Maybe We Should All Relax

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Defense and Enjoy the Season at Hand

Commenter TxTarheel raised a salient point in the Miami postgame write-up:

Had a random thought today that UNC fans can be an “in-grateful” lot (myself included)…largely based on another’s response to the win (”yeah but…”) All this team has done thus far in the season is go 19-1 and thus far remain undefeated on the road. I don’t care who they play non-conference, but wins at Clemson, GT and Miami all signal something that might be overlooked, in spite of their defensive shortfalls.

This comment got me thinking and I have concluded UNC fans do not seem to be having very much fun right now.  Despite the team being 19-1 and off to one of the best starts in recent memory, Tar Heel fans in general are exceptionally uneasy.  Speaking for myself, I know I came into this season expecting to be in contention for a national title and because of that expectation various bumps in the road get magnified beyond belief.  Some of that can be blamed on the instant media age were issues get discussed ad naseum 24/7.  I readily confess I have been wholly complicit in banging the drum of negativity about this team’s glaring defensive weaknesses.  And because I have been so focused on what could happen in March I have spent almost every game pouring over each and every defensive possession like an archaealogist picking through broken pottery on a dig site trying to see if every little tidbit can somehow give me an insight into what might happen come March.

Take Wednesday night for example.  UNC wins the game on the road by 16 and my own postgame analysis included more hand wringing over the defense that it did exuberance over a big win or the fact that Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson played exceptional games.  I find myself getting frustrated and hung up on every made shot by an opponent as though the end is nigh because UNC gave up 82 points to Miami.  I can honestly say, I am not having very much fun right now.  And this is not to say that I should not blog about the issues or go into denial about the defense.  The sticking point lies in the fact that many of us are projecting the performance of this team now, especially on defense, into March and declaring the world will end.  The truth is we have no idea what this team will look like in March or who UNC will end up playing in the tournament.  None of us knows that the seeding will be, who the matchups will be against or if we will even run across a team that is capable of exploiting our weaknesses.  And for all we know, the defense might be up to snuff by that time.  It just seems we are not stopping to smell the roses because we have convinced ourselves(and listened to the Chicken Little pundits in the media who get paid to stir the pot) that UNC’s season is doomed.

Look at it this way.  If I polled UNC fans right now and asked them what they thought about the 2005-06 Tar Heel team I am fairly certain I would get many people tell me that was one of their favorite teams of all time.  That team came in with a sparsely played senior in David Noel and a group of freshman with only one player, Tyler Hansbrough, that anyone knew anything about.  We all expected the worst but coming off the joy of the national title we were willing to live with it.  As it turns out that team was fun to watch.  Yes they were young and early on they had some tough losses but I recall Roy Williams saying multiple times that the 05-06 Heels were one of the best groups he has ever coached and he was having a lot of fun.  And he was right.  After a few losses that team reeled off a nice win streak with a beatdown of NC State in Raleigh at a time Wolfpack fans thought they had our number.  David Noel’s senior night was a 45 point thrashing of UVa which was a joy to watch and then came the crowning moment, beating JJ Redick and Shelden Williams on their senior night in Cameron.  Yes, the magic ended with a loss to Boston College in the ACC Semifinals followed by a struggle against Murray State and the eventual loss to George Mason.  Obviously when the day was done we felt the Heels could have gone further but does anyone believe that takes away from the fun we had watching that team play, especially during the latter half of the season?

My great-great grandfather is quoted by Mama as saying, “What will be, will be.”  There is nothing we can do to change future outcomes.  As fans we are going to speculate and as a blogger I am going to continue to talk about the deficiencies on this team and hope for improvements.  Being a Tar Heel fan is tough in that we always carry high expectations almost every season and when things do not seem to be breaking that way we feel shorted in a way.  That being said, this Tar Heel team has a talented bunch of players on the roster.  We are currently watching a great season by the current favorite for national POY in Tyler Hansbrough.  You have Ty Lawson is fast enough to almost strip paint of the floor and does some insane things on the court.  Wayne Ellington is a bona fide scorer, Danny Green is a jack of all trades and Marcus Ginyard plays solid defense while occasionally throwing down the athletic dunk.  Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson are going through growing pains but showing some good signs and Quentin Thomas is making every effort to make his final season a good one.  And on top of that we have arguably one of the best coaches in the game right now calling the shots.

So in many respects TxTarheel is correct.  Our gratitude has been a little lacking.  It is fine to keep one eye on the big prize but for the most part I know I have done so at the expense of the present joys of winning.  I think we all need to strike a balance between addressing the negative issues and embracing the positive aspects of the season.  These things will work themselves out and if they don’t, so be it. It will not be the first time UNC has come up short and it will not be the last.

The least we can do is enjoy the good stuff when it is happening.

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34 Responses to Maybe We Should All Relax

  1. DG4heels says:

    This is one of the best pieces I’ve seen. Nice work.

    I believe that we as Tar Heel fans are spoiled a bit, in that we have a quality team year after year, and we have grown to expect a very high level of success. We seem to demand perfection, and pull our collective hair out when that does not happen. Perhaps that’s why 2005-06 was so much fun – we had a very refreshing change. We had an entire year to sit back, enjoy what we watched, and not waste time or negative energy dissecting every movement on the floor. It was, dare I say it, a relief.

    This current team is worlds better than that team. As THF and TxTarheel mentioned, we have some amazing players doing some nasty things on the court. In the case of Tyler Hansbrough, we may be watching the best big man to ever play in a Carolina uniform. It is amazing to me how expectations (and the drama-thirsty media) can shift our perspective and make our better teams LESS enjoyable than the average ones.

    To take it one step further, look at it from the players’ perspective. How would you feel if you played very well, won a game by 16 on the road, and were criticized for it as if you lost by 25? Now, multiply that by 30 games, and remember that these guys are between 18 and 21 years old. It is a difficult situation to play in, and I’m very proud of what these guys have accomplished.

    I wish that everyone (especially me) could keep this in mind while watching a game, and enjoy the great teams like we do the over-achieving ones. Expectations and pressure suck. They will never go away, but we can at least enjoy the show!

  2. william says:

    Didn’t I say something a little bit like this, yesterday? To me, the main reason why this team is getting “dissed” compared to the 2005 team is because this team does not play ” beautiful basketball” to quite the same extent as that team did.

    One of my favorite games to watch from 2005 is our game against Wake Forest. Yes, we lost and the refereeing was horrible, but that game was just a glorious affair between two teams that really shone offensively. Another is the second half of the MSU where the Heels were simply luminous. Remember Seth Davis, saying about that team, “you simply cannot run with Carolina.” I don’t think people feel the same way about this current group.

    When the 2005 squad won by twenty or more points, they seemed to do it with style, looking invincible. When this year’s team does it, as against NC State, it appears to be more a case of the other team not playing well.

    The fact is that not every team is glorious to watch. I think the 1982 and 2005 teams have an inherent way of looking good on the court. This team lacks that for some reason. This year’s team may be averaging more than in 2005 and Ty probably has a better A/TO ratio than Felton did that year, but somehow the team just does not seem to run the break quite as well.

    None of this means that this team cannot win it all. So much of it is sheer luck. Look at Duke. Two of its three titles came from what were more or less average squads for K, in 1991 and 2001, compared to teams like the 1986, 1998, 1999 or 2002-2004 teams. Duke’s 1999 team may have been the greatest team of all time but it was the vastly inferior 2001, which didn’t even win the regular season title and which appeared worse than Maryland, that won it all.

  3. Tar Heel Fan says:

    I agree that another problem is the feel like there is something missing. There is a lack of consistency or so it seems. I envisioned this team playing at a certain level and it has not really looked that way except for the first half against NCSU and even then the offense was not tremendous for the first 10 minutes. I think the time has come to throw all that out and take it one game at a time. If they win, enjoy the win with less of the woe is us we won but we still are doing X,Y and Z wrong.

  4. william says:

    The Heels are approaching wonderous at the free throw line, especially in ACC competition where they are hitting 85%. That could be big.

    The outside shooting is a disappointment. It is easy to forget this because he improved so much his junior season, but Ray Felton led the ACC in 3-point field goal percentage in 2005 and McCants was third in the league. Carolina as a team made about 40% from the three point stripe that year, something that was huge, especially in the Illinois and Wisconsin games. You could not pack in against Sean May, because, Felton, McCants and Williams would burn you from outside. This current team simply is run of the mill, at best, from outside and it is clear that opponents are willing to give us the 3.

  5. 52BigGameJames says:

    I like the new-look tapered jerseys.

  6. robuck says:

    One word describes the problem – EXPECTATIONS.

    To boil it down – Carolina fans suffered from the entitlement disease – being so good for so long actually numbs the experience of the game itself. We expected to win, so aside from a marquee matchup, we were casual about showing up at the Dean Dome on time, about cheering loud for the whole contest, etc.

    Then 8-20 happens. Shock to the system. We didn’t know HOW to react, as this had never happened to us in our lifetimes (for a lot of us, anyways).

    Turns out that the 8-20 season did our fan base a lot of good. We remembered what it was like to truly care about the Heels again – even thinking “Hey, if I show up early and cheer really loud the whole game, it MIGHT have an impact.” Along those lines, we didn’t take anyone for granted anymore.

    Does anyone else remember how GREAT it felt to pull for the Heels from 2003-2006? None of the expectation stuff, just pure, unadulterated fandom? We wanted the Heels to win, and we knew that there were no guarantees, so we cheered our butts off each and every game like it was the last one we would ever get to watch.

    That’s what everyone loves about the 2006 team – we were allowed to cheer for a team with no expectations, and we won anyway.

    This season we’re back to the same old stuff from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s – we’re good, everyone knows we’re good, so we can’t enjoy the ride. We have to find the flaws that we believe will keep us from winning the National Championship.

    We can’t enjoy watching this team try to become the highest scoring team in school history (we have to score 90 a game b/c we don’t play defense). We can’t watch the junior year of possibly the greatest big man ever to play at Carolina (he’s a stiff, he can’t defend, does he have to commit offensive fouls on every possession to score?). We can’t focus on a point guard who, if players still got decent nicknames, would be given something as close to or better than The Jet (why can’t he play defense all the time?).

    And to be sure, I’m guilty of all the above. But I think that starting with BC next week, I’m going to just try to enjoy each game as it is played. Just watch 40 minutes of ball and see what the Heels can do. And maybe, just MAYBE, I’ll still be saying the same thing the first weekend of April. Let’s hope it works.

  7. Tar Heel Fan says:

    william,

    Ah the outside shooting. Anyone remember when THAT was seen as the potential fatal flaw? Turns out to not be as bad as we thought at 37% and I supposed you could argue it hurt UNC in the MD game but some improvement there would be helpful as well.

    robuck,

    Well said.

  8. Chris says:

    This is all called “becoming philosophic” when things don’t go quite our way. We have a right to high expectations from such a talented lineup and such a good coach. Yes we’re 19-1 but it could easily be 3 losses, and we’ve certainly had some bad perfor-
    mances against mediocre teams. I agree with all that is said above, we’ve just got to sit back and accept what we’ve got……..although I wish I were feeling like the Duke fans are now where the coach and his team are playing as hard and as well as they possibly can. Another can of worms to open is the topic of best big man to ever play at Carolina………There is no way that I could ever be critical of Tyler, but as far as NBA potential is concerned, the answer is no; as far as college big man is concerned I would say possibly.

  9. Tar Heel alum and fan says:

    Dan Wetzel’s excellent column on Ty Lawson in Yahoo Sports online says it well:

    He says he knows Carolina can be really good, championship good. But they are not so good that there is a significant margin for error. Points aren’t a problem, but the defense can be spotty and the outside shooting streaky. Williams still is trying to find a consistent eighth man (obviously, the Heels’ problems are of the nitpick variety).

  10. RT says:

    While I know I won’t be able to stop the “hand wringing” that takes place the day after a game, this piece helped me realize how much joy I feel just watching this team go up and down the floor. They’re a great group of guys and deserve to be successful. I’ll continue to hope that they will be, but I won’t let the dread of an early exit in March ruin the experience of watching them compete every night. Keep up the good work.

  11. TxTarheel says:

    I’m no plagiarist; I’ll gladly share any undue credit for my singular deep thought this week. This should not be a joyless task for anyone: fans, coaches, or players. If you want joyless listen to the locals on sports radio here…only 6-7 months of loathing to endure until Cowboys start again.

  12. edgarpage says:

    The only thing joyless is 6 days until BC, 9 days until the Super Bowl and 12 days until National Signing Day. The agony!

  13. Bob Bryant says:

    Enjoy the season. Have fun with it. Check out my Tyler Hansborough cartoon at my website…www.xsandohs.com.

    Remember, Vitale will be back for the Dukies…slam, bam, wham…excitement city. Enjoy the momment (like the Giants fans) instead of fearing the expectation (like the Pats fans).

  14. Josh Bowling says:

    I am only 34 years of age, but Hansbrough is probably the best big man I have seen since Ralph Sampson was at UVA. But I don’t recall Sampson having that aggression that Hansbrough had, he was just able to put the ball in the hole. This is a good team, but I know that all of those players are capable of greatness, and have displayed that a lot in each of their tenures here, and I want to see them achieve that in March so they can be justly awarded, but I know it will take some more work. I know that a lot of us here think that Hansbrough might not be so good in the NBA, but I am convinced that we may under-estimate what NBA teams need. The NBA is full of 6’10 & 7 footers that can score outside. That is not what NBA teams need. NBA teams need men that can do dirty work in the post. Why do you think guys like Chris Bosh, Ben Wallace, Al Jefferson, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Samuel Dalembert, Eudonis Haslem, Mark Madsen and Kurt Thomas have been so effective while so many that are taller are out there? While 7 footers are content shooting jump shots, they (although slightly smaller) are beasting in the paint. Hansbrough will be fine in the pro ranks. Remember he is a big strong guy that runs the floor with the best of ’em. Hell, the way he gets hit and banged around so much, this IS like the nba to him.

  15. Josh Bowling says:

    Sorry to hijack post, but I would love to see Antawn Jamison finally get some respect. He is undervalued from a commercial standpoint. His numbers rival that of NBA all-stars year in and year out. Search the nba site and you will see that his numbers during his NBA tenure are equivalent to that of players such as Bernard King, Kevin McHale, Todd Chamber, and other highly respected former NBA players. I wonder if Jamison will be remembered after he is retired?

  16. Chris says:

    Carolina Power forwards/Centers better than Tyler, in my humble opinion:

    Bob McAdoo
    Brad Daugherty
    Mitch Kupchak
    Rasheed Wallace
    Antawn Jamison
    (Marvin Williams)
    (Brandan Wright)

  17. Josh Bowling says:

    I would take Bob McAdoo, Brad Daugherty and Mitch Kupchak. All of these are great players. It is hard for me to say who is better because they all played with different players in a different era. I would rather have Tyler than the last two you mentioned, although it is hard to say that given Marvin Williams was key to us winning the title, but then again, different cast altogether with him. Nice for us to be able to have a discussion like this given all of that talent we had/have.

  18. geof says:

    I think Antawn’s silly spelling has hurt his legacy.

    – Geof

  19. Josh Bowling says:

    Hopefully we have yet to see the greatest big man ever to play at UNC. Given my youth (34), Tyler is the best I have seen since Ralph Sampson.

  20. Josh Bowling says:

    Duke’s very own Alla Abdelnaby has a good legacy with an awkward name.

  21. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Do you know the story of Antawn Jamison’s name? The hospital misspelled it on the birth certificate and his parents decided to keep it but pronounce it the way it should be spelled.

    What’s sad is announcers always correctly pronounced his name but still have not gotten Hansbrough’s right.

  22. Josh Bowling says:

    Same with Matt Doherty. They always said Doughtery. It seems simple to me, Hansbrough not Hansborough.

  23. 52BigGameJames says:

    geez: I don’t get a vote? yer on crack Chris!

  24. DG4heels says:

    Three quick points:

    1. I would add James Worthy’s name to the list of best big men to play at UNC. He was indeed Big Game James. He was clutch.

    2. I’m not sure that it’s possible to crown one big man the best of all, simply because the game keeps changing along with personnel, coaching and so on. McAdoo, Worthy, Jamison, Daugherty, Kupchak and Wallace all played amazing ball while at UNC. The reason that I lean towards Tyler as being better is the fact that he is the focus of the team. As great as the other guys were, they played a team-first philosophy with multiple scorers: Worthy had Perkins & Jordan, Jamison had Carter, Wallace had Stackhouse, Daugherty had Jordan/Perkins/Kenny Smith/Steve Hale. No disrespect for Lawson, Ellington and the rest of our current team, but Tyler is the priority in every game.

    3. When his jersey is retired, I think they should stain it with blood before they hang it up in the Dome. That would be awesome.

  25. DG4heels says:

    Nice, 52! You posted that while I was casting your vote!

  26. william says:

    McAdoo only played one year and that was before me.

    I would say that Hansbrough is right up there in terms of offensive and rebounding skills with Sean May and Mitch Kupchak and ahead of Daugherty due to Tyler’s extra intensity. Montross would be there for his Junior year. Bobby Jones may have been the best all around big man, but Billy Cunningham is probably the best center and player Carolina (both the Heels and the Cougars) ever had and probably the second best professional player North Carolina ever had, ahead of James Worthy.

    He also is the professional coach among coaches with NBA titles who has the highest winning percentage of all time.

  27. Tar Heel Fan says:

    I am always one to think you cannot really have this conversation until he is either done with his career or he brings in the records/hardware other guys have brought in. That being said, what would you say about him IF he does the following:

    -Breaks Ford scoring mark and threatens or eclipses Redick’s ACC mark.

    -Wins a national POY award

    -Leads the Heels to a national title and collects a FF MOP in the process.

  28. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Oh I forgot to add that if his current rebounding rate holds for this season and he returns for his senior season he will break Sam Perkins rebounding mark as well.

  29. 52BigGameJames says:

    great points all–the Kangaroo kid and Bobby Jones certainly need to be included/elevated, but I would guess Rosenbluth would have something to say too. I would add Lynch to that group also. Tyler has been a downhill snowball of positive surprises. He made a true believer out of me with his freshman stand against Shelden Williams, who if you recall, was eating opposing centers alive at that time. And he has continued to improve and surprise. He certainly makes my “all-will” team along with Worthy, Karl, Lynch, Ford, Scott, and Kuester.

  30. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Not to mention Shelden Williams was the two time ACC DPOY and everyone talked about how great his defense was. Sean May thought otherwise and so did Tyler.

  31. 52BigGameJames says:

    lol-I haven’t seen that–thanks THF—“frame-worthy”!

  32. TxTarheel says:

    That is a great pic!. Any discussion should perhaps meet a minimum level to qualify: integral part of leading team to at least 1 final four, spend a min 2 years at UNC. The 2 year minimum’s tricky, I realize, and McAdoo played when i was 2 or 3 – anything before the ’81 team I don’t recall well. My unofficial listing in no certain order

    – Worthy led that team to consecutive appearances in the FINAL
    – Jamison helped lead those teams to consecutive visits to the Final 4
    – Lynch, while not statistically spectacular, was key on that ’93 team (and ok, donald williams didn’t hurt the cause either)
    – Sheed helped lead that team to a final 4 trip in ’95

    Marvin Williams and B Wright both very good in their single year…one year does not a career make IMHO. Title in ’05 gives a nod to Marvin though. It’s pressure from the hangers-on, but Tyler has to get this team to San Antonio or this point, unfortunately, falls short of others mentioned

  33. Chris says:

    I would agree with adding Billy Cunningham and Bobby Jones to the list…….they played when I lived up North……..I think as noted above we’re comparing apples to oranges…………Tyler is one hell of a college player, will have a good but not spectacular NBA career. That’s one reason why he’s hung around………….

  34. Jack says:

    This was a good post. lest we forget, the 2005 team lost to GA Tech in the second round of the ACC playing miserable defense! Who believed at that time that we would win the NC?

    Or how about the 2000 team who waited until the Tourney to play D? Rode to the final 4!

    Or for low expectations, how about when Wallace and Stackhouse left and the cupboard was bare with Serge as our returning big! What a great team that turned out t be to watch!

    Yes, we have great talent, but our guards are young and still have bad habits. As good as Raymond was, we lost a lot of close games when ehe was a freshman and sophomore that we won in 2005 and like Ty a streaky shooter from the 3. The expectations on this team are too high and next year is legitimately our year with only losing Q and gaining Larry Drew, Ed Davis and Zeller. The problem is that everyone assumes Ty is gone which would be a shame. As good as he is, he could use another year to become a better defender and decisionmakr so he could star in the NBA instead of just play at the next level. He is good, but not yeat great. In 2005, we hoped Ray would come down and drain a three; not before. This year it is the same with Ty. And Wayne will be much better each year he stays. He has a sweet stroke, but has trouble when he is off balance.

    The pundits and the threat of NBA defections has driven us to think “this is the year!”

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