SMITH CENTER/ CHAPEL HILL—The headline says it all. North Carolina, which most recently defeated N.C. State on the road in its most impressive victory in weeks, reverted back to early January form on Sunday night against Virginia, getting smoked 75-60.
The Tar Heels had expected to receive an emotional boost from raucous, stir-crazy fans, many who spent the weekend trapped under a sheet of snow and ice, but for whatever reason the Cavaliers were the team that played with greater purpose throughout the game.
Carolina did essentially nothing right, getting beaten in areas where they typically succeed even in losing performances. One such example was high percentage scoring, where the Wahoos outscored the Heels 30-14 in the all-important category of points in the paint.
Virginia handcuffed the post tandem of Ed Davis (still gimpy due to an ankle injury) and Deon Thompson, limiting the pair to a combined 3-for-10 shooting and 11 total points. And remember, this is the putative strength of the team.
That brings us to the backcourt, where Larry Drew surged late but was ineffective for most of the game, finishing with 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting but also committing three turnovers and generally struggling to contain UVa’s guards defensively.
Marcus Ginyard is becoming the sad face of the team. The fifth-year senior obviously is compromised physically from where he was two seasons ago, and his two points in 28 minutes epitomize the offensive problems he has suffered all season.
Credit also belongs to Virginia, which effectively double-teamed Carolina’s big men (hence the low number of shot attempts) and forced UNC guards to knock in jumpers.
And here’s a case where stats can be misleading: Despite shooting 9-for-22 on threes — for a very healthy 41 percent — the Heels passed up numerous open shots and instead made passes that weren’t available or forced low-percentage shots off the dribble.
Here’s a case where stats tell a more accurate story: Carolina converted on 20 field goals and had 17 turnovers. To say the least, it will be difficult to win that way.
The Heels needed a couple late baskets from walk-ons to score 60 points against an average ACC team on its home floor. That is not Roy Williams basketball, yet neither the coach nor anyone else can point to a simple solution.
Perhaps the most intriguing plotline to monitor during the next two weeks — when Carolina must win games as an underdog to have any realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament — is if or how Williams will tweak his rotation.
Ginyard’s 28 minutes appear to be too many, particularly given that freshman guard Dexter Strickland occasionally is able to give the team quick offense. Additionally, after a hot start, Will Graves went ice cold and finished 5-for-15 from the floor. He and Drew led the team with 31 minutes each, and each had severe problems defending his counterpart.
As a team, Virginia shot 52 percent from the field. In a recurring nightmare, an opposing perimeter player torched the Heels’ defense. Sylven Landesberg lit up Carolina for 29 points on a highly efficient 11-for-18 shooting, becoming one of several players to enjoy a memorable night against UNC this season.
The mood in Chapel Hill certainly won’t be bright even as the snow melts, and the team is running out of time to accomplish anything meaningful. The Heels now are 2-4 in the ACC and enter the teeth of the conference schedule — the opening six games were supposed to comprise the easiest stretch — with their next encounter happening at Virginia Tech on Thursday.
To see the UNC/UVa box score, click here.