Our feeling going into Monday night’s championship was that UNC’s depth would be a real problem and that Kansas was playing better than anyone else. We also thought that whoever won the Duke-UNC game would be at a disadvantage.
Those hunches were basically correct but not necessarily for the reasons we expected.
UNC had three ankle injuries during the game, all near the end, and Brady Manek took a couple of shots to the face that could have given him a concussion.
We never found out exactly what happened to Puff Johnson but he had to leave the game for a bit after possibly throwing up on the court. Either he got slugged as the announcers said they were told or he just played that hard.
It was that type of game.
Kansas looked like they might take UNC out early, but the Heels rallied and at the half it looked like a blowout was inevitable.
But KU started to run and to play harder and defending more aggressively and UNC, with the exceptions of Manek and Johnson, shot horribly.
Johnson was 5-9 and Manek 4-8. Otherwise, Leaky Black took just two shots, hitting one, RJ Davis was 5-17 and Caleb Love, who would shoot a rabbit during duck season if it meant he got to shoot, was an execrable 5-24. And Armando Bacot was just 3-13.
At least he had an excuse. Bacot was limping throughout the game after his injury against Duke and, we thought, showed a ton of heart. But he injured it again near the end and that was a real problem for the Heels who could no longer stop David McCormack. Love also came down funny on his in the second half which may have affected his last-second miss for UNC. Finally, Brady Manek appeared to injure his ankle on the final play.
All that is to say UNC showed immense heart because while Kansas surged in the second half, they couldn’t put away a team with a crippled big man and a bunch of guys who were clearly running out of gas and, by the end, dropping like flies.
It speaks to the remarkable job that Hubert Davis did with his team.
We don’t remember the game, and we might not remember the line right, but at one point, a Carolina fan was disgusted and yelled “c’mon Hubert!”
Everyone watching heard that clearly and it summed up UNC’s season to that point.
Davis didn’t lose his team though, even though he talked for a while as if he had. Remember when he questioned his team’s effort? When he said his team wasn’t very talented?
All of that changed. It’s one of the great coaching jobs in the ACC in recent years.
At one point we wondered if he was too nice a man for that job. Well, he proved us wrong there too.
All that said, while there is immense optimism about UNC after how this season ended, uncertainty will likely return quickly.
Manek is done. Bacot is going to have a lot of people telling him to leave now. He’s 22 and the whole idea is to earn while you can. Doesn’t mean he’ll do it but his draft odds won’t get much better. Leaky Black should have his bonus year, if he wants to take it, but he might want to get a move on too. He’ll be 23 in June and his only hope for the NBA is as a defensive specialist. He’s much more likely to play overseas and that means less career income.
No one knows for sure what will happen with Dawson Garcia and Anthony Harris, both of whom stepped away from the team for very different reasons this season. Kerwin Walton got buried on the bench just a few steps from the transfer portal. We’ll be really surprised if he’s back.
Dontrez Styles and D’Marco Dunn hardly played as freshmen. Will they return? And what of the two star guards? Will Caleb Love and RJ Davis try the NBA? Both had solid campaigns, particularly Davis, but neither is ready for the league.
Like everyone else, UNC has no idea what to expect from season to season, but no one knows how well Davis will do in the new recruiting era. Certainly UNC won’t want to play just six deep again.
However, if we were Carolina fans, this team would be one of our favorites. It had some serious issues to overcome and overcame them. By the end of the season, the Tar Heels played with an iron will that took everything that Kansas had to overcome.
Things like that don’t happen too often. Instead of focusing on the loss, we hope UNC fans will look at just how much that team accomplished. The analogy isn’t quite right but they have an awful lot in common with Rick Pitino’s Unforgettables at Kentucky. Whatever happens in the short term with player retention and recruiting, this season gives Davis something powerful to build on.