After a Loss to UAB and Win over Michigan State, Who Is the Real North Carolina?

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterDecember 5, 2013

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The North Carolina Tar Heels proved one thing on Wednesday night at the Breslin Center. Actually, they proved a couple things, but there's one takeaway that I can wrap my head around.

They are the hardest team to figure out in college basketball. That's what we know.

Not only do the results of UNC's games tell us that—a 79-65 win over No. 1 Michigan State, a win over Louisville and losses to Belmont and UAB—but our eyes also cannot quite figure out what we're watching either.

EAST LANSING, MI - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans looks on from the bench with Alvin Ellis III #3 and Matt Costello #10 while playing the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Jack T. Breslin Student Events Center on December 4
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Consider this: UAB, that team that upset the Heels on Sunday, lost to Temple by 21 a week before that. By 21! And Temple, the team that beat the team that beat UNC, has lost to Kent State and Towson.

The transitive property will take us down some weird paths no matter the sport, but still, wrap your head around that.

North Carolina lost to a team that got slaughtered by a mediocre Temple squad and had to follow that up by playing one of the most talented and experienced teams on the country. On their home court.

Hey kids, this is why you shouldn't gamble.

If you didn't bother to watch Belmont or UAB and only caught Louisville and Michigan State, you might be convinced the Heels are an elite team.

They're not. But what they do really well, they did really well against both the Cardinals and Spartans. And the Spartans, similar to the Cardinals, played like "omigosh omigosh we're losing to the team that lost to Belmont and UAB!"

Both were impatient on offense and panicked before it was time to panic.

But let's not take away what North Carolina did really well either. Roy Williams knows he has a team with limitations. The Tar Heels not named Marcus Paige have made three three-pointers this season.

What the Heels do have, or what they've developed on the fly, is one really good scoring guard, Paige, and big men who can score from the blocks and dominate the boards.

Still not sure how UAB managed to get back 21 of its 47 misses against a UNC team with that much size and athleticism...

But let's move on. Back to Wednesday night.

Freshman big man Kennedy Meeks led the Tar Heels with 15 points off the bench.
Freshman big man Kennedy Meeks led the Tar Heels with 15 points off the bench.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When the only way a team can score effectively is by getting to the paint and that team's perimeter players cannot shoot, what do you do? You sag, right?

That's what the Spartans did. Only that allowed UNC's guards to easily lob the ball into the paint. It's like not putting any pressure on a quarterback. Give him time. Give him vision. He'll pick you apart.

And that's what the Heels did to the Spartans. They picked them apart. The inside duo of Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson scored 29 points off the bench and took control in the second half. And that, mixed with Michigan State's impatience, plus Keith Appling and Adreian Payne not at 100 percent, led to a runaway win.

The Spartans are still going to be a really good team and could eventually get back to No. 1. Just like humility from the Belmont and UAB losses got the Heels focused in on what they need to do to be successful, it will do the same for the Spartans. Louisville's going through that as well after its reality smack from UNC.

The first two months of the season are about finding yourself, and the Heels, more so than any team in the country, know they can be really good and know they can be really bad.

It comes down to effort and attention to details. They lacked focus and let UAB beat them up on the boards, and they got beat. The Heels have less room for error because they have only one shooter. 

That could change if they get P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald back at some point down the road. Getting both back would give the Heels two more shooters and allow Paige to move back to point guard.

With that roster, the Heels will be a complete team with Top 10 talent. They'd have outside scorers (Paige and Hairston), and their front line is already developing into one of the better front lines in the country. 

But it's a real possibility that neither returns. And as they stand now, the Heels are a team with flaws that can't sleepwalk against anyone and also has enough talent to knock off its fellow blue bloods. 

Of course, once you think you have these guys figured out, they'll play a game that leaves everyone searching for answers again. They're going to lose more games in the ACC that will resemble the UAB debacle. 

And they'll win more games like Wednesday night, too. North Carolina now has the best two wins of any team in the country. Arizona and Villanova are the only other teams with two wins over teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. 

Both of those teams are undefeated. As for the Heels, they're the most confusing team in the country. That much we do know.


Follow C.J. on Twitter @cjmoore4.