The Tar Heels entered the 2021 NCAA Tournament believing they were playing their best basketball, and were confident in their ability to make a run. Even though they were the 8 seed in the South Region, history was on Carolina’s side. UNC had never lost in the 8/9 matchup, and Roy Williams was 29-0 in the first round as a head coach. While there’s never a good time for “firsts” the Tar Heels made them tonight, as Wisconsin raced past UNC 85-62, bringing the season to a close. All the talk leading up to the game was more experienced. The Badgers were, as their starting lineup had an average age, higher than the Chicago Bulls from the NBA. Carolina entered the tournament the least experienced team in the 68 team field, and experience, or lack thereof was on display tonight.
As has been the case for most of the season, the Tar Heels didn’t play at a high level in the first half, trailing 40-24 at the halftime. That 16 point deficit was the largest at halftime since the 2008 Final Four loss to Kansas in San Antonio. Carolina simply had no answer tonight for Brad Davison who scored 29 points on 10-15 shooting. Even after taking Kerwin Walton off the sharp shooting Davison, Carolina simply had no answer for the senior guard, who wasn’t ready for his college basketball career to end. As a team, Wisconsin shot 51% from the field, including going 13-27 from behind the three point line. For comparison, UNC shot just 39% from the field, and 39% on their three point attempts. The Badgers may have only put 2 players in double figures scoring (Davison & Trice), but they combined for 50 points, which was more than enough to get them into the Second Round.
Wisconsin plays a style similar to Virginia, meaning they slow the game on offense, and play a pack line defense, which dares you to make perimeter shots. Early in the game, Carolina got quality looks at the basket, but were unable to convert, a common theme for this team this season. After getting just one shot attempt in the first half, Armando Bacot tried to lead a comeback effort with 15 second half points, but Carolina only got as close as 12, before running out of gas.
This season had its fair share of highs, as well as its fair share of lows. Tonight was the lowest of lows as the season came to an end, earlier than anyone wanted, or even expected:
3 Point Defense: When the Tar Heels defended the perimeter well, they usually won the game, when they didn’t, they usually lost. You can’t allow a team to shoot 13-27 from behind the arc, and expect to win in this setting. Wisconsin’s swing offense kept Carolina’s defense rotating all game long, but that’s no excuse for the inability to slow down the outside shooting. 6 different Badgers connected on a triple, making it hard to take away one particular shooter.
Frontcourt Got Outworked: The strength of this team has always been its play on the interior. That was why, despite the contrasting styles, there was a lot of belief that this team could make it to Sunday. Armando Bacot led the team with 15 points, and while Garrison Brooks added 10, he was just 4-12 from the field while doing so. Furthermore, they didn’t wear down Wisconsin’s frontcourt like we expected them, making hard for this team to control the game.
Veteran Guard Play: Wisconsin has it, while Carolina will have to wait until next year to feel like experienced in the backcourt. Every time the Badgers needed a play, either Davison or Trice made it, while UNC’s guard fell short of the opportunities given to them. All season long on the brightest stage one of the young guards stepped up in a big way, unfortunately that didn’t happen tonight, and that’s a big reason their season came to an end.
Streaks Over: Carolina suffered their first ever loss as an 8 seed, and their first ever loss in the Round of 64 under Roy Williams. Meanwhile, Wisconsin won for the first time in Mackey Arena since 2014, improving to 5-42 all time in West Lafayette.
Up Next: The Tar Heels will now shift to the off-season, and will await decisions of guys either turning pro, or seniors returning for another season granted by the NCAA.
The Heel Tough Blog would like to thank everyone for their support all season long, and we look forward to bringing you the latest around Carolina Basketball during the off-season.