It's not much of a stretch to suggest that North Carolina overslept for all three of its ACC Tournament games last weekend. If you add up the stats before the second media timeout in each game, you arrive at the following nightmarish scenario – UNC trailed 50-24 due to 25.8 percent shooting (8-of-31) and 19 turnovers, while its opponents combined to shoot 47.7 percent (21-of-44).
The concern for the Tar Heels is not that the problem cannot be fixed; it's that no one seems to know what the problem is.
Head coach Roy Williams told reporters during Thursday's media session at Bobcats Arena that his team had taken a lead into halftime in 10 of the 11 games heading into the ACC Tournament, but that he had "no idea" what produced the slow starts in Greensboro.
Junior forward Tyler Zeller offered a similar explanation, saying, "I don't really think it was anything -- it's one of those things that you can't really point out one thing."
The last North Carolina team brimming with underclassmen – the Tyler Hansbrough-led '05-06 squad – won 10 of its final 11 regular season games, including a victory over Duke in the season finale. While that run mirrors the current team's late spurt in winning 12 of 13 to close the regular season, UNC is hoping for different postseason results.
The '05-06 team posted a 2-2 record after the Duke win and exited the NCAA Tournament in the second round.
Could it be that the Tar Heels were simply fat and happy after claiming the ACC regular season championship?
"I don't know if it's that, but we just didn't come out with the same hunger that we had at the end of the regular season," freshman forward Harrison Barnes said. "So after a humbling experience against Duke in the tournament championship, we have a different mindset going into the NCAAs."
Long Island and its high-octane offense will be hoping that's not the case on Friday.
How Will UNC Overcome its Lack of Experience in NCAA Tournament Action?
North Carolina is 23 months and a few weeks removed from winning its second national championship in five years, but it doesn't take long to figure out that the '09 title is ancient history.
When the current crop of Tar Heels needed advice about NCAA Tournament play this week, the only teammates to turn to with experience were Zeller and Justin Watts. And calling those juniors experienced is laughable – Zeller and Watts combined to log 50 minutes of playing time in the '09 Dance and 22 of those minutes came in a first-round blowout win against Radford.
Of course, it helps having a head coach that ranks third all-time in NCAA Tournament wins (55) and boasts seven Final Four appearances and two national titles, but even Williams believes a player has to step up and lead the team through the unknown waters of March Madness, even if that player is seeing it for the first time along with his teammates.
"In some ways I think the coach leads all the time by trying to set the tone," Williams said. "Still, I'm not in the locker room with them, and so somebody has got to be able to do it in there."
Williams talked after Sunday's loss to Duke about how the brutal swiftness in which a season-ending loss strikes may not be fully understood by young players until it happens. Explaining a tragic event never carries the same weight as the actual experience.
As the eighth-year UNC head coach told reporters on Wednesday in Chapel Hill, there are no do-overs, no mulligans, no second chances. Lose and go home.
"Tomorrow's not promised," Marshall said. "Our record is 0-0 now. We can't focus on that. There are six games in this tournament, but really it's a one-game tournament every day you're out there."
The players are saying the right things. Now it's just a matter of believing their own words.
Has Kendall Marshall Learned from the Tough Lessons Taught in Greensboro?
It's the mark of a new age when a player like Kendall Marshall feels the need to apologize to his fan base after struggling during the ACC Tournament, but the freshman point guard insists on holding himself to a high standard.
Opponents have undoubtedly scoured game film to find ways to slow down the Tar Heel magician since he took over the offensive reins two months ago, but last weekend was the first time that those efforts paid off.
Clemson forced five Marshall turnovers and held UNC to four fast break points by assigning either Demontez Stitt or Andre Young to find the freshman every time a shot went up on the Tigers' glass, effectively serving a bump-and-run approach that limited his ability to move the ball up the court.
Less than 24 hours later, Duke's Nolan Smith got physical with Marshall as soon as he crossed midcourt, leading to a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (4:5). But such experiences are often required for true growth.
"You have to fail before you can go on and conquer further goals," Marshall said. "… I learned that I just have to go out there and attack, be in attack mode at all times. I think that maybe I'm not helping our team when I walk the ball up the court or I'm not as aggressive, but when I'm aggressive, it makes our job as a team a lot easier."
There's no question that his teammates still have full faith in his abilities.
"It's a learning process," sophomore guard Dexter Strickland said. "Throughout the season, he's never been pressured as he was against Clemson and Duke. During the Duke game, I told him just to attack. ‘Nobody's going to take the ball from you, so just attack. And when you attack, you've got ‘Z' and you've got John [Henson] open.'
"I think him having those games will help him in the games to come in this tournament."