Small lineup gives UNC hope
by Dan Wolken, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA – North Carolina coach Roy Williams emerged from the visitors’ locker room at McCamish Pavilion late Tuesday night and pointed at athletic director Bubba Cunningham before breaking into a heartfelt laugh. Cunningham had been nervous about making this trip to Georgia Tech, especially given what was at stake for the Tar Heels, who have little margin for error if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.
“Texas, Indiana and Duke,” Cunningham said, recalling the road games he attended this season, all of which had been North Carolina losses. “(Williams) was giving me a hard time.”
If nothing else, the Tar Heels’ 70-58 victory over Georgia Tech confirmed the issues that put them squarely on the bubble in late February were not, in fact, inspired by the athletic director’s presence at road games. But it didn’t necessarily provide a resolution to those issues either, because A) Georgia Tech is extremely young and not particularly good; B) the Tar Heels weren’t exactly overwhelming; and C) North Carolina still has just one win over a likely NCAA Tournament team, occurring way back on Dec. 29 when the Tar Heels beat UNLV.
What Tuesday showed, however, is that there is a way forward for this North Carolina team, and Williams has no choice but to commit to it with just five regular season games remaining. At this point for the Tar Heels, it’s either all-in on the small-ball approach they’ve used the last week or get ready for the NIT.
“We’re just trying to win games right now,” junior wing Reggie Bullock said. “Coach made his decision, and we’ve been successful other than the loss to Duke, but we’re definitely making strides and we’re just looking forward to continuing this run.”
Let’s be clear about one thing. When Bullock talks about Carolina’s “run,” it’s really just two games: A solid home win over Virginia last weekend and Tuesday, when the Tar Heels won with relative ease despite shooting 38 percent from the field and getting out-rebounded 43-38. At no point in the modern era of North Carolina basketball would that stretch be considered a … [For more on Small lineup gives North Carolina postseason hope, click here.]