The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday December 5th

Analysis: What went wrong with UNC basketball this season

UNC first-year guard Cole Anthony (2) dribbles upcourt in the game against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, March 7, 2020. UNC lost to Duke 89-76.
Buy Photos UNC first-year guard Cole Anthony (2) dribbles upcourt in the game against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, March 7, 2020. UNC lost to Duke 89-76.

It all happened so quickly. 

Things were looking up for the North Carolina basketball team after leaving the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament with a close victory over then-No. 11 Oregon. But then, the collapse started.

The Tar Heels were 6-1, ranked No. 7 in the nation, and Cole Anthony was living up to expectations following the win over the Ducks. Things abruptly changed after one fateful night in the Smith Center on Dec. 4. Billed as one of the biggest matchups in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, No. 6 Ohio State traveled to Chapel Hill and beat the brakes off of North Carolina to the tune of a 74-49 win.

Later in the week, the Tar Heels dropped a game at Virginia and fell to No. 17 in the AP Poll. 

When Anthony sat out a chunk of the season due to meniscus surgery, the Tar Heels went 4-7 and played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament with losses to the likes of Wofford, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.

So what happened, exactly?

The team was without a point guard during a stretch of games that could make or break its season. The Tar Heels had the opportunity to pick up a big resume-boosting win against Gonzaga, but for the most part, the chunk of the schedule Anthony missed was a bunch of games they couldn't afford to lose. And they lost some of them.

If UNC hadn't suffered those aforementioned losses to Wofford, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Pittsburgh, it was looking at a solid record in the ACC and a good shot at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, North Carolina relied on a revolving door at the point guard spot between Jeremiah Francis and Leaky Black. The two combined to average 12.4 points per game in Anthony's absence, not close to his 19.1 points per game prior to injury.

One of the lone bright spots for the Tar Heels this season without Anthony was Garrison Brooks. 

Brooks averaged 11.6 points prior to Anthony's injury and improved that number to 18.9 points per game during his absence. Although it was a positive sign that Brooks began to find his groove offensively, the team became too reliant on his production and wasn't able to get other players involved consistently.

One of the other players that actually seemed to benefit from Anthony's absence was Brandon Robinson. The senior averaged 15.2 points per game over the team's 4-9 stretch, a large jump from his 11.8 average for the season as a whole.

But Robinson's uptick in production is similar to Brooks'. Robinson was all of a sudden the team's only reliable 3-point shooter and therefore benefited personally, but the team continued to be harmed as a whole.

So what happened? Anthony got injured, which harmed different aspects of the team's play, from shotmaking to point guard play. When he came back, the pieces never gelled. If Anthony never got hurt, UNC could have been looking at another successful season; instead, 2019-20 was the first losing season of Roy Williams' career.

@matt_chilson

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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