While last season was a mulligan of sorts, Carolina fans found themselves looking for proof positive that there was indeed a light at the end of the tunnel. Frankly, it didn't matter what kind of light, because whether it was the glory of old or an approaching locomotive, the answer to the question of who should continue leading the way would be apparent.
Tuesday night pretty much divided the camp into two groups, those who think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and those who think we're going to be in here for a long time. The people who think they see the light may, in fact be hallucinating. The people who can't would almost prefer the locomotive coming on through and clearing things out, believing that the short blast of pain is preferable to a lingering existence at in the dark periphery of the college basketball world – including but not limited to the postseason NIT.
It would seem that there is be a convincing case to be made for either perspective. A quick survey of any Carolina message board would lead one to believe that everybody is pretty well convinced of their own opinion. Further examination of the message boards leads me to believe that it's a good thing fans attending games are not required to wear nametags identifying their message board personas, as the Dean Dome might end up looking like a soccer match melee in the UK.
I have heard the rumors, sometimes from people I respect and trust, and they are disturbing. I also wonder how I would be evaluating the same team with the same coach and record if they were wearing anything but the words "North Carolina" on their chests. Would I see them as a team on the rise, making the best of bad circumstances and injuries? Or, would I look at some mental errors on the players' part, rumors of dissention and mistreatment, and questionable calls from the bench and conclude this program had gotten itself into a great deal of trouble?
I don't know, but I think the question is worth asking.
If you have made it this far into this column and are looking to see if I am going to make a pro-Doherty or an anti-Doherty statement, you are going to be disappointed. I will, however, make a pro-Carolina statement. I have watched the Heels my entire life, and I am sure that there are reasons beyond just the winning and losing which have to do with my pulling for the program. (Now would be a great time for all Carolina fans to take a hard look at Thad Williamson's book and consider some of the issues eloquently discussed therein.)
I simply hope that any evaluation of the direction of the program is based on whether the values that have come to be known as Carolina Basketball – integrity, loyalty, academic success, player development, on and off the court – are being well served. If they are not, then whatever action necessary should be taken to correct the situation. If these values are being upheld, I have every confidence that the wins and losses will certainly take care of themselves.
Mike McCracken is entering his sixth year as a columnist/reporter for Inside Carolina. He resides in Birmingham, Alabama, and strives to keep the faith despite being in the midst of the SEC.