North Carolina had a 15-point lead entering halftime of last season’s NCAA championship game against Kansas. The Tar Heels would eventually lose that matchup — but they entered the 2022-23 season as the No. 1 team in America and the national title favorite. Hubert Davis had, after all, returned key players from that Final Four squad and added Northwestern transfer Pete Nance to replace Brady Manek.
But November wasn’t kind to the Tar Heels, who lost their third consecutive game Wednesday — all to ranked opponents — with a 77-65 loss at Indiana. The preseason buzz is gone now. And a North Carolina squad that still has matchups against Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Michigan before it begins the bulk of its ACC slate in January must find some answers soon.
ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, John Gasaway, Joe Lunardi and Myron Medcalf discuss how Hubert Davis can right the ship, what it all means for its seeding — and whether we’re overreacting to three losses by the former No. 1.
North Carolina has 3 consecutive losses (Iowa State, Alabama, Indiana). What have these losses taught us about the former No. 1?
That UNC is one unusual preseason No. 1. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it is just the fourth such team in 62 years to lose three consecutive games.
Thus far in 2022-23, the Tar Heels have been less effective on both sides of the ball. Part of that is simply the good fortune they experienced last March, when six NCAA tournament opponents shot 27% on their 3s. Those days are gone. Disregarding a 3-of-13 performance by Indiana, opponents this season are connecting a much more customary 35% on 3s. North Carolina’s interior D hasn’t been especially tough either.
Meanwhile, Caleb Love and Nance are shooting a combined 29% from 3, and — I never thought I would type these words with reference to the Tar Heels — the team as a whole is attempting shots at a surprisingly normal volume. There’s work to do in Chapel Hill. –John Gasaway
So, is it time to panic yet?
Losses happen, and Iowa State, Alabama and Indiana are all good teams. But the way the Hoosiers bullied North Carolina for most of Wednesday’s game would cause me to panic if I was a fan of the Tar Heels. Indiana had 50 points in the paint, more than doubling up North Carolina around the rim. It shot 57% inside the arc and outscored the Tar Heels in transition.
When North Carolina was at its best under Roy Williams, it was about two-big lineups and the secondary break. But Indiana was tougher, more physical and more aggressive.
There are just a lot of issues right now. The Tar Heels are shooting 30% from 3; the magic that helped Caleb Love carry them in the NCAA tournament is gone; Armando Bacot and Pete Nance aren’t clicking quite as well as Bacot and Brady Manek did; the bench has been mostly nonexistent this season. Some of this stuff will be worked out as the season progresses, but the things that were so effective during the NCAA tournament run just aren’t happening right now. –Jeff Borzello
What does Hubert Davis need to do to salvage his team’s season?
He has mastered the first task. Davis continues to preach patience within his program. As North Carolina struggled through the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland over Thanksgiving weekend, he said it was most important for his team to be No. 1 in April, not November. And the Tar Heels’ Final Four run proved that a team can stumble through the college basketball season for months and still end with a glorious finish. They just have to keep believing they’ll turn the corner.
But Davis also has to convey a greater sense of urgency, particularly with his team’s offensive flaws. He favors the NBA style and allows his players to create, which is fine when you have NBA talent. But a team that’s shooting 30% from 3 line is not that.
In the team’s three consecutive losses, Love and R.J. Davis were responsible for 115 of the team’s 200 field goal attempts (58%). North Carolina won’t beat top programs with more disciplined and efficient guard play unless they can be catalysts for a squad that has to be better at finding the best shot on every possession, and eliminating the hero ball that has impacted its season. —Myron Medcalf
A lot of games will be played between now and the next edition of Bracketology. How far could the Tar Heels fall after this loss?
First things first: No one should be surprised North Carolina isn’t the best team in the country. The Tar Heels were always a candidate to slide from the No. 1 ranking — in part because they had only one way to go, and in larger part because they are simply the latest example of a team evaluated more by what happened in March than by the four months preceding it.
That said, losing to three straight NCAA-level opponents is cause for concern. It’s not like UNC is in danger of missing the tournament, but a return to the Final Four is a whole lot easier for a No. 1 seed than the 5-seed it had already fallen to in this week’s bracket. A win at Virginia Tech on Sunday would likely keep the Heels on that line, but another loss would mean at least another seed line drop. –Joe Lunardi