Facing Reality

CHAPEL HILL, N.C --- How about this for a sobering look at reality for this North Carolina basketball season: It may not have bottomed out just yet.

That could come next Tuesday night at the RBC Center when the Tar Heels visit hated and often-laughed at N.C. State, which is playing better than the Heels right now.

So yes, it could actually get worse than it was during Wednesday's 82-69 loss to Wake Forest at the Smith Center. And really, can anyone point to a specific time where they expect the bloodletting to end?

"It's up to us," said Will Graves. "We have to keep fighting. That's what fighters do."

But are the Heels really a bunch of fighters, or have they become a wandering bunch searching for things like a leader, a go-to guy, a defensive stopper, chemistry, confidence, an infusion of tenacity and wounds to heal.

Carolina has now dropped three straight games and is 12-7 on the season. If the NCAA selection committee were convening in an Indianapolis hotel right now, the defending national champions wouldn't even be on the board.

To get on that board and into the field of 65, Carolina almost needs to re-invent itself. It has to become a fluid halfcourt team on offense so it can attempt smarter shots and increase its accuracy. It must take the coaches' cues on defense more, so opposing teams don't score so often on inbound plays and general sets. And, among many other things, it must simply play with more pride, which in this sport means intensity.

Travis Wear is a freshman and hails from California, but at least he seems to get it.

"I think we just need to start taking things more personal on the court," said Wear, who earned a start because Ed Davis was out with a sprained ankle. "We're North Carolina basketball, we're not supposed to lose. So as soon as guys start giving it their all out on the court I think we'll be fine."

Somewhat true, but the problem facing UNC is going to require a complete understanding of what is going wrong. And while the onus is on the players to get it right, it's also on the coaches to recognize what just doesn't work with this team.

Everyone is accountable, which is why the leadership must first start with Williams. He handled the role briefly during the 2006 season when David Noel went through a rough stretch in late January, and he can certainly do it again.

The coach says there's no potion he can pour on the players to turn things around, but he does have a Hall of Fame career to draw from, even if there aren't many scenarios like this on his resume.

"It's almost, almost completely new territory for me. Almost," he said. "People say, ‘Ol Roy Williams always had that silver spoon.' My first year at Kansas we lost eight straight… The people here expect me to do a job and work really hard and make sure they get it. But the players have to come along."

That brings up another problem few have discussed: Carolina isn't that talented.

According to Scout.com, Marcus Ginyard was rated the 52nd best player in his recruiting class while Deon Thompson was No. 36, Will Graves No. 79, Larry Drew No. 68, Dexter Strickland No. 33, Leslie McDonald No. 53, and the Wears were Nos. 55 and 56.

Davis was No. 10, Zeller No. 21, John Henson No. 4, and they combined for nine minutes against Wake. Even still, this performance wasn't about not having Davis and Zeller, as they have also underachieved, especially in recent weeks.

This is why a turnaround must be a collective deal. The 1997 team started out 0-3 in the ACC and last year's squad was 0-2, but there are no Antawn Jamisons, Vince Carters, Tyler Hansbroughs or Ty Lawsons on this year's roster.

And that is Carolina's reality.

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