What's wrong with North Carolina?
Maybe it's the cautious optimist in me but I wasn't quite ready to sell my stock in North Carolina following its 61-52 loss to Virginia in the ACC opener for both teams. That ran contrary to a lot of people I know who went ahead and resigned the Tar Heels to an NIT fate.
My thinking was that Virginia was an underappreciated commodity catching North Carolina at just the right time. Few coaches are better than Virginia's Tony Bennett at pulling opposing teams into the muck and forcing them to play his style, and that's just what he did to Roy Williams's bunch. So in my mind there were far worse crimes than dropping a road date at Virginia.
So fast forward to last night, when both Virginia and North Carolina embarked on their second ACC contests. Just when I thought Bennett and Company were emerging into serious ACC contenders, the Cavs go on the road and lose a headscratcher to Wake Forest by a 55-52 count.
Meanwhile, a few hours east of there, North Carolina was dropping to 0-2 in ACC play at the hands of Miami. That would be a Miami team that's still without the services of its best big man, Reggie Johnson.
You see what happened there? Virginia starts a dumpster fire at Wake, which in turn makes North Carolina look that much worse for having lost in Charlottesville.
North Carolina is sitting on an uncharacteristic 10-5 record that's making the fan bases at both Duke and NC State guffaw with joy. Let's dig into the numbers and see how this came to pass.
From a statistical standpoint, there are some things about this edition of the Tar Heels that might lead the casual observer to believe that this is a typical Roy Williams team. Take possessions per game, which is a good indicator of whether or not North Carolina is properly running Williams's preferred high octane style. The Heels currently rank seventh nationally in this category with 74.7, which is actually slightly better than what last season's edition of the Tar Heels produced (72.9).
But when you dig a little further you'll find the stats reveal much more about why North Carolina has struggled to this point. In terms of points per possession, the Heels average 1.07 versus 1.12 a season ago.
Now that doesn't sound like a whole heck of a lot but it goes a long way to explaining how the Heels are getting the same number of possessions but aren't producing like their 32-win counterparts from 2011-12. Their possessions aren't being maximized.
Part of this can be attributed to the immaturity of freshman point guard Marcus Paige, who's still learning how to get everyone involved. But therein lies the rub: the players he's trying to get involved aren't as talented as Tar Heels of past.
Whether it's James Michael McAdoo settling for yet another turnaround jumper or one of his perimeter mates staying focused on hoisting up 3-pointers, this is a very limited team on the offensive end. A slasher or a reliable low post scoring threat? You won't find either in Chapel Hill this season.
However, the more pressing issues for this team are probably on the other end of the floor. Just eyeballing the Tar Heels play halfcourt defense to this point has been groan inducing. Miami started to put them away when they got open perimeter look after open perimeter look. In its five losses North Carolina has allowed the opposition to shoot an eye popping 45% from the field.
So is this team NIT bound? Well, that's tough to gauge, because North Carolina has played a tough schedule that will pay dividends with the RPI calculator. So if this team can cobble together 11 league wins in a so-so ACC that might be enough to secure an at-large bid. But that's dependent on a lot of the aforementioned problems being fixed in a hurry, which won't be easy.