Saturday's game against Georgia Tech was deja vu all over again for Carolina fans who sat through Wednesday night's debacle at Clemson. And though the Tar Heels fought back valiantly to take the lead late, ultimately the effort goes down as a loss, whether it was two points or twenty points.
Nearly two-thirds of the way through the schedule, the Heels find themselves at 12-6, and a pedestrian 1-2 in the relatively weak ACC. More important, Carolina is dreadful away from the Smith Center and still has trips to Maryland, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech on the schedule - all places where the best of UNC squads have struggled, plus big-time rivalry games at NC State and Duke.
As a result, there is plenty of reason to be pessimistic about the prognosis of the remainder of Carolina's season, as the Heels are playing themselves squarely onto the NCAA bubble, much less into contention to keep playing past the first weekend. Here are five specific reasons to be pessimistic about the Tar Heels:
1. Larry Drew is simply not getting the job done.
If you were doing a fantasy draft of ACC point guards, where would you draft Larry Drew? If there is one thing the ACC is doing well, it is play at the point. Malcolm Delaney, Greivis Vasquez, Ish Smith, Demontez Stitt - heck, even Jon Scheyer is successful running the point. One can certainly appreciate the loyalty Roy Williams and his staff have shown to Drew, but the poor decision-making and imprecise passing are just killing the team.
2. Marcus Ginyard is not the leader everyone thought he would be, and no one has stepped up to fill that role.
This point has been debated extensively, but it bears repeating. Ginyard is just not able to put the team on his back, and while it may have been unfair to expect so much out of him, the fact remains that neither Ginyard nor anyone else has assumed the mantle of leadership. There is an old adage that "anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm." In UNC's case, no one is steering the ship, calm or not.
3.The team does not have a go-to player.
Will Graves' career day against Tech notwithstanding, who is the Tar Heels' money player? And before you say Graves, how many times have you grimaced when he took a three-point shot? Graves is a gunner, and gunners sometimes have days like Saturday. Some people have posited that Davis is the go-to guy, or maybe even Drew. The Tech game may have changed some people's minds on those issues, but the point remains that the Heels have neither a defined leader nor a person who can be counted on to make the clutch play.
4. The front line is soft. The rest of team may be as well.
Deon Thompson and Ed Davis have found the post-Hansbrough going a little rougher. Thompson, an experienced senior with a national title and 2 Final Fours to his credit, should be one of the best big men in the league. Davis, who just last season was considered a lottery pick, has seemed to regress as a sophomore. Even Tyler Zeller, before his injury, appeared to be no more effective than he was last season.
Jay Bilas made this point rather delicately during the Clemson game when he questioned Carolina's "competitive spirit," but I'll come out and say what Bilas didn't - does this team have any heart? Is there any fire? How about mental toughness? When was the last time you saw anyone on this year's UNC team diving after loose balls? Giving up their bodies? There was one sequence in the Tech game where UNC had four offensive rebounds and could not make the shot. A similar play occurred in the Clemson game. The UNC big men are shying away from contact and the guards are wetting the bed when they are pressured. Again, maybe Carolina fans have been spoiled after the past five or six years, but this team plays soft - and that includes guys with NCAA rings, not just the freshmen.
5. This team is simply not getting any better as the season progresses.
Any knowledgeable UNC fan would have said that the team's preseason top-10 ranking was ridiculous, and fans and pundits alike agreed that the team would experience growing pains. "Just wait until January when the Heels really get it together" was the common wisdom. Well, it's mid-January and 60 of the last 80 minutes have been UNC's worst effort of the season. Roy Williams has tried almost everything, including playing zone and calling timeouts to stop runs.
Moreover, the team's confidence is shot. Drew looks like a deer in the headlights and the big men have the yips from three feet. Fans and coaches alike have been waiting for the moment that it clicks and this group "gets it". Time is getting short and the road only gets harder from here.
At this rate, this team is playing like a 7-9 ACC team, which puts the overall record at 18-13 and on the NCAA bubble, hoping the strength of schedule and name recognition will sneak the Heels in the backdoor of the tourney.
Coming Monday: Five reasons to be optimistic