Boy is CBS going to be pissed.
There are a couple of sides to this loss.
On one side you have the "one of those games" aspect of it. UNC got a poor offensive performance out of its frontline. Tyler Zeller never got on track and quite honestly it seemed like he could never get the ball up to even shoot it. John Henson simply missed shots, even easy putbacks at the rim. Harrison Barnes simply did not shoot well, took some challenged shots and also tweaked his ankle. Since UNC's offense is wrapped up in the frontline the play of Dexter Strickland and P.J. Hairston was simply not enough to produce points. There was foul trouble, a weird officiated game and UNLV hitting everything they put up or so it seemed. Balls bounced the wrong way and in the opening minutes of the second half UNC could not make a shot while UNLV scored at will. It was one of those odd games you get in the mix. Sometimes players have bad games. Sometimes the other team plays over their head. You also have games where the match-up is unfavorable which this may have been. Since this is November, losing a game like this is not really much to be worried about.
On the flip side there are some parts of this game that do spark concerns. The rebounding or lack thereof is first and foremost on the list. UNC was outrebounded for the third time in six games despite having a seven footer and a power forward with a 7-4 wingspan. UNC was outrebounded 46-37 by a UNLV team that played smaller lineups in general. Mike Moser had 18 rebounds alone which was more than Zeller and Henson combined. Obviously this is a problem and at this point looks like something that needs to be addressed. Is is positioning? Is it merely getting boxed out by more physical players? Balls bouncing the wrong way? UNC players thinking just because they are tall the ball will fall into their hands? Whatever the case it stands to be addressed since it shouldn't be happening given the talent on the frontline.
In addition to the rebounding, a hard look has to be given to the defense in light of Kendall Marshall's inability to keep a faster PG in front of him. This was a known issue coming into the season and a weakness in Marshall's game you have to account for amid all his positives. UNC defensive scheme which calls for rotations when a player is beaten off the dribble is susceptible to drive and kick teams. Always has been under Roy Williams always will be assuming he doesn't change it and chances are he won't. However if penetration is something opposing teams are going to get consistently then the defense probably should be tweaked or this won't be the last time you see this movie. Granted, UNC teams seem to be perpetual victims of hot three point shooting and maybe this belongs more in the first category than this one but the defense could stand to be adjusted in Marshall struggles to keep guards in front of him. I would bring up the free throw shooting but I am not sure anything new can be said about it other than it will hopefully improve as the season move along so when the games are really important the shooting is up to par.
On the positive side Hairston hit three 3-pointers and scored 15 points. Strickland was effective at the two and played a nice stretch at PG in the first half that saw UNC go on a 7-0 run. The perimeter shooting appears to be coming along which was the chief concern coming into the season. Who would have thought UNC would lose its first game this season because of rebounding and not poor perimeter shooting.
Overall this is a meaningless loss and if you don't believe me take a look at all the hand wringing we did last year after losses to Minnesota, Vanderbilt and Illinois for a team that ended up winning the regular season and going to the Elite Eight. The bugaboo here is I think we all assumed this team would pick up where it left off in March and there would not be much in the way of growing pains. That is apparently not the case and what I would love to know is what kind of development curve Roy Williams has for this team and where this team is on it? There is obviously some maturation that needs to happen and UNC is operating more on potential than realized achievement at this juncture. And while losing is never acceptable nor do we subscribe to the notion of "good losses" a loss like this is part of the maturation and development of a team. It exposes weaknesses and provides a standard by which to judge if the effort and execution is sufficient. UNLV is a good team so this is not a bad loss by any stretch. It is ultimately a bump on the road to what should end up being a wildly successful season like Boston College or Maryland in 2009.
One clear point remains and that is losing now and working through the development issues is much more desirable at this stage. Better to be tested, even burned a bit and build from that than cruise along believing you don't have any real issues. Now we look to the next game and how this team bounces back which may tell you more about this team than one loss does.