No. 5 North Carolina is four weeks into conference play and it is clear that the Tar Heels have some issues to address before the end of the regular season.
The eternal question asked about UNC is whether they are strong enough on D. Playing against No. 10 Clemson, the Heels proved that they can play better defense than the sorry excuse for defence seen against Boston College and No. 1 Wake Forest, but is North Carolina's defense strong enough to take on a team like No. 2 Duke?
In recent games, UNC has put in more effort when the other team has control of the ball. Ed Davis has become a force under the basket, joining Deon Thompson and Bobby Frasier to form a defensive core for the Heels.
But if the Tar Heels want to stop a team that focuses their offense on three pointers, such as Duke, they will need to strengthen their defensive play on the perimeter. Furthermore, offensive players, including Tyler Hansbrough, will need to remember that defense is just as important as putting points on the board.
After losing to Wake Forest, Danny Green and Wayne Ellington both admitted that the Tar Heel hype encompassing the media definitely got to the Heels' heads.
North Carolina is going to receive praise from the media, but UNC players need to block it out and play like they have something to prove.
If players are focusing on rankings and not on the game, UNC's season will be a continuation of their first two ACC games.
Marcus Ginyard was expected to return from foot surgery in time for UNC's conference play. He is still on the bench.
Ginyard is a key part of the Heels' defense. Can the Tar Heels make it through an entire season without him? It is definitely possible, but the other members of the team will need to step up their defensive efforts come tournament time if they want to fill the void left by Ginyard.
If Ginyard returns to the court in the coming weeks, how will he fit in with a team that has played over two months without him? It will be unlikely for Ginyard to return to his starting position anytime soon, so he would be forced to adjust to coming back from an injury and to a new role on the team.
Other injuries should be of concern to the Tar Heels as well. Tyler Zeller finally has his cast off after fracturing his wrist and was warming up with the team before the game against Clemson on Wednesday.
Could Zeller make a return to the floor this season? If he does, he will face a steep learning curve. It is too late in the season for him to be making freshman mistakes.
When shots do not fall, a team cannot win. This is yet another lesson that UNC learned in its losses against BC and Wake.
Right now, Wayne Ellington has his confidence back, hitting fairly consistently from the three point line in the Heels' past two games. But if Ellington has a bad game in the coming weeks, will he fall back into a slump? Hopefully not—Carolina will depend on him scoring a notable amount of points per game if they want to have a chance making it through their ACC season on top.
Ty Lawson also needs to worry about consistency. He cannot let other teams' defenses ruin his quick style of play.
UNC's rival down the road is good. (As much as it pains me to admit it, they are very good.)
Duke is Carolina's biggest challenge since they do not face BC or Wake again this season.
Right now, the Blue Devils are 5-0 in conference, as opposed to UNC's 3-2 record.
If Carolina wants to stop Duke—a team currently on a 10-game win streak—they will need to play their best. This means taking high percentage shots and making them and playing better D than they have played this season.
When Carolina takes on Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 11, the Tar Heels will truly be put to the test. Until then, the Heels cannot let up against lesser ACC opponents. As their 0-2 in-conference start shows, UNC should play every game like they have something to prove.