Think about it: There are a few things you’d think you might never see in sports. The Patriots finishing last in the AFC East. LeBron James bolted to the end of the Lakers bench. The Yankees losing eight straight to the Orioles.
How about North Carolina at 8-7 and in 14th place in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 1-3?
There’s a reason Roy Williams called the Tar Heels the “least gifted” team he’s ever coached over the weekend. It’s true. This not the North Carolina of Dean Smith and Michael Jordan. Heck, it’s not even close to the Tar Heels of Luke May and Joel Berry.
This is an injured, experience-void mish mosh that has Williams begging for mercy. And the situation only worsened on Wednesday when lost their seventh of the last 10 games.
But it wasn’t to Duke or Virginia. North Carolina lost to freaking Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill. And they did so after blowing a 14-point lead. Did you know the Panthers hadn’t won a ACC road game in two years?
“People will say what they say about us,” UNC senior Brandon Robinson told the media after the game. But we’re going to come out and compete. It’s not like we don’t care and we’re giving up. We’re going to try to make a change.”
As you might imagine, Williams comment caused quite a dust up along Tobacco Road. It’s not everyday a preeminent college coach, a Hall of Famer, the winner of three national championships, takes his team publicly to the wood shed.
The reaction has seemingly pissed off Williams, who believes he was not simply grandstanding to motivate his team.
“I just made a statement. If anybody in here disagrees with it, that’s your prerogative, But my guess is, if you look at it, you’d probably agree,” Williams said. “… To me, that’s the most ridiculous thing to get attention. It’s like me wearing lucky socks or something. You’ve got to play the damn game.”
To be honest, the Tar Heels are a bit short-handed. McDonald’s All-American Cole Anthony is recovering from knee surgery. So that probably means freshman Armando Bacot is the only guy left that actually scares anyone. And even he’s been in somewhat of a slump.
“We’re struggling right now, and we’re not talented enough for me to do that,” Bacot said. “I knew that wasn’t me, and I had to turn it around.”
Williams told reporters after the game he’d installed some different offenses for the Pitt in hopes of improving the level of play. But even that didn’t see to work.
“Could you tell it?” Williams asked rhetorically. “I couldn’t. We played just as dang bad as we did before.”
Williams disposition, tested all season, really started to dip when the Tar Heels lost to Georgia Tech in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
“It’s the most negative I’ve ever been about myself,” Williams said about the 96-83 loss. “Most negative I’ve ever felt about any team. Most disappointed, most upset I’ve ever been in my life at coaching a basketball game.”
What did he expect from a team that has only one four-year scholarship senior, Brandon Robinson. And what did Robinson do? He turned the ball over right after the opening tip and Tech turned it into the game’s first basket.
The least gifted team Williams has ever had.
“That’s his opinion,” Robinson said Wednesday.
By the time the first media timeout rolled along against Tech, the Tar Heels were down 10-2. And things just deteriorated from there. Soon it was 27-4. Williams shut it down, letting his assistants do the talking in the huddle.
“We were just kind of freaking out,” Robinson said. “We were just trying to figure out a way to win, and we just start doing stuff out of the ordinary. We were just doing things out of character. Panicking. Not doing what we’re taught to do.”
Consider this: The Tar Heels trailed 47-27 at halftime – the largest deficit heading into the second half for any North Carolina team in the history of the Smith Center.
If you’re keeping score at home, Williams still has 879 career NCAA wins, which ties him with Dean Smith for 12th place all-time, just 23 from passing Bobby Knight into the Top 10.
Will it get any better? Maybe not. Along with Anthony, two other players, forward Sterling Manley and guard Anthony Harris, are out for the season. And there has been some speculation that Anthony, who has a partially torn meniscus, might get so fed up with the mediocrity he does a James Wiseman and blows off the remainder of his college career to prepare for the NBA Draft.
It’s to the point that some people are beginning to wonder whether North Carolina will even qualify for the NCAA as an at-large.
“That’s a good question. I think it’s definitely a reality check for all of us,” the Tar Heels Justin Pierce, a fifth-year grad student, told The Athletic last week. “I’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament, and I’m not taking it for granted just the fact that I’m at Carolina that we’re gonna make the NCAA Tournament. I think people have to freaking realize that it’s not for granted.
“Just because we’re North Carolina, we’re not going to be a shoo-in to the NCAA Tournament. I’m a senior; I’ve never made the tournament — and I will be devastated if I don’t make the tournament. So I’m going to do everything I can to try to help this team win and get there, and I just hope there’s 100 percent buy-in from everybody.”