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No. 19 North Carolina adds another head-scratching loss to its resume

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The 2013-14 season seems to have taken on a consistent pattern for No. 19 North Carolina: get up for, and beat, some of the nation’s best teams while suffering losses that make us wonder who they are and what they’re capable of.

The latest piece of evidence to support this was their 73-67 loss at Wake Forest on Sunday night, with the Demon Deacons winning despite the fact that North Carolina rebounded 48% of its missed shots. UNC converted those extra opportunities into just 17 points, and for the game they shot 39% from the field. From an execution standpoint once again it was a matter of Marcus Paige’s struggles affecting the entire offense, with the Tar Heels being so reliant on his ability to score on the perimeter.

Wake Forest was able to take that away, keeping Paige under wraps and contesting nearly all of his looks from the field (eight points on 3-for-12 FG, six assists). When that was combined with Wake Forest outworking North Carolina on both ends for a significant portion of the second half as they built up an 11-point lead, the hole was ultimately too deep for the Heels to climb out of.

Jeff Bzdelik’s team certainly deserves credit for this, and regardless of North Carolina’s issues this is a big win for a program that has struggled mightily during the Bzdelik era. Travis McKie led four players in double figures with 16 points, and if reserves such as Arnaud Adala Moto (11 points, nine rebounds) and Coron Williams (eight points) can build on their performances that would be big for a team that has some talented players but lacks depth.

To North Carolina’s credit they were able to fight their back into the game, pulling to within a point of Wake Forest with just over one minute remaining. But the problem is that it took a double-digit deficit for Roy Williams’ team to show the effort required to win. It’s been said before and it needs to be said again: this team isn’t good enough to get away with giving the minimum amount of effort and failing to execute offensively.

With Sunday’s defeat falling in line with North Carolina’s season to date, it’s time to accept what the remainder of the season will be for the Tar Heels: a wild ride that includes both big wins and head-scratching losses. The question is whether or not North Carolina can avoid racking up too many of those defeats.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.