CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In 1982, Carolina and Virginia played a basketball game considered so egregious that the rules of the game were changed. This afternoon, more than a generation later, they played one that might’ve been even worse.
At least for UNC.
Virginia's 56-47 win over Carolina made clear that the Tar Heels are in trouble. Even with the miraculous return of center Armando Bacot, UNC at times looked completely lost.
Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was at wits' end.
“I’ve never been so frustrated,” he said.
He tried different lineups, inserted two freshmen who’d been injured since before the season started and cajoled and criticized his players throughout the game before finally slumping into his chair with a blank look on his face.
Carolina was coming off a historically bad loss to Ohio State four days earlier in which the Heels set records for bad shooting. This was worse. But the two losses combined, scoring fewer than 50 points in each game, was the worst two-game stretch for UNC since the 1947-48 season.
“I’m beside myself,” Williams said.
Carolina’s offense is broken, and Williams said that for the first time in his 32 years of coaching he doesn’t know which buttons to push.
Cole Anthony, the prize recruit brought in to run the UNC offense, had six turnovers and zero assists. Williams said he’d never had a point guard produce those numbers.
Anthony said he was frustrated by calls, frustrated by Virginia’s pack-line defense and worried that his teammates don’t realize the magnitude of what’s happened to this team. He suggested that the game plan put in before the season has stopped working, but the problems go even deeper.
Asked if everyone was on the same page and putting in the same effort, he paused.
“I don't know about that,” Anthony said, “but if these past two games aren't a wakeup call for everyone on the team, I don't know what else is."
He was out of control for much of the game while the Virginia fans taunted him and Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett threw defenders at him in waves.
“It’s hard when they have five guys defending you,” Anthony said.
He reacted by taking wild shots, dribbling into trouble and fouling out of frustration on defense.
And it wasn’t as if Virginia was playing all that well. The 2019 national champions actually shot worse than Carolina.
“We’re far from perfect,” Bennett said. “Carolina and us are just trying to find our way.”
Carolina has found itself in a corner only a month into the season. The shooting problems are obvious. The Heels shot 37 percent, missed 13 of 14 shots from beyond the three-point line and missed 10 of 22 free-throw attempts.
The real issues are deeper. Carolina had one assist in the first half. The fast break doesn’t exist. The Heels scored one basket on a break the entire game.
By the end, the UNC offense had basically shut down, going almost eight minutes without a field goal and allowing Virginia to relax on its way to a fifth straight win over Carolina.
By then, the Virginia band was trolling the Heels by playing “Sweet Caroline,” and the fans were chanting “overrated” either at Anthony or Carolina.
Both teams went into the game ranked in the top 10, but it’s likely both will tumble after their horrid losses in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The Tar Heels might not be one of the 25 best teams in America right now with back-to-back losses unlike anything this program has seen since just after World War II. And reading into the comments from Williams and Anthony, you get the feeling that something is wrong with this team, either from a systemic situation or a player situation.
Williams might be uncertain about which “buttons” to push right now, but his deepest fear is that there are no buttons to push.
Carolina gets a week off before playing Wofford, and it needs it. But it needs something more than rest. Only a month into a season careening off the rails, the Tar Heels might need a miracle.
Back in 1982, people said Carolina had set basketball back. Then the Heels won the national title.
This team has set back Carolina basketball to the 1940s. It’s highly doubtful that this team wins any championships this season.