Somebody sound the alarm!
Hide your kids. Hide your wife. And hide your husbands. Cuz Carolina’s losing to errbody out here.
For the second time this weekend, North Carolina lost to an unranked opponent at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament. Friday night, it was a 72-67 loss to Minnesota. Sunday night? The Heels dropped a 72-65 decision to Vanderbilt.
Fans in Chapel Hill have to be getting worried. A 2009-2010 season that saw the preseason top five Tar Heels drop all the way to the NIT is still fresh in many minds, and the beginning of this season is reminiscent of last year’s start — struggling in a preseason tournament with a team loaded with as much talent as they have inexperience.
Those fans should be concerned. Back-to-back losses early in the season, regardless of the opponent, is cause for concern for any team in the country, let alone the No. 8 team that is just a year removed from a disastrous season.
But lets not over react here.
The way I see it, there are really three issues that North Carolina has, and all three are issues that were obvious in the preseason.
For starters, North Carolina still hasn’t found an answer at the point. Larry Drew seems to have regressed from where he was as a sophomore, and he had his fair share of troubles last season. Kendall Marshall appears to be the long-term solution, but he is just a freshman. As a result, Carolina has not looked in sync offensively and has struggled getting out and running the floor. If the Heels are going to win, they are going to have to do it by forcing their opponent’s to switch to a smaller lineup to match up with them.
Because of their second problem, a lack of front court size and depth. Carolina doesn’t really have an enforcer up front. Tyler Zeller has played well in the first four games offensively, but defensively and on the glass he has been more of a question mark. John Henson can block some shots and make some spectacular plays, but he is still a long way — and about 40 pounds — from really being able to assert his influence on a game. Justin Knox is a tough kid and a solid role player on the bench, but Trevor Mbakwe he is not.
The third issue is simply that Carolina is young. The two most experienced players on this team are Tyler Zeller, who is a junior but has missed 33 games in two seasons, and Drew. After that, the roster is comprised of sophomores that disappointed as freshmen and freshmen that haven’t lived up to ludicrous expectations. Harrison Barnes was named an AP first team all-american and the CBSSports preseason national player of the year before ever setting foot on a college court. Now Marshall’s name is being thrown around as a potential savior at the point. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a couple of kids just six months removed from their senior prom.
This was all known before the season started. I cannot stress that point enough. None of these issues should be a surprise to anyone, let alone Carolina fans.
The other point that needs to be made is that while Carolina lost to two teams that are unranked as of Sunday, come Monday morning when the new polls are released don’t be surprised if you see both Minnesota and Vanderbilt with a number to the left of their names.
The Golden Gophers have proven to be a tough, physical team with a deep and talented frontline, athleticism and length on the perimeter, and a heady point guard to run the show. Vanderbilt has emerged from offseason obscurity to a team that can be considered a legitimate favorite to win the SEC East.
In other words, the Heels lost to two tough, experienced basketball teams that are much better than the credit they were given this offseason.
That will happen to young basketball teams early in the season.
So I urge you, Carolina fans, don’t go looking for the bottom of the bourbon bottle just yet. As of today, this is probably a borderline top 25 team at best. But Barnes is too talented to continue struggling the way he has. Marshall has shown flashes of brilliance at the point. When (If?) those two come around, UNC’s offensive attack will speed up. The faster this UNC team plays, the better they are.
Any expectation of UNC competing with Duke for the spot atop the ACC standings should be tempered.
But any suggestion that UNC is not a tournament team this season is wildly premature.