Ed Davis' broken wrist, an injury that will in all probability keep him out for the rest of the season, is bad news for the kid, one of the few Tar Heels playing up to expectations this season. He blocked shots, he rebounded and he defended the lane. Few in the ACC do - or did - all that as well as Davis.
For North Carolina, it's not the bad news it appears to be. In fact, it may be the best news the Tar Heels have had in weeks.
Forget about playing in the shadow of the national champions. Forget about the inflated expectations this team faced before the season ever started. Forget about making a run that was never going to come anyway.
With Davis out, with Tyler Zeller out, with half of the Wear twins out (Travis), even the most blue-tinted glasses can't look at this team and see any reason for optimism. The NCAA Tournament, the longest of shots at best, is no longer a reality. It's hard to see this group getting hot enough to win four in a row in Greensboro. The NIT? Take it or leave it.
Now, Roy Williams can play Dexter Strickland and hope his defense develops. He can see what he has in Leslie McDonald. He can gauge how well the other Wear (David) carries the load in the post with some legitimate playing time. He can turn John Henson loose and see what happens, even if he still doesn't have a handle on the offense.
Until now, Williams has had to balance the development of his youngsters with the need to put his best team on the floor, the latter rarely including any of the freshmen. No longer. Now, he can evaluate whether any of these guys will play next fall once Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock arrive.
From here on out, if the Tar Heels lose, it won't be held against them. If they win, it's a bonus. Coincidentally, they now face the same set of expectations as today's opponent at the Smith Center, N.C. State under Sidney Lowe.
As State fans can attest, it makes wins over Duke a lot more fun, the rest of the season a lot less enjoyable and puts a much sharper focus on next year's recruiting class. (Both sets of fans, the short- and long-suffering alike, might willingly take a pass on today's game to see a three-on-three exhibition with Barnes, Marshall and Bullock taking on Ryan Harrow, Lorenzo Brown and Luke Cothron.)
As a side benefit, the injury may encourage Davis to stick around for his junior year. Despite North Carolina's struggles this season, NBA scouts are still high on Davis, but if missing the rest of the season drops him out of the lottery, it may be worth his while to return. That would be an unexpected bonus for the Tar Heels, who will for sure lose Deon Thompson next season, leaving a void to fill in the post.
Davis will be under some pressure when the time to make that decision comes around, but the Tar Heels are under no pressure without him now. For a team that has labored under the weight of predictions it had little chance of fulfilling, that isn't the worst thing in the world. It might just be a blessing in a season that has had very little to celebrate.