With each upset win the North Carolina Tar Heels pick up, it becomes increasingly less surprising. First, there was a dominant win over defending national champs Louisville, one week after a heartbreaking loss to Belmont. Last night, it was a convincing 79-65 victory over the nation's top dog, Michigan State, just days after losing to UAB and receiving the boot from the Associated Press.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of this current UNC squad is mind-boggling. But in the search for consistency, the answer is pretty clear.
It's all about a little thing called effort—or what Roy Williams labeled "want-to" in his post-game press conference, courtesy of Go Heels TV:
You would have thought after the Louisville game I would have learned a lot then, and I learned that we could go to UAB and play poorly. But UAB really wanted it so much more than we did. Today, Michigan State did not want it that much more than we did. And I think that want-to is always something that has been extremely important to me.
As it should be.
I've said on many occasions that I would rather see guys have a poor shooting night than a lack of effort. Any coach in the country would tell you the same. That's because effort can compensate for a cold hand.
UNC out-shot UAB 42.9 percent to 30.6 in Sunday's loss. The difference was want-to.
The Blazers battled tirelessly for rebounds, while the Tar Heels looked like they had cinder blocks chained to their feet. As a result, UAB dominated the boards, 52-37, which included 21 offensive rebounds from the underdogs.
Last night, the Tar Heels flipped the script on the Spartans with a 49-38 rebounding edge, overcoming a 7-of-25 combined performance from two of their top scorers, Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo.
What they did was exactly what every true leader should do: lead by example.
Neither of those guys stopped hustling just because shots weren't falling for them. They made their presence felt on the defensive end with eight rebounds, four steals and one block. Paige also added five dimes, and both hit tough shots in crucial moments.
Where those two fell short, J.P. Tokoto, Brice Johnson, Nate Britt and Kennedy Meeks were there to pick up the pieces with double-digit performances in the scoring column. Tokoto finished with a double-double. The quartet, consisting of freshmen and sophomores, amassed 54 points and 29 rebounds on the night.
Why can't the Tar Heels give it that kind of effort every night? Youth.
Without junior P.J. Hairston and fifth-year senior Leslie McDonald on the court, McAdoo is the only featured player with at least three years of experience at this level. It's just too easy for these young guys to become overconfident after big-time wins like the one over Louisville.
That's exactly what I discussed in last week's article on sustaining momentum.
Never get too high. Never get too low. Maintain focus.
That's much easier said than done. Especially from a guy hacking on the keyboard at his desk. But, somehow, these kids need to ingrain that motto when they step on the hardwood.
It's nothing they haven't heard before. Coach Williams has been trying to relay that message to his team all week, according to Britt in his post-game interview with Go Heels TV:
That was the biggest thing between the Louisville game, the UAB game and this game was our effort. Coach has just been driving it home that we need to be consistent with our effort and play hard night in and night out.
Paige shared the same sentiments.
"It's crazy," he told reporters. "But we're still getting there. We're learning. This is a big step for us and hopefully we can try to understand that consistency is going to pay off for us when we get to ACC play."
It's great to stack victories over Top Five opponents. The rest of the nation wishes they had as many signature wins as UNC at this juncture. And the Tar Heels will get another shot on December 14 against Kentucky, assuming the Wildcats hold onto their current No. 3 ranking.
First, Carolina has to get through UNC-Greensboro (4-4) this Saturday. This team's history says that won't be as easy as it looks on paper.
The forecast for the rest of the season if they don't find consistency? Overcast with a chance of sunshine when you least expect it.
Rollin Yeatts is the lead columnist for North Carolina Tar Heels basketball on Bleacher Report. He also hosts a weekly all-sports video podcast at TSB Sports. Visit his B/R profile for more information.
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