Does everyone remember two weeks ago?
The Heels woke on a Thursday morning having lost to Duke in Chapel Hill. Ty Lawson was injured and no one knew if he would return for the Clemson game. Duke was being hailed as the cream of the ACC crop while the Heels found themselves two games behind in second and staring at an angry Tiger team looking to break the long losing streak in Chapel Hill. On that Sunday, without Lawson, UNC came out flat versus Clemson and found themselves in position to lose to the Tigers in Chapel Hill for the first time ever. In those final three minutes of regulation and into the overtime it would seem these Heels found themselves. The shots that had not been falling starting dropping in and the defense seemed to pick up a little steam. Quentin Thomas started running the offense with confidence and the Heels rallied for the win.
A tired and wounded Tar Heel team when to Charlottesville to escape with the win over Virginia but when Virginia Tech came calling this past Saturday what had started during the waning minutes of the Clemson game manifested itself in full. This UNC team started to come together. Players stepped into the spotlight and performed. Wayne Ellington became the deadly scorer we had seen earlier in the season and QT had the offense clicking in a way not seen since Ty Lawson shredded Boston College. Even Marcus Ginyard has embraced the offensive side of his game and is hitting key buckets. Deon Thompson is still hobbled and Danny Green looks a little off his game but for the most part UNC is getting better at every position of the floor as well as on defense. In fact the Roy Williams postgame remarks of late make a few references to defensive lapses but aside from that it is clear Roy is obviously happy with that he is seeing. Last night in Raleigh this trend continues and after 14 days and four games this UNC team may have turned the corner.
Two weeks ago Duke was being hailed as possibly the best team in the country behind Memphis. They had dominated UNC in Chapel Hill and seemingly had an offense which was extremely troublesome to counter. Their defense was top notch and despite the lack of a true inside presence Duke had become a serious threat to win the ACC and go to the Final Four. While questions abounded in Chapel Hill and doubts were manifest, Duke was riding a wave of winning which had carried them to the top of the ACC and they were all but given the #1 seed in the East Regional with it’s coveted Raleigh-Charlotte track to San Antonio. Duke came out a little rough versus Boston College but answered the bell in a tough game versus Maryland. Then all of sudden, Wake Forest solves the Duke offense and beats the Devils by 13. The schedule takes a arduous turn sending Duke to Miami where the Hurricanes smack them in the mouth for 30 plus minutes before besting the Devils in a game they tried their darnedest to give away. Duke, which may have been simply playing above themselves for the first three months of the season, now find themselves staring at a losing streak and wondering if their previously untouchable offense have been exposed.
In a span of two weeks, UNC fans went from the doubts and worries associated with having all our expectations crushed by injuries and poor play to watching a team transform into the Tar Heel unit we thought they were all along. Of course there is still a long road to walk here and the biggest question the Heels might be facing now is getting Ty Lawson and Deon Thompson back to full health and fully integrating them into this fairly cohesive unit that has formed. There is clear evidence these players are doing a much better job playing as a team on both ends of the floor. The challenge for Roy is to bring Lawson back in and add all those indispensable traits he has into the mix to elevate the play yet another notch. It would appear during this stretch of games UNC has begun to answer the doubts about their defense and also has found a solid backup at PG in QT. Chemistry on the court is a funny thing and it could be delicate business bringing Lawson back in while trying to maintain the high level of play UNC has enjoyed in two straight games. This is not to say there will be attitude problems but rather making sure everyone is able to keep doing what they have been doing only with the addition of arguably the nation’s fastest point guard running the show. It might take 2-3 games for the adjustment but I have little doubt this team can raise their game yet again.
The funny thing about all of this is how we get so intensely drawn into every tidbit that we sometimes forget the season is a long body of work that is not always very pretty. This is the life of the die hard fan who rides the highs and lows with a team. The instant media age, message boards and bloggers are part and parcel to our focused worrying about our favorite teams and then we wake up after a span of two weeks and realize we were probably worrying for nothing. No one is handing out in trophies and UNC still has plenty of work to do, but I am definitely more optimistic than I was a fortnight ago.