December 15, 2012 – the date you can safely write off North Carolina as a bona fide ACC contender.
This may ring hollow to some or state the obvious to others, but it shouldn’t stun anyone. The Tar Heels were flimsy ACC contenders to begin with, having lost four collegiate stars to the first round of June’s NBA draft. The core of this year’s squad is largely unproven—and thus far overhyped—young talent interspersed with one-dimensional seniors coming off major knee injuries. Surprise! The team is off to a predictably shaky start.
Midseason progress reports are due in a few weeks in Chapel Hill, and North Carolina’s egregious second half performance against Conference-USA bottom-feeder East Carolina certainly isn’t helping the grade. There’s a subtle, but perceptible vibe surrounding this year’s team similar to the one that haunted the Dean Dome during the 2009-10 campaign. That title-defense season, if you’ll recall, was also preceded by the departure of four noteworthy Tar Heels starters to the NBA.
So why are we harking back to these unsightly times in Carolina lore, especially following a six-point win? The similarities were too tempting to pass up. Where to begin…
Defense? That’s a start. ECU scored 61 second half points (not a typo) versus the Tar Heels. The Pirates had a field day on Saturday parading up and down the floor, creating high-quality looks, even if many didn’t drop. To put ECU’s second half outburst in perspective, Charlotte, a middling A-10 school that lost to Miami (FL) by 29, held the Pirates to 64 total points when the two teams met earlier this year. North Carolina rates well in terms of defensive efficiency calculations—in part because of its weak schedule as well as the helter-skelter pace at which it plays—but that’s not to say the team’s effort has been sufficient [or consistent] on the defensive end. These Tar Heels, like the mercurial bunch from 2009-10 which didn’t play a lick of defense early in the season either, are only committing to the defensive end for spurts at a time.