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Five reasons to be optimistic

So you've suffered through your office ribbing after UNC's pathetic showing at Clemson on Wednesday, and cursed enough Saturday (and throughout the season) to necessitate a trip to church on Sunday. The only people who seem to feel your pain are UConn fans, whose team lost their 6th game in 18 tries yesterday after a Final Four appearance last year. You have followed Woody Durham's advice to "go where you go and do what you do" but to little result. And yet there is hope - so before you go wrapping your mind around the possibility of not making the NCAA tournament, here are five reasons to feel good about where the 2010 Tar Heels can still go:

1. Individual players are improving, even if the feeling is that the team as a whole is not.

Lost in the disappointment of the play of the returners is the fact that a number of the freshmen, plus Will Graves, are improving game-by-game. Graves seemed to respond to his benching earlier this season very well, and has come on of late on both ends of the floor. The impact of Dexter Strickland has already been documented (although it is puzzling why he only played 10 minutes against GT) and Leslie McDonald seems to be getting into the swing of things as well. The injury to Tyler Zeller may pay dividends by getting the Wear twins onto the court faster, and Travis Wear provided serviceable minutes against Georgia Tech.

2. Larry Drew is really not that bad. Really!

Did you know that, going into the Clemson game, LDII was 7th in the nation in assists? And even though he had 10 turnovers in the Clemson and Georgia Tech games combined, he also had 14 assists. And as C. Michael pointed out earlier last week, Drew compares favorably to Ed Cota and Raymond Felton at similar points in their sophomore years. Drew's mistakes seem to be spectacular while his assists are invisible. Drew can drive and shoot and when he takes care of the basketball is more than capable at the position.

3.UNC often starts poorly in ACC play.

Remember all the way back to...last year, when Carolina started 0-2 in the ACC and there was much hand-wringing and soul-searching? As disconcerting as this start is, it's not like it hasn't happened before. Roy Williams and his staff have shown repeatedly the ability to make adjustments mid-stream during ACC play.

4. Yes, there are six losses, but they are pretty good losses.

It's hard to gripe about losing six games, given that anything more than 8 tops the total of the last two years combined. Five of the six losses are to top-20 teams and the Charleston loss was what it was. Moreover, except for the Clemson game, UNC has not really laid an egg for 40 minutes, and except for Charleston, hasn't really lost to anyone that couldn't be justified. It's time to panic when you start losing multiple games you really shouldn't be losing.

5. The answer is really simple.

For all the dissection done of UNC's perceived woes, the solution is amazingly simple: when UNC plays hard, rebounds well, and doesn't throw the ball all over the gym, they win. From the point against Georgia Tech when Carolina was down 50-30, the Heels finished on a 41-23 run. It can be done.

The next three games are crucial - home dates with Wake Forest and Virginia sandwiched around a trip to the RBC Center to play NC State. If Carolina holds serve at home and picks up a win at State, then the Heels are right back into the thick of things at 4-2 in the ACC. Basketball has a short memory, so the Heels and their fans can step away from the ledge and get the season back on track in short order.