How the mighty have fallen: Heels are radioactive
More shocking than watching ACC powers Duke and North Carolina lose on the same night was witnessing the Tar Heels lose by double-digits on their home court. Might the defending NCAA champion Tar Heels, despite all those future NBA draft picks on their current roster, actually miss out on a chance to defend their crown come March?
Following Wednesday night’s 82-69 loss to Wake Forest, the Heels’ worst home loss since 2003, it’s a very realistic possibility. That’s the same Wake team that was just spanked by Duke, was only 4-3 away from Winston-Salem this season and hadn’t won in Chapel Hill in seven years.
The Heels are now in the midst of their first three-game losing streak since Roy Williams left Kansas for Chapel Hill and the longest slide since the ill-fated Matt Doherty experiment in the 2002-03 season. Of North Carolina’s six worst losses since 2003-04 (Williams’ first year), three have taken place this season – that 13-point setback to the Deacons, a 16-point loss to Syracuse early this season and a 19-point loss at Clemson last week. They have covered the spread just once in the past seven games.
The Heels certainly will fall out of the Top 25 in the next polls after being a Top 5 team to open the season. In fairness, UNC was without two key big men against Wake as Tyler Zeller remains out until next month with a stress fracture in his foot and likely Top 5 NBA pick Ed Davis missed the game with an ankle injury. But the Heels have waves of high school All-American big men they can roll out – it’s in the backcourt where they are having major issues.
Losses to Syracuse, Kentucky and Texas are all understandable, but you knew something was different with Carolina when it they lost at the College of Charleston in its first game of the New Year, blowing an 11-point lead. The backcourt problems were magnified in that game as the Heels were outscored 39-3 behind the three-point line. North Carolina’s guards, especially point guard Larry Drew II, have struggled trying to replaced Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington, who left early for the NBA. Drew has combined for 19 points and 14 turnovers in the losing streak. The Heels have won every game in which he has scored in double digits, including over ranked teams Michigan State and Ohio State as well as their lone ACC win (Virginia Tech) – not coincidentally covering in those three wins.
Wake guard Ishmael Smith gave the Heels big-time trouble, scoring 20 points and adding six assists and seven rebounds. In four ACC games, the opposing point guards are averaging 24 points per game against UNC. It wasn’t much better on the offensive end against Wake, as UNC was 6-for-26 from three-point range and had zero (zero!) fast break points. The only positive was that UNC had its first positive assist-to-turnover ratio (17-9) since a Dec. 22 victory over Marshall – a span of seven games.
You can go ahead and forget about this team winning the ACC, as UNC has started 1-3 in the conference for the first time since 2004. UNC has seven ACC road games remaining, and the Tar Heels are 1-5 away from the Smith Center this year. Don’t touch Roy's Boyz on the road, since that’s when their lack of a true leader really shows. In fact, until this team finds some confidence as well, buyers beware of the Carolina Blue at home, too.