To be fair, I’m pretty sure that Michigan is the best basketball team in America right now. Forget Duke’s talent, Kansas’s offense, Gonzaga’s ability to score at will, and Virginia’s coaching acumen. Forget that they’re only ranked fifth this week. No team in America is playing better basketball as a unit and on both sides of the floor than the Michigan Wolverines.
Of course, it’s only December, meaning a lot is likely to change between now and March.
So before we enter the ever-hyperbolic Carolina fan’s wormhole, gesturing toward the falling sky and screaming for their three-time National Championship-winning coach’s head, let us recognize and unpack this.
Yes, the Tar Heels got the pants beat off ’em last week by a very, very good Wolverine team.
Sure, Carolina looked completely uninterested in playing any sort of defense, shot only 39 percent from the floor, and was down by as many as twenty-two points in the second half. Luke Maye played flat, Roy sat several starters after a lackluster beginning to the second half, and the entire team appeared to have thrown in the towel once Michigan went up ten with more than sixteen minutes left.
It was, by all accounts, a bad game for Carolina.
But even at UNC’s best, it’s likely this Michigan team—which shot nearly 60 percent from the field—would have outclassed the Tar Heels. Two Wolverines scored more than twenty, while Michigan’s top-ranked defense stifled Carolina from wire to wire as its early-season revenge tour rages on.
Of its last twenty-three games, Michigan has lost only once. That was March’s National Championship defeat to Villanova, a loss the Wolverines avenged when they dismantled the then-top-ten Nova a few weeks ago.
That they’re beating everyone and they’re beating them bad is not to say Carolina was faultless in the contest.
“We stink,” Roy Williams said in his postgame conference. “I feel like I’ve done the worst job with this team in thirty-one years as a head coach.”
This team needs to get better, regardless of who they’re matching up with, if they want this season to be anything resembling a success.
But: It’s only December.
The season is young, the players are trying to find their rhythm without longtime linchpins Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, and Roy is tinkering with lineups, trying to find who complements whom on the floor. That it’s early and there is still time to work out the kinks has definitely been a point of hopeful emphasis for fans this young season. Williams is long-known to be a master at adjusting and experimenting to find the perfect formula for success as the season wears on.
Normally, the narrative of the season being young is met with the positive notion that Roy’ll fix it, that they’ll get it right once Carolina starts playing its slate of ACC games—or at least by February.
But that narrative that could soon run its course. As Carolina stares into the teeth of matchups with top-ranked Gonzaga and ninth-ranked Kentucky, this is a team that could very realistically be heading into ACC play with four losses. That would be verging on disastrous.
The window for tinkering is closing fast.