After starting out 1-4 in ACC play, the Tar Heels found themselves on a 12 game winning streak from January 26th to March 3rd. That is a long time to go without losing a basketball game- just look at James Michael McAdoo’s beard in the Duke game as evidence.
However, the Tar Heels aren’t doing so hot as of late. After back to back losses to Duke in Cameron and to Pittsburgh at the ACC tournament, the Heels have done a complete 180 in terms of their level of confidence and intensity that they had during the streak.
This latest struggle has also come at the worst possible time, with the NCAA tournament selection committee releasing the bracket tomorrow night. Had the tournament started a couple weeks ago, while UNC was riding high on a wave of confidence and swagger during the winning streak, I would have given Carolina as good a shot as anyone to reach the Final Four. Now, UNC has to go back to square one, reset and try and find a way to right the ship just days before the NCAA tournament begins.
One of the only good things about having a losing streak this late in the season is your team has probably gone through a similar stretch before. The Tar Heels have only had a losing streak once this season, from January 5th to 11th at the start of the new year. After three straight losses to start ACC play, Carolina found a win against Boston College but came back days later and lost a tough game to Virginia up in Charlottesville. That made four losses in five games for the Tar Heels, and the next game against Clemson ended up being a turning point in the ACC season for Carolina.
UNC came out with a sense of urgency against the Tigers, a sense that was only felt in brief flashes in the early parts of the season in wins against Kentucky, MSU and Louisville. It was the sense of urgency and effort that propelled the Heels over the 12 game win streak. But just as that effort and urgency came with losses, it slowly died away with every additional win on the streak. The Heels were getting comfortable, getting complacent, and the level of play on the court was declining even while the wins kept coming.
After three straight wins against NC State, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame where the margin of victory hovered just above 2.5 points, the Tar Heels luck ran out. UNC was faced with a harsh serving of adversity after these last two losses to Duke and Pitt. But the season isn’t over; the Heels still control their destiny and still can make some real noise in the tournament.
In order to advance in the NCAA bracket and have a shot at a regional final or a Final Four appearance, UNC has to take these last two losses personal. They have to rediscover the sense of urgency that it took to win 12 straight games, bottle it up and unleash it in the second and third rounds of March Madness. Yes, these last two losses hurt a lot. But they might be just enough of a kick in the butt for the Tar Heels to up their effort and intensity in positive ways before the big dance.