The Carolina Bandwagon Shall Soon Ride AgainPosted by jstevrtc on January 31st, 2011
Fifteen days ago, North Carolina went to Atlanta for an ACC tilt against Georgia Tech. The Tarheels looked slow and listless, shot 27.6% from the field, hit only two of their 12 three-pointers (16.7%), and gave up 13 steals to the Yellow Jackets while answering with only five of their own. It was a clanger of epic proportions, especially for a program so consistently loaded with talented players. Professional pundits, bloggers, neutral fans and even some die-hard UNC backers chose that night as their jump-off point from the North Carolina bandwagon, and seemed proud to proclaim their disembarkment publicly.
The pollsters agreed. The Monday before the UNC vs GT game, the Heels received 31 points and six points in the AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches’ polls, respectively. The day after the game, UNC was down to two points in the AP and zero in the coaches’ poll. They only had one game the following week, and that was the continuation of their home winning streak against Clemson. The rankings from last Monday showed them netting a mere two points in the coaches’ poll and nothing in the AP. The lack of votes isn’t surprising, considering just the one game, but people still seemed reluctant to give UNC much credit for their two wins this week, chalking up the win at Miami (FL) as a result of Miami’s propensity for losing close games, and blaming Saturday’s victory over North Carolina State on a Wolfpack team that appeared uninterested in anything basketball-related that afternoon. In the three wins since being drilled by the Yellow Jackets, people have found reasons to deny UNC full credit for the victories, their minds still poisoned by the game in Atlanta.
Did people place too much stock in that one game against Georgia Tech? It’s true — that performance against the Jackets was worthy of some serious Febreeze, but if you look at their entire schedule instead of the single game, you’ll notice that the’ve won those three straight since the Thrillerdome Debacle, and nine of eleven. That includes a two-point loss on a neutral floor to Texas. If you look at the entire body of work to this point, the Georgia Tech game looks like an anomaly, rather than a true representation of this Tar Heel squad.
Fifteen days after they were cast aside by just about everyone because of a single awful game, North Carolina finds themselves only a half game behind Duke in the ACC standings. The remaining schedule isn’t easy — they have two games against both Duke and Florida State, and three of their next four are on the road — but half of their remaining ten games are at home. The biggest knock against UNC is the number of opportunities they’ve squandered to notch signature wins. Their only win against a ranked team was at home against Kentucky back on December 4th, but if you believe the numbers right now, UNC boasts the 16th toughest strength of schedule and an RPI of 15 (it’s admittedly a tad soon to put full weight behind the RPI).
Barring a catastrophe, North Carolina is still an NCAA Tournament squad, and all the talk that came after the Georgia Tech game proclaiming that they weren’t one stands as an example of how people sometimes consider the most recent result as the most meaningful one in terms of defining a team. We also figure it’s more likely that UNC will win a game or two that they shouldn’t win on their remaining schedule rather than drop one or two that they should win, though even a split of their last ten games (they’d be 20-10 and 10-6) would be good enough to gain them admission. We don’t know how many votes they’ll receive in the rankings that come out later today, but you can expect the Tar Heel bandwagon to get rolling again very soon. Nobody could blame you if you chose to hop on and grab a seat. For now, there are still plenty available.