Tommy: Carolina Pride

As I watched the Tar Heels scrap against a hungrier Wolfpack last night, I'm not sure what was worse. Watching the last possible Carolina Blue NCAA Tournament thread break or watching a NC State team that was hammered by powerhouses like UMass and Temple be the team that held the scissors.

As embarrassing as last weekend's trip to College Park turned out to be, Tuesday night's events could have wiped that memory away, or at least given hope to the masses that this team still had the fight to overcome adversity.

Back to the Maryland game. In honesty, it was a game I penciled in as a loss long ago. The Terps are simply too deep, big and good for this version of Carolina basketball and appear to have the horses to hold that advantage for years to come. But 40 points?!!m? From the time Carolina cut the margin to 47-40 early in the second half, the Steve Blake led Terps outscored the Heels 49-16. No doubt every reader of this column has seen that stat, but no matter how many times I look at that number, I am amazed. Maryland 49, Carolina 16. (I have little doubt I could pick up five to ten guys from the local Rec league, head to College Park and not lose by 40 and zero doubt my guys wouldn't get outscored 49-16 in just seventeen minutes of action. But I digress.)

Again, no matter how the Heels looked against the Terps, Tuesday night brought a fresh 40 minutes with a great opportunity to right the ship and get back on course to somehow salvage a NCAA bid. One word can describe the State game for the Carolina program. Huge.

Unfortunately, it didn't take much more than a minute of game time to pass before the sinking feeling set in. Right away, the "uh-oh" feeling washed in and the hand wringing began. In a game without equal in terms of importance for this season and in reality, this coaching staff, the Heels were flat, unfocused and simply sailing without a rudder.

Carolina has a talented basketball team. Name two players in the ACC you'd trade for Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants based purely on talent. Throw in Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel and David Noel and, while undersized, you have as talented and athletic a starting five that Carolina has ever had. When those five are given a game plan that fits their ability (see UVa in the Smith Center), the results are positive. Why that plan of attack isn't used night in and night out remains a mystery.

But talent alone doesn't win championships and when you throw 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids into the mayhem of the ACC, talent alone rarely wins games. The Carolina basketball team has proven that this year to the tune of four wins against nine losses in a conference overloaded with youth. What separates the winners from losers is the abilty of the coaching staff to swoop in, teach, motivate, build and rebuild confidence of the young players that populate college basketball. Quite frankly, with the exception of David Noel and to a lesser extent, Raymond Felton and Jawad Williams, I've seen very little any of the above duties being accomplished this season, at least as it pertains to on the court performance.

But give Herb Sendek's team credit. Twenty-two straight from the free throw line in a tight game is amazing and like him or not, Julius Hodge is a heckuva player. Sendek's team, while getting way too much help from the Heels at the foul line, managed to do just enough to win. One can only imagine how good the Pack could be if Sendek and staff could put together recruiting classes with the same effectiveness they have in putting their players in position to win.

With the young Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets coming to the Smith Center, the Heels again face a team with just one win on the road prior to the Chapel Hill visit. Can the Heels win Saturday and win out or win the ACC Tournament to accomplish the post season tournament goal? Sure they can. Crazier things have certainly happened in the ACC. Will they? Last week I outlined a plan for the Heels and concluded with what had to be done to fulfill the plan…

"The coaching staff's task at hand is simple, yet trying. Take what was gained from beating the Aggies, expand on the successful formula, and translate those positives into fuel for the stretch run. No room for even the slightest misstep. None. Daunting, yet doable."

Sadly for the Tar Heel fans starving for the success of old, or at least a glimmer of hope for the future, Coach Doherty and his staff have, thus far, failed miserably at that task. Sitting at 14-13 and in sole possession of eighth place in the ACC, the last three games, while not enough to make up for ‘what could have been,' certainly present an opportunity for the Heels to at least halt a third straight late February/March swoon. More importantly and perhaps paramount, with four straight losses to the Wolfpack secured, the program desperately needs wins against Tech, Wake Forest (three straight wins vs. UNC) and Duke (won 11 of last 12 vs. UNC) to restore some semblance of pride to the program so many hold dear.

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