We felt tonight’s ATB of #1 UNC losing to Boston College deserves its own post.
Boston College 85, UNC 78. It’s conference season, isn’t it? In just the last seven days, we’ve now had the consensus way-better-than-everyone-else teams (UNC and UConn for those of you just tuning in) lose to conference foes. At home. In games where neither appeared to be the better team. There was considerable talk in the last couple of weeks of the likelihood of Carolina going undefeated this season, and we always sorta rolled our eyes when we heard such talk. There are several reasons for this:
- First, it just doesn’t happen. A hunted team like Carolina simply will not bring its A+ game every single night, no matter how good they are or how faux-slighted they feel (and how slighted can you feel when you’re being told how great you are at every turn?). There are always a couple of games where that team will come out flat or fail to properly motivate because their press clippings have gone to their head.
- Second, while this UNC team is stacked relative to the rest of college basketball this season and remains the prohibitive favorite to win the national title in April, the level of talent of their individual players simply isn’t so otherworldly ridiculous that other teams can’t play and compete with them. As evidence here, we saw what Kansas with its two lottery picks (one actual and one shoulda-been) did to them in the first half of last year’s F4 game (40-12), and much of the reason behind this year’s hype is because all of UNC’s players returned to school, and the reason for THAT is that none/zilch/zero/nada would have been lottery picks had they entered the NBA Draft last spring. Put simply, nobody in college basketball is so talented that they can play half-assed or have a bad game collectively and still win every game.
- Third, Carolina plays in a conference like the ACC, and leagues like that are simply too good on a yearly basis to allow teams like UNC to run roughshod over them. There are exceptions – we know Duke in 1999 went 16-0 in that league, and more recently, Kentucky went 16-0 in the SEC in 2003, but those teams had already lost a pre-conference game(s) so there wasn’t nearly the same pressure that an unbeaten #1 will face throughout the conference slate. The only possibility for an unbeaten team in today’s early-entry NCAA basketball environment is something akin to what Memphis was able to do last year or UNLV in 1991 – roll through its vastly inferior conference unbeaten and (for the most part) untested. The problem is that scenario tends to catch up with those teams during March Madness, as both of those teams in that example learned.
So what happened tonight? It’s simple and it’s the same problem that Carolina had last year. Their offense is unmatched by anybody in the country, but their defense sometimes takes nights off. Against the 68th toughest schedule to date, the UNC offense is the second-most efficient offense in America, but only the 18th most efficient defense. Most of that ranking is attributable to Carolina’s ability to force turnovers (4th in the nation), but the Heels simply don’t get enough stops from their halfcourt defense – it ranks 60th at defending twos and 81st at defending threes – not exactly national-title defensive numbers there. (To be fair, last year’s Heels were even worse defensively, but UNC’s schedule will only get tougher from here on out, which should negatively impact those numbers.)
Tonight BC never flinched, shooting 45% from the field and hitting nine threes in the Dean Dome, led by Tyrese Rice’s 25/5/8 assts (who continues his torching of Carolina with 91 pts in his last three games against UNC) and Rakim Sanders’ 22/6/7 stls. BC not only got the lead in the first half (no big deal), but they held on to as UNC repeatedly got it down to two and even in the last few minutes as BC predictably went cold and UNC made its last-ditch efforts. Carolina didn’t help itself, though as the Heels were ice cold, especially in the second half (29%) and even more especially Ty Lawson (3-13), and the typically excellent Tar Heel free throwers (#13 nationally at 75%) only managed 5-12 in the last 8 minutes and 15-27 for the game. Perhaps most importantly, the Heels only forced BC into 10 turnovers, and it was clear that this was something head coach Al Skinner had drilled into his players’ heads, realizing that TOs are the kindling that fuels the UNC attack.
But BC was not to be denied tonight, and #1 goes down, only slightly spoiling the juicy UNC @ Wake matchup scheduled for next weekend. Whether BC uses this win as a springboard to a surprising season remains to be seen, as its only truly bad loss thus far was at St. Louis, but for tonight they are the giant-killers and the Eagles should be commended for taking it to the vaunted Heels in their house. Come Monday morning, we’d expect to see BC ranked for the first time in a couple of years, and that gasp you hear from western Pennsylvania has nothing to do with the Steelers – rather, it’s Jamie Dixon’s team prepping itself for it’s school-first #1 ranking in the AP Poll. College hoops, you gotta love it.