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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tar Heels stumble, then collapse at Charleston

Posted by on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 7:21 PM

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If you’d informed the average Carolina fan in October that the Tar Heels would enter ACC competition with an 11-4 record, they’d probably have shrugged without any great distress.

After all, everyone knew this was a young, untested team facing a highly difficult non-conference schedule, and a few slips during the first portion of the season were to be expected.

But no one could be happy with Carolina’s performance on Monday night, when UNC blew a late, 11-point lead at the College of Charleston on its way to losing 82-79 to the Cougars in overtime.

The unease in Chapel Hill exists in large part because of Roy Williams’ continuing exasperation with his team. Williams claimed responsibility for the club’s disheveled play down the stretch, including the Heels’ failure to foul in the closing seconds of regulation — which allowed Charleston to bang in the (admittedly improbable) game-tying three-pointer — and Dexter Strickland’s decision to attempt a layup when the team was down three points at the end of overtime.

There weren’t many highlights for the Tar Heels, and the club’s point guards, Strickland and Larry Drew, are struggling to a dangerous extent. The two floor generals combined for just 5-for-21 shooting from the field, an entirely unacceptable percentage that encouraged Charleston to back off Carolina’s guards and make life more difficult inside for the frontcourt.

On that note, Ed Davis nevertheless is playing particularly brilliant basketball. The sophomore big man added another 19 points and 16 rebounds to his stellar totals this season, and he swatted away five more shots as well. Deon Thompson also got back on track, scoring 17 points and pulling down seven rebounds.

But beyond statistical production and the okay record so far, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with the Heels.

Here’s my take, and it boils down to a pair of primary factors:

1) This team is the least talented group Roy Williams has had since arriving at Carolina. Even the skittish, traumatized 2003-04 team was loaded with talent. While everyone wants to take a microscope to the current club’s troubles, the fundamental talent problem is more basic.

2) Beyond even the absolute talent level, Carolina’s parts don’t complement each other especially well. There’s a gaping hole at wing forward, and no one playing in the backcourt can be relied upon for consistent scoring. The bulk of the team’s talent is in the frontcourt, where there’s a logjam that has made allotting playing time difficult.

The question now is to what extent the coaching staff can use smoke and mirrors to obscure the club’s limitations, because neither of those core issues can be salted away easily this season.

Carolina now will have several days of practice before hosting Virginia Tech on Sunday in its first conference battle.

To see the UNC/CoC box score, click here.

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