No. 5 North Carolina’s loss highlights issues with their rebounding, toughness

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Every team throws up a clunker once in a while, which is why I’m not overly worried about No. 5 North Carolina’s 74-66 loss to Butler on Wednesday afternoon.

These things happen all the time in college basketball, and that’s before you factor in some of the unique circumstances of this game. North Carolina is ranked in the top five. Butler was expected to finish near the bottom of the Big East this season. The game was played at noon on the day before Thanksgiving in a modified ballroom in the Bahamas.

If anyone is ever going to overlook an opponent, it’s going to be in a situation like this.

So no, I’m not ready to say North Carolina is a fraud, that they have no shot of winning the ACC title this year.

But there are two major concerns for the Tar Heels that manifested themselves in Nassau.

The biggest one is the most obvious: defensive rebounding. North Carolina theoretically has one of the best front lines in the country, but they allowed Butler to grab 29 of the 55 possible offensive rebounds, an absurdly good number for anyone but a troubling one for the Tar Heels. Size is key when it comes to rebounding, but the understanding of positioning and, more importantly, desire and effort matter just as much, and the bottom line is that Butler simply outworked and out-toughed the Tar Heels on the glass.

Toughness was an issue at the other end of the floor as well, but it had nothing to do with physicality. There was a notable lack of leadership and direction offensively for UNC. They took quick shots. They took bad shots. They looked lost offensively. And while a lot of that can be credited to Butler’s defense, the Tar Heels should have the talent to overcome that.

They didn’t on Wednesday.

I love Marcus Paige, but he did not play well Wednesday. He finished with 18 points, but he was just 5-for-17 from the floor and did a lot of his scoring damage in the final minutes. He needs to be better as well.

All in all, like I said, I’m not too concerned about this loss, not when the Bulldogs are clearly better than we realized.

But these issues will be something to keep an eye on with the Heels for the rest of the season.