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January 24, 2010
Wolfpack awaits wounded Heels
The world will not suddenly spin in the opposite direction, nor will the basketball season come to a halt, but Roy Williams' heart may crack into pieces if Carolina loses to N.C. State on Tuesday at 9 p.m. in Raleigh.
Duke is the biggest rival on Carolina's schedule for most Carolina fans, but the Wolfpack is enemy No. 1 in Williams' world.
N.C. State upset Duke on Wednesday, the same night Carolina showed little ability to compete against Wake Forest in an 82-69 loss - at the Smith Center, nonetheless.
Beneath the rubble of what was once a competitive basketball team, a sliver of hope showed. In the first half, Carolina played defense hard and more intelligently than what has become the norm for this team.
If the Tar Heels could handle the ball without turning it over, and someone other than Ed Davis, who was on the bench in a suit and tie, could score somewhat regularly, UNC might have been able to play well enough to develop some confidence.
What happened instead is the inability to score sucked all the energy from the defense because this team is so fragile at this point. The Tar Heels are not without talent, no matter what anyone says.
But it is a team with limited guard play, and that is a sure path to losing in college basketball. Larry Drew, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald have the ability to perform better. Roy Williams is too good of a judge of talent to have given scholarships to these kids if they could not play.
Yet they have not been able to show that talent in a productive manner on any consistent basis so far.
The players were as stunned as the fans by the latest performance.
"Everyone is speechless," Travis Wear said. "Everyone knows we have to dig deep right now and can't go belly-up."
Unfortunately, they can go belly-up if Williams and this team cannot arrange a meeting of the minds. For one, Davis has to get healthy and start going to the bucket with all the authority he can muster.
Deon Thompson absolutely must flush his mind of doubts, fears and whatever else is clouding it now that the Tar Heels are no longer playing short people. Carolina needs this senior forward to play big and not small against ACC competition. That includes rebounding the ball.
Other than Tyler Zeller, who is sitting on the bench in a suit with a broken foot, the saddest member of this team is fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard.
Ginyard was as vibrant, fun-loving and hard-nosed a kid as a coach could want his first three seasons at Carolina. Then he broke a bone in his foot, underwent surgery and his foot did not heal properly. This year, he has suffered one injury after another. Now he is a shell of the player he was two years ago.
He appears to have added too much bulk and does not appear as quick as he once was. His once wonderfully enthusiastic personality is almost dour these days. This is not meant as a criticism because his disappointment is understandable.
In 2009, he had to sit and watch the teammates he entered school with win a national championship and not be able to play and be a part of that team. Now he is being asked to lead a group of youngsters to the high standards set for all Carolina teams, and he cannot even stay on the court because of his own inconsistent health.
"Our team right now is just a little frustrating in the fact that we feel we should be a little easier to coach," Ginyard said.
There would appear to be some sort of code in that statement. What exactly is happening with this team? Are these kids just normal freshmen who are not ready for prime time? Or are there problems below the surface we on the outside cannot see?
Certainly, a popular theory among casual observers is there are so-called chemistry issues with this team. If so, the players hide it well. They do not argue or loaf.
If anything, there is a confidence problem.
For this team to win in Raleigh on Tuesday, the players must stop worrying about what is stitched across the front of their jerseys, play together, play hard and have some fun playing ball again. Oh, yeah, it would also help if they tried to concentrate for 40 minutes and, to the best of their ability, execute what Williams and his staff have been teaching since October.
But most of all, stop playing out of fear. Go all out and whatever happens, happens. Everyone in the Carolina locker room will have an easier time living with the outcome, regardless of what it is, if the team will go about its business in this fashion.