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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Cut the UNC men's basketball team some slack

Madeline Crumpler UNC MBBALL DUKE
Duke freshman guard Trevor Keels (1) races UNC Sophomore guard RJ Davis (4) to the basket in the Dean Smith Center during the UNC men’s basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. Duke won 87-67.

Nobody likes to lose — especially to Duke.

For most seniors, the UNC-Duke game is something we’ve looked forward to for the last couple of years. But, for the class of 2022, we’ve learned not to get our hopes up.

It’s fitting that this transition for UNC basketball is happening now. In one of the most tumultuous four years in UNC’s history, the University has experienced the reckoning of Silent Sam, sexual assault lawsuits and a global pandemic. It’s not really a surprise that UNC basketball had one of its statistically worst seasons ever in 2020-2021, a head coach switch and a blowout loss to Duke during that same time span.

It’s more than just a coaching transition — it’s a change in the way Carolina Basketball is played. Any basketball fan could tell you that Roy Williams was known for preaching frontcourt rule. Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks, Tyler Zeller, Tyler Hansbrough, Day’Ron Sharpe — the list goes on. Dominating the paint and controlling the post was simply a trademark.

And maybe he had a point. 

When you rely on hitting jump shots and three-pointers, you play a dangerous game. When your main advantage in the post has two fouls in the first five minutes of the game, it becomes even more treacherous.

Leaving out Brady Manek, one of the few highlights of the game, UNC shot 25 percent from the three-point line. R.J. Davis and Caleb Love, UNC’s leading guards, combined to shoot 12.5 percent on three-pointers and a mere 33 percent from the field goal range.

Another point of transition: bench play. With all of the starters racking up over 30 minutes of playing time, it’s past time Davis looked to his bench — starting with Walton, Johnson and Dunn.

However, it’s also easy to forget that this ranked Duke team is – no other way to say it – very good. First-years Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin combined for 40 points, and Mark Williams was an immense force in the paint. Add Wendell Moore Jr. and Jeremy Roach to the mix, and you have a pretty nasty force for UNC to compete with. The team was ranked ninth in the nation coming into the matchup — and they had every reason to be.

But aside from the last couple of years, it's not like there weren’t bright spots for UNC Basketball. Beating Duke twice during Roy Williams’ last season as head coach. Producing impactful rookies for the NBA. Ending Coach K’s career with a losing record in the Dean Dome. 

And the blowout losses that Davis has dealt with didn't go unexpected. Nearly all of those came from coaches with over 700 wins — Coach K, John Calipari and Rick Barnes. Hubert Davis hasn’t had the same kind of experience, especially in a rivalry game like this one. Things like playing style, calling timeouts and using substitutions are things that can only be learned with experience — exactly what he’s gaining now.

However, the discussion on social media platforms name-calling players or firing coaches is simply unacceptable. Yes, maybe some of it is warranted, and when athletes make mistakes in a high-profile game, it’s easy to get angry. But at the end of the day, it’s still just basketball. 

So, let’s cut them some slack, let them learn the hard way and keep our eyes set on the next game.


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