Following the North Carolina men's basketball team's 72-67 loss to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, maybe it's time to ask, what if this is just who the Tar Heels are now?
An offensively challenged team whose best shot is a put-back off an offensive rebound, who will play defense in spurts but will ultimately get burned frequently enough by 3-pointers, that they're going to lose more games against competent teams than they win.
At 5-4, the Tar Heels are already off to their worst start since the disastrous 2001-02 season — even last year, North Carolina was 6-3 through its first nine games.
This is a far cry from where things were two years ago, when North Carolina was powered by the high-octane triple threat of Cam Johnson, Luke Maye and Coby White. But not every team is going to have the best shooter in college basketball, a walk-on who turns into an All-American player and a point guard who unexpectedly becomes a lottery pick over the course of a year.
Through some combination of lack of talent and the wrong coaching schematics, North Carolina has become simply unpleasant to watch. Not the worst — its glut of former five-star recruits will keep it above bottom feeder level — but the Tar Heels have become a team that plays ugly basketball.
The bigs can score in the paint, but are working in a double post system that cramps spacing without the proper shooting around it, and no one outside of Garrison Brooks can reliably hit a shot from beyond eight feet.
The guards, excepting Kerwin Walton's three 3s against Georgia Tech, are either incapable of hitting a shot, unwilling to shoot, insistent on terrible shot selection or some combination of all three.
"Obviously, we know our big guys are pretty good, they're shooting a high percentage," senior guard Leaky Black said. "So why take quick outside jumpers? You know they're the ones that's putting the ball in the basket most of the time. They need to touch the ball at least one time down the court."
Coming into the game, now-benched guard Caleb Love was second to last in the ACC in field goal percentage, at 28.7 percent. Going 3-10 against the Yellow Jackets actually raised his percentage.
The defense is passable at best and hair-rippingly bad at worst. The first-years not named Day'ron Sharpe seem lost or disinterested on both sides of the ball.
About what hasn't been translating from practice to the game, head coach Roy Williams pointed to the defensive end of the floor.
"Our movement without the ball on the offensive end of the floor," he said, "guys who make shots in practice who don't necessarily make them a lot in games. And the head coach is screwing it up himself."
Postgame, the players hit most of the same notes. In the smallest of silver linings, it looks like UNC has at least identified some of the issues that plague the team. After all, there's always a step one.
"What's stopping us from reaching our potential is our focus," Brooks said. "A lack of really wanting to guard someone. I think it's something we can get to, but I think right now we're struggling to do that."
Guarding people would be a good start, something UNC failed to do against N.C. State and in the second half against Georgia Tech, allowing the Yellow Jackets to shoot 61.5 percent from the floor and 66.7 percent from 3-point range.
Maybe things can improve as attitudes change, or intensity picks up, or something just clicks for the young players.
Offense might come later — maybe the spacing clears up a bit, maybe the guards will stop being some of the worst shooters in the country, turning the ball over so frequently, taking ill-advised shots and generally being a detriment to the Tar Heels' chances of winning.
A lot of things could happen. But at this point, this is the reality: UNC is just not very good.
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