Tar Heel Fan has a lengthy discussion on Carolina's fan base this year, and why we don't seem to be able to enjoy the 19-1, Top 5 performance so far this year. A lot of theories are tossed around there and in the comments, most notably concerns about the defense, susceptible three point shooting (although any team with Lawson and Ellington's recent performance reall doesn't have anything to complain about there) and the burden of this season's expectations. I'm rather amused with that last one - UNC has got to be the only team in the country with expectations that weigh heavier on the fans than the team.
As to the question of why the fans aren't as enthusiastic about this team as they were the 2005 championship squad, I think that's primarily a problem of selective memory. Flip through To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever again - Blythe goes through (and drags Uma Thurman into) the same agony Carolina fans are self-inflicting themselves to now. The losses (Santa Clara?) kill, the wins are never definitive enough, and the whole thing feels like it could go off the rails at any moment. This is every basketball season in January, at least for UNC fans. There's a long ACC schedule still ahead, fraught with potential lapses. No team you're watching holds up to the ones you remember.
But if you like, we can pop over to Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free stats, and look at how the team compares to the 2005 championship squad. It's not a perfect comparison - the 2005 team numbers include 11 more games against significant competition - but a couple of things do jump out:
The defense is about the same. 0.932 OPPP in 2005, 0.931 in 2008. The 2005 team gets more steals, but oddly enough opposing teams took more shots from behind the arc in '05 than today. I'm not sure what that says about their respective perimeter defenses.
The three point shooting is slightly worse, but the offense isn't really suffering. In 2005, Felton, McCants and Marvin Williams were all shooting over 0.400 from behind the arc, so naturally UNC shot more threes (although still a pretty low percentage compared to other teams) and hit a larger percentage of them. But UNC's offensive efficiency was about the same, and in the top five in the country in both years.
The big difference is turnovers.
UNC in 2005 just didn't turn the ball over very much, coughing it up only 17.6 times per 100 possessions. This years squad is about average for the country, coughing it up 21 times. If you want something to be concerned about with this team, that's a good place to start. But not in the way I was thinking.
There's one more cause for Carolina fans' uncertainty this year that's been overlooked - the much deeper field of challengers this season. In 2005, UNC and Illinois were far and away the favorites for the entire season. For long stretches, it felt almost preordained that they'd meet in the championship. This year? No one talks about the title without at least throwing out four names. There are two teams still undefeated, a host more at one loss, and two teams from last year's Final Four, Georgetown and UCLA lurking around the Top 10. There are five teams this year with offensive efficencies higher than the Tar Heels' amazing numbers in 2005, and defensive numbers that seem plain unreal. There are many more dangerous teams on the courts this year than in year's past, and every fan should be jumpy about their team's chances. Do try to step back and enjoy some of the season, will you?