The North Carolina men’s basketball team has been hard to figure out for the first half of the 2021-22 season.
Every promising performance has been followed by an embarrassing defeat, followed by a solid win to rebuild the remaining hype surrounding the team.
But this week finally gave us an answer to who the Tar Heels currently are.
After two horrible efforts against a Miami team that lost to UCF earlier in the season and a Wake Forest program that has only made the NCAA Tournament once in the past ten years, North Carolina finds itself with significantly more questions than answers.
These were two teams many expected UNC to beat or at least keep close with, and the Tar Heels were completely dominated on both ends.
With two North Carolina players rated as five-star recruits and eight ranked as four-stars by ESPN — not including redshirt sophomore guard Anthony Harris, who will be unavailable for the rest of the year — this shouldn’t be a talent issue. There’s no team in the conference other than Duke that can match them in that department.
And the blame game shouldn't be played here. Nothing is going right. The effort isn’t consistent, the coaching – while nowhere near fireable – has been a little underwhelming, and the players are simply underperforming.
A lot of UNC’s issues are on the defensive end of the floor.
The Tar Heels have struggled to close out shooters effectively, allowing opponents to rain in 3-pointers right over their heads. Driving guards also routinely blow by them and big men frequently outmuscle them in the paint, despite their size advantage.
It feels like anyone on the opposing team can go for a career-high against them by scoring all over the court, no matter how many points they average coming into their matchup with North Carolina.
The one positive from this early portion of the year is that UNC has seen a nice improvement offensively. The three-point shooting that was atrocious last year is now a strength. The Tar Heels currently rank fourth in the ACC in team 3-point percentage, a big reason they rank third in the conference in total scoring.
Sophomore guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis have made leaps in their overall offensive games, developing a more consistent jumper and becoming better playmakers. Junior center Armando Bacot has been the star of the team, averaging 16.9 points and 11.3 rebounds. He has become a much more confident and skilled player in the paint and has vaulted himself into the conversation for ACC Player of the Year.
But as of now, that’s the only award anyone on this UNC team will be sniffing.
There are still some holes on offense, especially when it comes to bench production. With sophomore guard Kerwin Walton seemingly losing his jumper and the erratic shooting of sophomore transfer Dawson Garcia, the starters typically get little to no help with scoring.
There is not enough consistency in those aspects. There are too many stretches where the Tar Heels struggle to make a shot and other times when their defense is so bad, their opponent has trouble not making their shots. In some games, these trends occur at the same time, causing some fans to change the channel well before the final seconds tick off.
While UNC is undefeated in the Dean E. Smith Center, the team is 3-6 away from home and has no road victories over opponents ranked in the top-75 of the College Basketball Power Index (BPI). Even if this season's expectations weren’t quite as high as in years prior, the Tar Heels haven't yet come close to meeting them.
There is still time to salvage this season, but the first half of it has been far from pretty. Here are the overall scores:
Overall Grade: C-
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