good enough to make a run in March. They are also absolutely flawed enough to lose early in the tournament to an inferior team in the early rounds if they don’t stay engaged.
Part of the fun of college basketball, to me at least, is the room for fallibility. Losing to Wofford does nothing to preclude UNC from winning the ACC or making a run in the tournament. Particularly in a year coming off a national championship, part of the fun is just riding the rollercoaster and not spending the entire season burdened by “title or bust” expectations.
Could the Wofford loss end up being like the College of Charleston debacle in 2009-2010 and portend an impending spiral onto the bubble or the NIT? I guess it’s possible. But that team lacked dependable guard play, outside shooting, and was plagued by injuries -- all of which haven’t been issues with this team to date. More likely, an embarrassing loss to Wofford will refocus a talented group and North Carolina will look closer to the team who beat Arkansas, Michigan, and Tennessee going forward… until they take another loss.
This is college basketball after all.