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North Carolina loses to Duke, but it’s not all bad news for the Tar Heels

Feb 13, 2013, 11:40 PM EDT

North Carolina v Duke Getty Images

North Carolina fans aren’t accustomed to seeing their team rack up moral victories, and rightfully so. When you’re one of the nation’s most storied basketball programs, a team that has sent countless players to the NBA and has won two of the last seven national titles, looking for the bright side of a loss isn’t normal.

But this year’s version of the Tar Heels is not a normal North Carolina team.

They’re young. They’re still learning how to play. They don’t have stars in the spots where you normally expect North Carolina to have stars.

And thus, after watching the Tar Heels waste a double-digit first half lead against arch-nemesis Duke on the road, losing 73-68, I’m not walking away thinking that life in Chapel Hill is over.

The last time we saw North Carolina play, they were getting dominated by No. 3 Miami in Miami. The Hurricanes jumped out to an early lead, hitting 15 threes and throwing alley-oops off the back board en route to an 87-61 win in front of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It was, pure and simple, an embarrassment.

Wednesday wasn’t.

In fact, if the Tar Heels didn’t miss six straight free throws in the second half, this would have been a very different basketball game.

For what feels like the first time since they hosted UNLV back in December, North Carolina was active and aggressive on defense. They jumped out to a 28-18 lead on the Blue Devils not simply because of a hot shooting start, but because they played as tough a brand of basketball as we’ve seen this season. They forced turnovers, they got a hand in the face of shooters and they forced Mason Plumlee to catch the ball 16 feet away from the basket. They took the Blue Devils out of any rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.

It didn’t last, as Plumlee and Quinn Cook both combined for 18 points while Tyler Thornton’s hot-hand in the second half sparked the game-changing surge.

But then again, not many people even expected North Carolina to keep the game this close. Be honest: did you really think that the Heels would have a chance to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium before this game began?

There is some talent on the UNC roster. There aren’t a lot of great teams in the country this season. With the ACC in the midst of a down-season, there are plenty of games to be won in the ACC.

The Tar Heels still should make the NCAA tournament. They still have a chance to make some noise in March. And seeing them play this way should give some confidence — both to the fans, the players and the coaching staff — that this season can get better.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

  1. nawlinsmitty - Feb 14, 2013 at 1:16 AM

    The writer of this article must be a Carolina grad!!! Moral victory my $#%/!?!

    • showtime1911 - Feb 14, 2013 at 8:13 AM

      you don’t even deserve to respond to this article because you don’t even understand the depth of this argument. this team wasn’t even expected to be this close. Roy Williams finally got creative on this idea of coaching. let the upperclassmen lead.

      • hoosonfirst - Feb 14, 2013 at 8:37 AM

        Apparently, you too missed the entire point of the article which is that UNC has fallen so far that they weren’t “even expected to be this close.” In years past, they went into Cameron expecting to win.

  2. pintodw - Feb 14, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    Let’s be honest. NC is a disappointment. McAdoo is having a disappointing season and so is the team. There are no moral victories for NC basketball when you are hovering at .500 in the ACC in mid Feb. It’s just a bad year. Face it like a man.

    • LogicalConsideration - Feb 14, 2013 at 10:08 AM

      Let’s DO be honest. A “disappointment” is when you have a given expectation and fail to meet it. Example: A team predicted to make the Final Four that gets knocked out earlier. Example: A team that was predicted to make the NCAA tournament and goes 15-14. The thing about real Carolina fans is that, unlike fans of other programs, we are pretty good at looking very clear-eyed at our team. We look at the talent we have to start each season and make fairly accurate assessments of what the team is going to be like—we do NOT like to fool ourselves with pie in the sky thinking.

      Every Carolina fan that I know saw the pre-season rankings that put the Tarheels as No. 8 or 9 in the country and thought, “Are these people INSANE?!?!” With all talent and experience we lost after last season, we knew that we weren’t a Top 25 team, let alone a Top 10 one. It is a team that does have a good amount of inexperienced talent and so it does have the potential to be a Top 25 team by the end of the tournament, but that is all.

      The season has unfolded exactly as we expected. Struggle early as the young players gain experience and the older players struggle to fit in to new roles and expectations. Begin to show signs of improvement in late January. See what happens in February and March. We knew it was going to be a “bad” season by our standards and faced up to the reality. There is nothing wrong with talking about “moral victories” when what you are saying is “Even though we didn’t win, we can see the slow but steady improvement.” If that improvement keeps coming, the wins will come more and more often.

      We’ll still win 20+ games and probably make the NCAA tournament. Your team only WISHES that it could have that and it be called a “bad” season.

  3. gatordontplay - Feb 14, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    carolina played their best game last night in my opinion out played duke but free throws kilked them. finally we saw Carolina use the depth at the gaurd postion and spread the court out nice adjustment by roy. the games brings hope for the rest of the season

    • pintodw - Feb 14, 2013 at 10:35 AM

      Hope for mediocrity at best. Bad year.

      • dexterismyhero - Feb 14, 2013 at 12:44 PM

        And your team is? Nevermind, whit a name like pintodw we don’t want to know….

  4. lundy337 - Feb 14, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    I’m afraid there will be more of those disappointing bad years in the future…

    Did anyone notice how old both coaches looked last night? K at 66 looked better than Roy who is 3 years younger.
    How much longer does anyone expect these guys to keep coaching. I expect Duke to weather the transition of coaches better than UNC.

    Even John Wooden called it quits at 64-65?

  5. cobrawolf - Feb 14, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    N.C. fans thinking this is where there team should be, makes me glad that coach Williams left Kansas

    • lundy337 - Feb 14, 2013 at 5:16 PM

      Roy is just an average coach. Just my opinion, and that and $2 can get you a cup of joe.

      His M.O. Has been to outperform other teams on talent alone. No offense but he he couldn’t exactly do that at KU.

      However when presented with the ethically blind athletic dept. at UNC combined with the Jordan mystique he has thrived. I think that mystique is ending. Jordan is 50 now. Today’s recruits were 3-4 years old when he retired the second time? And even younger (if even born) with the last championship. In short order Nike and ESPN will move on and he will join the ranks of the following in the minds of recruits;
      Bill Russell
      Kareem A-J
      David Thompson

      Recruits will have to look him up on the Internet to know who he is…

      They are all about D. Wade and Lebron now.

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