North Carolina Lost To UNLV And We Shouldn’t Be SurprisedPosted by KCarpenter on November 27th, 2011
There is a formula for an upset, and it is as old as the three-point line: make your shots from beyond the arc, slow the pace, and play physical, punishing defense. UNLV did two of the three, opting to keep the pace up, but their execution was perfect. Since last season, the flaws of this North Carolina team have been no secret: John Henson and Tyler Zeller get frustrated by strong physical defense, Kendall Marshall is a mediocre on-ball defender, and the UNC defensive system that relies heavily on rotations and recovery is susceptible to three-point shots from the weak-side, particularly after collapsing against a drive. If you are experiencing an odd sense of déjà vu, it is because this is almost exactly the blueprint that Kentucky exploited to beat the Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. It worked then, it worked last night, and there is a good chance that it will work in the future.
Specifically the near future. Against Wisconsin on Tuesday, North Carolina will be dealing with one of the nation’s stingiest interior defenses, coupled with elite three-point shooting, and a punishingly controlled tempo. Kentucky’s surplus of talent becomes more apparent each and every game and the Wildcats ability to play tough, muscular defense as well as athletic guard play seems designed to give the Tar Heels fits. North Carolina was going to go into both of these games regardless as the underdog, regardless of who won in Vegas or what the polls said. Both of these match-ups are tough, and weirdly, by losing on Saturday, North Carolina should be able to go into these two games with appropriately readjusted expectations.
This can be a very good thing. The 2005 team’s season-opening loss to Santa Clara had the eventual national champions on the defensive, playing catch-up all year against an Illinois team that nearly went undefeated in the regular season. The 2007 Elite Eight team lost to Gonzaga in November. Last year’s squad lost to Minnesota, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Texas in a span of a month yet finished the season playing in the Elite Eight while all of these other teams were sitting at home. Roy Williams-coached squads, for a variety of reasons, often lose in the fall. Last night’s loss, or even a series of three straight losses by this time last week might feel terrible for North Carolina, but it won’t be as meaningful as pundits might say (excepting a series of blowouts). Teams grow and change between November and March, and a loss or three won’t cripple the psyche of this young team. Losses don’t hurt forever especially in November games.