Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Where Does the UNC Roller Coaster End?

As with many other Carolina fans, Roy Williams has to be scratching his head pretty hard trying to figure out what he’s got in this year’s squad of Tar Heels. In Williams’ 10 years at UNC, he’s yet to have a preconference campaign with the marquee wins this 2013-14 team has accomplished. A win over #3 Louisville in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament in Connecticut, a 14-point shocker of a triumph over the #1 ranked Spartans of Michigan State in East Lansing, and a crucial victory in a battle of arguably the two most successful basketball programs of all time against #11 Kentucky in Chapel Hill. All three of these teams beaten by the Heels were in Sports Illustrated’s preseason Final Four prediction (Duke was the fourth). On the other side of the coin, Roy Williams is debatably yet to coach a UNC team with as poor of preconference losses as this year’s team has on its resume.
A week before UNC’s first big win of the 2013-14 season over Louisville, Carolina lost in the Dean Dome to a Belmont team that played UNC close for most of the game then caught fire late from the deep to get the come from behind 3-point win. Then, a week after beating the Louisville Cards, the Heels were humbled in a 4-point loss by a physical UAB team that outrebounded UNC by a 52-37 margin. While both Belmont and UAB have been enjoying strong seasons thus far (Belmont’s record is currently 12-6 and UAB is 11-4), they aren’t teams that UNC has traditionally struggled to defeat. Free throw shooting was one of the clear signs of weakness in these Heels’ losses, but they weren’t the only issues. Carolina also went on to drop a close game against Texas (likely NCAA Tournament team) in Chapel Hill four days after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats on that same floor. Three days after losing to Texas, UNC received a scare from a spirited Davidson team that took Carolina into OT in the Smith Center before the Tar Heels prevailed.
After the Davidson game, UNC went on to finish out preconference play with comfortable wins over Northern Kentucky and UNCW. As ACC play began, many people speculated on which Carolina team would show up for conference action. Today, the Tar Heels sit at 0-3 in conference play (alone in last for the ACC), their worst start since 1997. Although their most recent loss was to #2 Syracuse (undefeated) in the Carrier Dome, the Heels also loss to Wake Forest in Winston and most disturbingly, to a 9-6 Miami team in Chapel Hill. Clearly, it’s been more of the team that lost Belmont & UAB putting on the Carolina Blue these past few games.
Carolina fans are left hoping the Heels can rekindle their early season magic to make a run in ACC play. On the bright side, the 1997 team did come back from their 0-3 start to finish 11-5 in the ACC and even the 2009 Carolina squad began ACC conference play 0-2 before going on to win the ACC regular season and the NCAA Championship. If this group of players can beat Michigan State on MSU’s home court, they can beat anyone in the ACC. The Heels need to regain the confidence and mentality they had for their big match ups in the early season. If they do, they can recover from this shaky start to ACC play just like their Tar Heel brethren before them. Luckily, UNC gets Boston College (5-12 and 1-3 in the ACC) next on Saturday in Chapel Hill. To start riding this roller coaster of a season back up, UNC has to come out energized and show they can beat a team they are more talented than at home. Then they can begin to build this season into something that makes their early season successes meaningful in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

Article by Lance Dunlap