This isn't bad. Try this.
January 4th, 1997: #2 Wake Forest 81 #11 UNC 57
January 8th, 1997: #19 Maryland 85 #13 UNC 75
January 11th, 1997: Virginia 75 #13 UNC 62
That is how ACC played opened for the Tar Heels in 1997. Three double digit losses, two of them on the road the middle one at home to Maryland. Urban legend has it that after the loss to UVa, a players only meeting was held at which point the the decision was made to straighten things out. UNC went on to beat NC State and Georgia Tech at home and sandwiched a win in Chapel Hill over #2 Clemson between losses to Florida State and Duke. From there UNC took off. After crushing Middle Tennessee St., UNC ran the table in the 2nd half of the ACC season to finish tied for 2nd, then swept the ACC Tournament(with Duke losing to play in game winner NCSU in the first round. Ha-ha.) UNC managed a #1 seed and went to the Final Four before losing to Arizona for the 2nd time that season. It was an magical winning streak during which Dean passed Adolph Rupp to become the all-time winningest coach in the NCAA. It was Dean's last team and perhaps his greatest coaching job considering the pressures of being 0-3 in the ACC.
1997 comes to mind because like that team, the 2009 versions faces a similar problem. UNC is 0-2 in the ACC and while 2009 came into play with a much greater hype surrounding them and the 0-2 is margified a thousand times more simply because UNC was touted by some as able to go undefeated. Outside of that I think you are looking at fairly similar situations. The question is where do they go from here.
1. Are there chemistry issues?
There must be and I am not saying they are tearing each other apart but Tim Brando recounted this morning on 850 the Buzz how Roy gave the team a thorough ripping during one of the late 2nd half timeouts, Deon Thompson said something and as they were walking on the court Thompson and Danny Green were having words which concluded with Green saying, "Let's just play!" That is not a good sign though I would hesitate to make more of it because losing makes everyone cranky. I do think this team seems to lack cohesion a lot of times. If you take the 2005 team for example, those players were bonded by having gone through the Doh Wars. There was no question about the team chemistry per se and the only issue that ever came up was how well Roy got along with Rashad McCants. I honestly think this group of players are perhaps not on the same page with each other and losing brings out the worst elements if that is already happening.
The only solution is the players have to take it upon themselves to make things right and Roy needs to be sure everyone is focused on the same goals. Maybe they need a player only meeting like the 1997 team had to air grievance and get things right. The question is who has the leadership on that team to make it happen.
2. How fast can Marcus Ginyard get back?
I touched on this after the BC loss and it merits mentioning again but not just because of the defense he might would have played on Jeff Teague. Roy touched on this during the Monday ACC conference call when he talked about having a player who can do "little things." Jackie Manuel is a prime example of this and Roy talked about how Manuel, even while he was throwing up in a towel on the bench in a game against UConn, would still go in for spells coming up with a steal, an offensive board or general harassment an opposing player. The problem is Ginyard bring so much that fills the gaps and there is no one else. Roy thinks Will Graves might be able to do some of what Ginyard did but with the latter you get senior experience. I also think we all did not pay enough attention to the fact Ginyard being out did alter the dynamics of the team since it put Danny Green in the starting lineup. Green was great versus Wake Forest. He has generally been a very good starter. Think for a moment how many times last season Green came off the bench in the 1st half and hit shots that changed the course of the game? Think about how shifting Ginyard out and putting Green in off the bench forced teams to defense UNC differently and Green's offensive production sparked a nice run. Heck I am even wondering at this point if Green being on the floor to start the game is throwing Ellington off and he fails to get on track early. Of course none of this is the fault of anyone. Ginyard is injured and needs to get to 100%. Roy indicated that they have shut him down for now and at some point hope to bring him back. It cannot come soon enough because I think a healthy Marcus Ginyard would make a huge difference right now for this team. Especially since some of the problem with the team seemingly lacking cohesion may have to do with a vacuum of leadership on the floor.
3. Why do they wait so long?
One encouraging aspect about last night was the fact the Tar Heels did step up and make a run to get close. During the course of a few minutes span they showed the ability to hit shots and play good defense. The problem is it was a tad late. The same thing happened in the Boston College loss as well. In many ways they are like I was in college where I would wait until the night before to write papers. In this case it is like they are waiting until the morning the paper is due to start writing. I know Roy has preached bringing it from the start except it feels like no one is listening. By and large the same level of play is seen until the Heels wake up and smell the burnt toast. At that point you need so many things to go right that it becomes nearly impossible to come back without some help from the opposing team.
4. Is there any hope for the defense?
I cannot answer that question with any kind of confidence. If Ginyard returns I might say "yes" more quickly. Without Ginyard I have no idea. There is only so many times you can watch a team allow the same kinds of open looks before you accept that this is as good as it going to get. The help rotations come too slowly, drive and kicks result in open threes every time it seems like and the transition defense is a little porous. You also have the fact that most of these guys have been in this system for three years so it is almost like if they have not gotten already it will never happen. Based on Roy's past comments, he honestly believes that at some point it will click. I think he feels like he has done a good job coaching them and he feel like there will be a game where it just happens.
I hope that is the case otherwise it will chaotic from this point on.
5. What will the rest of the season be like?
UNC will run the table from here on out.
It has occurred to me that this is a distinct possibility. How great would that be? Heels go 0-2 in the ACC, everyone is pulling their hair out in frustration, cats and dogs are living together and something odd happens. UNC never loses again this season. That would be a lot of fun. Realistically speaking it won't happen though if it does I am taking credit for calling it.
The fate of this season rests on this team, players and coaches alike, gelling as a unit that maximizes the talent and experience that is there. I don't know if it will happen. Getting Ginyard back healthy is such a gigantic key to all of this and without him things look a little dicier. I do know that the best thing is for this team to take it one game at a time. The Heels need to go into every game treating it like it is a must win, last one they may ever play and play from the very start like they do when trailing five under two minutes to go.
In other words, play hard, have fun, let the chips fall where they may or as Danny Green said last night:
“I know this team and I know the character that we have on this team. I don’t question that, or how tough we are. I know that we’re going to bounce back and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”