North Carolina rebounded in its win over Virginia Tech on Saturday. So what? That hardly erases the 33-point dismantling the Tar Heels experienced at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles earlier in the week. Not only do many questions remain after the inexplicable loss to the Seminoles, but in UNC’s “bounce back” win, they lost starting guard Dexter Strickland for the season to a torn ACL. Now the Heels not only have to overcome a questionable loss, but they have to do it without a key player for the rest of the season.The Tar Heels began the regular season ranked No. 1 and were preseason favorites to win a national championship in the Superdome April 2, behind surprising returnee and All-American sophomore forward Harrison Barnes. Despite a 15-2 start to the season, before being dissected for 32 points by FSU guard Deividas Dulkys, who averages just 7.6 points per game, there have been some curiosities to UNC’s game that should have them concerned.The most prominent factor might be how much North Carolina struggles when it matches up against good defensive teams. Two of North Carolina’s losses, against Kentucky and Florida State, and its three point escape at home against Wisconsin, shows how vulnerable the Tar Heels become against a good defense. In those three contests, UNC’s average shooting percentage was just 40.4 percent, nearly eight percent below its season average and its scoring average was just 63 points per game, 22.2 points below the team’s season average.How good are Wisconsin, Kentucky and Florida State, defensively? They rank No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in field goal percentage defense in the country. Wisconsin also ranks first in scoring defense. Not pushovers by any means, but how will North Carolina fare come tournament time, when it is forced to play against defenses fighting harder than ever before, because of the fear of elimination? It doesn’t guarantee a loss, as shown by the team’s win against the Badgers, but it could mean struggles for the top-ranked offense in the country.Another curious aspect in Chapel Hill is how the Tar Heels will handle increased competition as they move into the complete Atlantic Coast Conference schedule and the conference tournament. UNC has not played an overwhelmingly difficult schedule this year, but when it has played the good teams – teams with an overall winning record and a member of a major conference – North Carolina is just 4-3.Two of the losses occurred on the road, one was on a neutral floor, and, of the four wins, three were at home and the season opener against Michigan State was on neutral court on the USS Carl Vinson, anchored off the coast of San Diego. The country needs to see more than the Heels outshooting their opponents in their own gym, especially when it comes time to fill out brackets. Sorry, beating Long Beach State by six, as the Heels did in December, is not going to be good enough for anyone. If North Carolina wants to win it all, they will have to win big.Maybe less relevant and more entertaining, as ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt pointed out, teams looking to win championships don’t lose by 33 points to unranked teams, which is probably a good point. Five of the Heels’ six regular season losses last season didn’t total up to 33 points.Looking back at national champions since 1980, not one champion lost by 33, and only four of those champions even had a losing margin of 20 or more.Is it fair to say that North Carolina has a soft team or doesn’t have the mental toughness required to win a championship? It might be, but that can’t be determined for quite some time. What can be said for sure is that it’s unacceptable for a team loaded with talent, including multiple NBA draft lottery picks, to get beaten so badly by Florida State.Ah! There it is. The most important key for the person that plays devil’s advocate to this argument. North Carolina is undeniably talented. Playmakers like Harrison Barnes, defensive stalwarts like John Henson and fantastic passers like Kendall Marshall together on the same team almost automatically make up a squad capable of winning a championship, but it is going to take a significant amount of growth to make that happen.This is a very young team. The Heels have five seniors, but star forward Tyler Zeller is the only one who averages above six minutes per game. The rest of the lineup consists of three juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen. If the Tar Heels of North Carolina are going to overcome such an embarrassing loss, it is going to take some senior leadership from Zeller, or for one of the other stars to step up, become a leader and motivate UNC to be great. Right now it just looks like they think they’re great.Brett is a senior studying journalism. Think UNC will recover and win the national championship, or was the loss to FSU a sign of things to come? Let Brett know at firstname.lastname@example.org send him a tweet @BAsportswriter.
← Previous Post: Badgers best lowly Hoosiers, 65-53