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Monday, March 19, 2018

The Curtain Falls on a Golden Age of Carolina Basketball

Posted by on Mon, Mar 19, 2018 at 3:02 PM

What was this season, I wonder? Was Carolina’s drubbing at the hands of a much less talented but far more physical Texas A&M team an anomaly? Perhaps it was closer to the norm.


Did Carolina punch far above their weight as the season wound down, or did they underachieve in a handful of winnable games? Was a second-round exit apropos? Should these Heels have gone much further? Did anyone really expect another Final Four run out of this squad?


All of these questions no doubt will be discussed to death over beers at Topo and plates of home fries at Sutton’s as spring turns into summer, summer to fall, and fall into next year’s basketball season.


But as we awake this morning, emerging from the pall of the Heels’ second-round loss, there are two certainties: Carolina’s basketball season has ended. And Joel Berry and Theo Pinson will never again play Tar Heel ball.


A deep drive in this year’s men’s basketball tournament was hardly assured. Though Carolina was a two-seed, owing in large part to the fact that they played the toughest schedule in the nation, they were a season-long herky-jerky squad whose highs were interrupted by unsettling and uncharacteristic lows. Dramatic wins were followed by inexplicable losses, and the Heels regularly played down to their opponents. That Carolina would be bounced early was a decent bet.


But Roy Williams knows how to play tournament basketball as few others do (Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, and Coach K spring to mind), and the thought of another deep tournament run was hardly out of the question. All Carolina had to do was make their shots.


Make their shots and they could handle A&M’s inside dominance. Make their shots and they could control the tempo. Make their shots and they had a chance to move on, to play another day.


Sadly, they did quite the opposite, shooting six for thirty-one from three, twenty-six for seventy-eight from the field. Shooting 33 percent won’t win you many games, certainly not when the opponent has two future NBA talents playing in the paint.


Carolina’s most glaring flaw—their lack of inside play—was exploited worse than it had been all season. Coupled with their miserable shooting, the Heels had no chance last night and now have no future in the 2018 tournament.


The saddest part for Heels fans no doubt had to be the final bows for the beloved duo of Theo Pinson and Joel Berry. Watching them come off the court for the final time was wrenching, a feeling made worse as the team went out with a whimper.


Going out on top is no doubt the ultimate goal, but most athletes would rather lose a fight than stumble out after a beatdown.


As staples of what could be considered one of the most successful eras of Tar Heel basketball, Theo and Berry deserved more from this tournament than an unceremonious drubbing on what could ostensibly be considered a home court.


That they’ll leave Chapel Hill with a National Championship, two Final Fours, three Sweet Sixteens, two ACC regular season championships, and one ACC tournament championship notwithstanding, a twenty-one-point loss to a quantifiably lesser team in their home state will leave a sour taste in everyone’s mouth until the Heels tip off at the Smith Center again this fall.


That is when we’ll watch the talking heads on the Dean Dome’s video screens, the gathered crowd roaring with sentimental approval, as Theo and Berry remind us of the collective accolades of Carolina’s legendary program. There they’ll appear alongside Antwan and Paige, Kenny Smith and Harrison Barnes and, of course, Michael himself, reminding us that This. Is. Carolina Basketball.


Memories will flood the Smith Center, cheers will echo from the light blue rafters, and by then, I promise, almost everyone will have mostly forgotten about the brutal beatdown on a March Sunday at the hands of Texas A&M.


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