In Search of Something Positive

There is little doubt that North Carolina basketball coach Matt Doherty is under considerable duress these days.

According to the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Duress means: (1) Forcible restraint or restriction; (2) compulsion by threat – specifically unlawful constraint.

It also means pressure, as in being under extreme pressure.

Doherty's Tar Heels have opened the season with puzzling losses to Hampton and Davidson, a pair of programs that barely register on college basketball's Richter scale. For UNC to lose a home game against a non-conference foe is disturbing enough to Tar Heel faithful: Example last year's defeat to Kentucky. But to succumb to teams from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southern Conference respectively is beyond unacceptable for the nation's premiere program over the last 35 years. And to many that bellow songs of Tar Heel pride, appeasement is in order. The onus is clearly on Doherty to turn things around, and quickly.

So how should UNC fans react to this sudden trek through mediocrity and how on earth will norm be restored in the hallowed halls of the Dean Dome?

For a few answers – and even mental refuge – wisdom and advice have been sought from some of the most respected minds on self-evaluation and forward thinking known to man. These great brains of appeasement have paved their course with brutal honesty yet with a touch of compassion so as not to offend their subjects to keep them steered in a positive direction. Some harness little value on the surface, but deep down, as the late Michael Hutchence (although not a great mind) of the rock band INXS once wrote, "Knowledge can always be found."

Information can be comforting, or, it is at least enlightening. At this juncture, searching fans will take anything. Trying to find answers for the Heels' first two acts is easy in many ways, yet discouragingly difficult in others.

The Tar Heels don't lack talent. They have solid depth and experience even though currently without five of their top seven scorers from last year's co-Atlantic Coast Conference champions. However, there is certainly enough to expect comfortable victories against the likes of the Pirates and Wildcats.

So Carolina stands at 0-2 with another of the six fabled programs, Indiana, coming to the Dean. E. Smith Center on Wednesday night. If UNC can't beat Hampton and Davidson, Tar Heel fans must ponder, how on earth can a win over the Hoosiers be expected?

Maybe that answer can come from University of Chicago professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who once wrote, "It is by becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow."

Certainly UNC's sudden swoon is complex, but how can the ship be righted?

The first thing Doherty must do is fully understand why his team hasn't performed well. Poor shooting stands out as the most obvious reason. In a 77-69 loss to Hampton, UNC made just 26 of 67 field goals (6-35 from 3-point range), good for a wretched 39%. In the 58-54 loss to Davidson, Carolina made good on an even worse 18 of 60 attempts (30%).

With poor shooting determined as the primary reason for the winless start, what can be done to get the Tar Heels, especially their two senior leaders, Jason Capel (29.6%) and Kris Lang (38.8%), on track? Assuming the pair hits their stride, the others will likely follow, at least according to conventional wisdom.

Csikszentmihalyi understands that to achieve one mustn't stagnate its intent. For UNC, this means the Heels need to be more aggressive on offense and force the issue more than they have so far.

In other words, Carolina must have better ball movement, whether against a zone defense – which has troubled them thus far – or a man-to-man, which could cause more problems if the Heels don't attack defenses better. This modus operandi begins at point guard. Carolina needs someone capable of consistently delivering the ball to open mates by creating seams, drawing double-teams with dribble penetration or simply finding an open man at precisely the right time, aided by more screening, especially down low. Whether it is Adam Boone, Brian Morrison or Melvin Scott – or even Ronald Curry if he opts to play – that person must be given the job soon so he can relax and surge forward.

But if this approach is to work, the point guard needs help - as in movement without the ball from the other four players on the court. UNC has been grossly negligent in both of these areas, as the stifled offense has scored just 123 points so far. Had the Heels orchestrated just six more layups in their two games they might be 2-0, with questions, but 2-0 nonetheless.

So, to rid this approach, the Heels need to be more active on offense – with or without the ball – against a zone or the many man-to-man's that are headed their way. Indiana, like most ACC teams, will certainly play on-the-ball defense intent on denying the pass and even overplaying some, especially against teams lacking a capable distributor.

If the Tar Heels can get some easier looks equaling more baskets their confidence will grow. Of course this requires that offensive flow, yet as sport goes, confidence can be fleeting, but even intermittent confidence is a step in the right direction.

Confidence: 1 a: a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or reliance on one's circumstances, b: faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way; 2: the quality or state of being certain; 3 a: a relation of trust or intimacy, b: reliance on another's discretion, c: support especially in a legislative body.

Eric Hoffer, a 20th Century American social philosopher who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, once wrote in his first book, The True Believer, "There is a close connection between lack of confidence and the passionate state of mind."

The Heels need to have faith in each other but mostly their coach and he must convey to them his way will work. But to get the point across, he must also believe in them, and himself. Doherty can't overreact and mustn't quickly pull the plug on his players. He must articulate his belief in them by his actions as much as his words. The players will likely respond accordingly.

As the team has its work cut out, so to do UNC's legion of fans, of which most haven't been tested before. And as their role of sixth man increases from non-existent to substantial, they too can play a part in the Tar Heels' possible resurgence.

Carolina fans can now be a bigger part of the program than has ever before been required. As their rivals from Duke routinely gain a significant edge in home games with a raucous crowd, so too can Carolina. However, it may be more of a necessity in Chapel Hill than in Durham these days.

Fans must show up early and be loud. If the players see many empty seats Wednesday night their energy level could be affected. Instead, especially considering the losses and big time opponent at hand, they may feel alone, which could quicken the doom if things don't go well early.

But in the end, it is up to the Doherty, his staff and the team. They need to recognize what hasn't gone well and improve in all areas. If the players – and fans - are to turn things around and the program is to maintain the numerous incredible streaks of NCAA Tournament appearances, 20-win seasons and top-three finishes in the difficult ACC, these improvements can't be fleeting.

As Aristotle once wrote, "Quality is not an act, it is a habit."

Now is the time for Carolina basketball, from every film room session, possession, defensive series and cheering fan to make the right approach a habit. Otherwise, those streaks may not only come to an end, but in a shattering force that does measure on the Richter scale.


Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at:

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