Updated Sun, Mar 25, 2012 5:10 pm
Editor's note: This is a five-part column designed to take Bobcat fans through the five stages of loss, as described by plenty of psychology textbooks.
Here is where we talk about why the “what if?” thing just isn’t going to cut it. This one is simple. “What ifs” go both ways. For every “what if Cooper’s half court shot falls?”, North Carolina fans can come up with a proper response. Here are three "what ifs" you wouldn’t want taken back:
What if Ohio didn’t force 24 turnovers?
The Bobcats were bandits Friday night in St. Louis. And they had to be. Carolina’s big men could walk through the Missouri State Penitentiary with their wallets at eye level and walk away with every penny. The instant John Henson or Tyler Zeller lifted the ball above their heads their shots were indefensible. It seemed unfair. It was like someone put a “must be this tall to ride” sign up in the low post.
But time and time again Ohio’s defense didn’t even let them lift the ball passed their belly buttons. Their hands were as active as ever. It was like a bad first date every time Carolina drove into the lane. The ‘Cats were playing Hungry, Hungry Hippos with basketballs.
Imagine those 12- to 15-point first half leads had Ohio not completely disrobe UNC ball handlers. What if Ohio hadn’t hounded the Heels hellaciously? It could have gotten ugly.
What if Nick Kellogg did not pull down eight rebounds?
Carolina center Tyler Zeller had 22 rebounds Friday night. With those numbers, I’d love to see how that kid comes back from a bad breakup. He was pulling down missed shots, endangered bird species, and drifting kites. He may have even given Michael Moore a coronary and snatched the o-zone layer at one point.
The Tar Heels were boarding behemoths. So, how did Ohio’s 6-foot-3 guard wrestle down eight rebounds? And if he had not, how ugly would it have gotten?
Let’s address the first question. The answer does not exist. Kellogg shouldered the load in a place where Ohio desperately needed it. He picked up more slack than a fishing reel. Listen, he was not a pubescent 15-year-old and the game did not last four years, so it’s not like Kellogg was going to grow 5 inches during pre game warm-ups. His eight rebounds (safely leading the team) were mystifying. They did not come easy. They did not look pretty. But he got them.
It would have been ugly - like real ugly. Three Tar Heels already posted double-doubles with points and rebounds as it was. They turned rebounds into points like Fox turns sitcoms into tragedies. It was like exchanging currency for them. They were regular bank tellers - rebounds were transactions.
Without Kellogg’s concerted effort on the glass, Ohio would have been in trouble.
What if Harrison Barnes had a mediocre game?
We won’t even explore the prospect of him having a great, good, or even decent game. It became clear Walter Offutt was not going to let that happen anyway.
NBA scouts had to be in a cold sweat Friday night in St. Louis. If Ohio had pulled the upset, Barnes’ last performance in front of national eyes would be a 3-16 slob show that included but was not limited to an air ball and several turnovers. The hit to his draft stock would have brought back the recession. As the ‘Cats clawed closer late in the game, Occupy St. Louis movements were probably organizing outside the Edward Jones Dome. It would have made Enron executives look like they went out on top.
Conversely, what if he hadn’t? What if he was on? What if his shots were falling?
For one, Ohio would not have been preposterously slain by five clutch Reggie Bullock threes. Bullock couldn’t have been less hyped relative to his teammates coming into the game, yet he was the dagger in Bobcat hearts. It was the feeling the axis powers would have had if the French single-handedly won World War II. Coming in, he was the middle child of UNC’s starting lineup.
If Bullock was able to rip Ohio in huge moments, imaginations are left to pine over what Barnes has within him when he is dialed in.
But therein lies the point. The “what if?” game works both ways. That’s all a basketball game is whether in late November or late March. Ohio benefitted from its fair share of “what ifs?” Friday night. Carolina was simply on the right side of more.
The rest of the series: