Tommy: Now or Never

Now that Carolina has successfully participated in the annual "Save A State Coach's Job," the Tar Heels are behind the proverbial eight ball for the remainder of the season when it comes to postseason possibilities. Heading into tonight's game at Georgia Tech, the Heels already hold seven L's with a minimum of 13 games left in pre-NIT/NCAA season.

Despite what some "experts" believe, you do not have to be a former player or coach to understand the game of basketball. Boiled down and free of complexities, the outcome of a game hinges on one thing. Matchups. You either match up or you don't. If the match up is in your favor, play your game and win. If you don't match up, you'd better play way up to stand a chance. That idea holds true from the youth leagues to the pros and, as the great teachers of the game fade away, will increase in significance as years go by.

More so than in recent memory, this Carolina team falls in line with that theory. Since the 5-0 start and throwing out the Iona fluke, only three games have gone against the matchup theory. Unfortunately, two (Miami, NC State) of those three (UConn) were Tar Heel losses.

Granted, both losses were on the road in unkind environments, but with a trip to the NCAA's "Bubbleville" on the horizon, losing both games inflicted a potentially fatal wound to Carolina's aspirations for late March. While I've previously discussed Carolina's "fine line" in terms of wins/losses, as it stands now, that fine line has evaporated forcing the Heels to run a gauntlet on its March (to) Madness with little or no room for a slip up.

Four of the remaining games come against teams with the interior presence coupled with a system to take advantage of that presence. Maryland, Virginia and Wake Forest are simply going to give Carolina fits until the coaching staff solves the interior problems. The return of Sean May will help, but even with May, big teams handled the Heels with relative ease – see Illinois/Kentucky.

Carolina also travels to Clemson and to Duke. While Carolina matches up well with both, Clemson has proven once this season they can push the Heels to the limit while the light blue success in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium enjoyed under Dean Smith has evaporated since the legend retired (1-4 since 1998).

The future is now. Tonight's game against the Yellow Jackets is simply huge. Yes Tech is 8-0 at home. Yes they are loaded with talent and yes, they have a solid coaching staff. But Tech, like Carolina, suffers from inconsistency that will jeopardize its postseason hopes. The Tar Heels must seize the momentum early and avoid a season long slew of problems (scoring droughts being public enemy #1) that have hurt Carolina thus far. A win at Tech will do wonders for the Tar Heel psyche. Get that win and the NCAAs are likely.


Should Carolina rack up seven more losses this season, in this writer's opinion, the Heels can forget the NCAA Tournament. If that is the case, the omission would be justified. 17-14 teams have no place going to the Big Dance especially when they do so at the expense of a "lesser name" school boasting a gaudy 26-5 or similar record. Quality wins, stronger schedule or whatever. It's hogwash. If the Heels finished with a 17-14 overall record, that would include a 7-9 conference finish (with a loss in the first round of the ACC Tourney). Losing records in conference play should not cut it with the selection committee – (unless, of course, that team won its conference title). Not even for a team with "North Carolina" across the jersey.

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