Well, that did not go well.
This basically boiled down to Kansas playing exceptional defense and offense for the first 15 minutes of the game and during the same stretch UNC played about as bad as they could possibly play. As much as I am a firm believer in this Tar Heel team to do incredible things when back against a wall, dealing with a 28 point deficit against a fellow #1 seed is probably too much for them to handle. Given the fact UNC made up 24 points of that deficit you could argue anything over 25 points against a team like Kansas at any given moment in the game might be beyond the reach. And Roy said as much in his press conference pointing out that rallying versus Boston College or Clemson is one thing but Kansas quite another.
However, UNC did make an incredible run to come back and when they cut the lead to four it looked every bit like they were on the verge of seizing control of the game since Kansas players appeared to be on the verge of falling completely apart. Once again, credit goes to Kansas for not completely wetting the bed. The wheels did not completely come off but at least three of the lug nuts were missing before they regained their poise and finished the Heels off. That is really the difference. This is not the first time UNC has played horribly on defense and watched a team produce on offense putting UNC in a hole. In those instances the stage was smaller and the opposing team was not as good as a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There is also only so much you can muster. Rallying is difficult and even if you make it back, sometimes the energy is not there to do anything with it.
As for what went wrong, almost everything for most of the game. As I said, Kansas was part of the equation but the other part of it is that maddening tendency I alluded to earlier this week. UNC either shoots the ball well or completely goes to hell in a hand basket when it comes to making shots in a Final Four game. The numbers do not lie, UNC does not simply slip and shoot the ball a few percentage points worse but they drop off the cliff. This game like other Final Four matchups saw UNC drop from a season average around 50% into the 30% range. The three point shooting was even worse at around 20%. In this game the really nasty shooting came during most of the first half then was really good in the comeback followed by a return to the shooting from the beginning of the game. I will probably never understand what happens to UNC’s shooting in these national semifinal games. It has happened enough to make you wonder how or why and also experience extreme frustration when there is no answer to those queries.
In examining the specific areas, the fact UNC was outrebounded in this game robbed the Heels of some second chance points which tend to help the shooting numbers. The inside game was completely compromised despite 17 points from Tyler Hansbrough. Kansas on the other hand controlled everything that happened around the rim and that is not something UNC has dealt with all season with the exception being the games versus Clemson. To be honest the fact the Heels lost this game on the inside nothing short of a complete surprise to me. On the perimeter, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington did all they could, especially during that 15 minutes with UNC coming back to cut it to four. The major issue they had was the three pointers did not fall. In some situations there were opportunities to tip the game in further in UNC’s favor but the shots just did not fall. A few more threes, especially at given points in the game might have given UNC what it needed to assume the lead.
And I loathe to levy blame on any player in a game like this but Ty Lawson’s failure to run the offense or create offense using his speed is the most troublesome aspect of this game. Lawson only had two assists for the game, was 2-8 from the floor fir nine points and generally did not make his presence felt in a real way. I have read on the message boards the theory that Lawson was still injured which limited him. I happen to think Kansas gets credit for some of that but on the other hand Lawson’s play along with the erratic nature of Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson was enough to completely disrupt UNC’s offensive production.
I will no hesitate to blame the defense though. UNC allowed Kansas to basically do what they wanted in the first half and the result was Kansas shooting the ball well while UNC could not a buy a basket. As much as I have covered my ears when people started talking about the UNC defense being an impediment to a national title, it turns out they were proven right. UNC did not play defense wll enough to compensate for the poor offensive production. The inconsistency on that end of the floor has been a concern all season and the failure to play great defense for the full 40 minutes in this game was costly.
So there you have it.
I can honestly say I am far less distressed about this loss than I was last season. The way the Georgetown game fell apart and the failure to make a Final Four left us all feel like UNC came up short in a major way. This season, while not ending with a national title, can in no way be considered anything less than a great and successful season. Winning a national title is extremely difficult, especially in a one and done setting. UNC faced another #1 seed and it simply did not come out and play like they were capable of playing making this ending disappointment but by no means taking away from what this team has done. UNC won more games than any other team in Tar Heel history and they also won the ACC regular season and tournament titles. In doing so they took us all on a great ride with some heart stopping wins and simply showing heart in some tough circumstances. Through the injuries which gave Quentin Thomas a 2nd life and the great comeback wins over Clemson, the win at Duke and simply being a team that you thought was almost incapable of losing. And lest I forget Tyler Hansbrough is the national player of the year while producing a season for the ages in the annals of UNC history.
So many thanks to this team for the fun and fury of the last few months. A national title would have been the ultimate cap but alas it was not meant to be. Certainly not the first time we have been here and it will not be the last. That being said, it does it make me love this season any less.