CHAPEL HILL — So now what for North Carolina?
Exposed as a thin, soft, offensively challenged team that can’t shoot straight, Roy Williams is facing something he’s never had to deal with.
Ohio State’s 74-49 win over Carolina was the worst home loss in Williams’ coaching career and the worst shooting night in the Dean Dome. Freshman big man Armando Bacot was injured and could be out for a while.
Suddenly, in a bizarre early season that has already exposed most of the country’s best programs, UNC appears to be in trouble.
North Carolina has a long history of injuries to key players at key moments. But the Heels also have a history of having deep teams with benches filled with big-time recruits who can all run and defend and shoot.
It’s not apparent that this team has anybody like that other than freshman Cole Anthony, one of the best players in the country and the only impact player on Carolina’s roster. If fellow freshman Bacot is out for any period of time, Williams is going to have to do something drastic.
His only recourse Wednesday night, watching his team miss 45 of 62 shots, firing up airballs and shots that hit the side of the backboard and shots that drifted wide right and left, was to empty the bench.
“If you were watching us play, what the hell were those guys doing that were in the game?” Williams said. “It’s pretty dadgum easy: If you suck out there someone should come in for you.”
He blamed himself, and the players blamed themselves, and they were both right.
“I’ve never felt so sorry as I feel right now,” Williams said.
Part of that might’ve been because he knows he has few options now. The state of the college game might allow him to hang around in the ACC, which finished the Big Ten-ACC Challenge with more losses than wins and with more teams than just Carolina worried about the season ahead.
But what we saw Wednesday night in the Dean Dome was a disaster in the making for UNC. The roster is a collection of reserve players from last year who haven’t gotten any better, a couple of transfers who aren’t ready for the ACC and two freshmen who could yet carry UNC past its shortcomings and into contention in March.
But one of them is hurt. Bacot’s injury might change everything.
“My guess is he’ll be out a while,” Williams said.
Anthony was playing with the flu, so the rest of the team had to carry the burden of playing at home against the sixth-ranked Buckeyes. After hanging around as long as Anthony could drag them, the Heels finally collapsed.
Williams said he had no answers.
He has one answer now, and deep down it goes against everything he’s ever learned in basketball. Williams has the best all-around player in the league and maybe the country. Would he be willing to turn everything over to Anthony? Could the Heels run a Pete Maravich offense and turn Anthony loose?
Are there any other options?
Watching last season's reserves try to run Williams’ up-tempo offense, watching them blow defensive assignments just drawn up in timeouts, watching some of the most horrid jump shots in UNC basketball history, it’s apparent that Williams is facing something he’s never had to face in his long career.
Does he have a one-man team?
Right now he does.
And in the most perfect scenario, with Bacot coming back sooner than later, he has a two-man team, both of whom are freshmen.
Bacot’s injury was gruesome, and his family walking out of the locker room after the game looked genuinely in shock. We’ll know more details in the coming days, but Williams said the ankle was beginning to swell before Bacot left the floor. He likely won’t be playing Sunday when Carolina goes to Virginia.
By then, Williams will have explored his options. Or the lack thereof.
By then, we could be looking at Cole Anthony unleashed.
Will 44 points a game be enough? Maybe not.