Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Whether you want to label it a sense of urgency, intensity, tenacity, toughness, passion or fire, the Tar Heels simply can't survive without giving it 100 percent in every game. There is plenty of talent on this team—just not enough developed skill or star power at this time to make up for any lack of effort.
Any of Roy Williams' greatest teams could back off the throttle and still pound the competition when they needed to because they had plenty of experience and star power. This 2013-14 squad has neither.
That isn't to say these individual Tar Heels don't have a bright future; they just aren't quite there yet. They make too many mental mistakes, their skills aren't fully developed, and the poor three-point and free-throw shooting isn't helping matters, either.
You simply can't have that many deficiencies as a team and expect to win playing half-assed basketball.
But the Tar Heels can beat just about any team in the country when they play with a sense of urgency because they do have a lot of talent—especially on the defensive end. When these guys give it their all, it's almost impossible for opposing teams to get in a rhythm on the offensive end.
Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto and Nate Britt are constantly poking balls loose; James Michael McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are swatting shots left and right with hands just flying everywhere on the court. That gets these guys in transition where they really shine with all the athletes and great passers on this squad.
In turn, the Tar Heels' confidence gets boosted while their opponents' morale is slowly destroyed. That's the formula that beat Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky. And that's the formula that dominated Clemson and Georgia Tech in the last two games.
It's tough to say why it took them so long to understand this. It was pretty obvious in early losses to Belmont and UAB—or any of the other five losses, for that matter.
Perhaps with all the youth on this team, they're just used to being able to coast through high school competition. Maybe it's just all the laid-back personalities on the roster. Who knows?
But the message Coach Williams has been sending them about playing with a sense of urgency finally seems to be taking hold. They could have easily overlooked Clemson and Georgia Tech, as they did so many other teams they shouldn't have lost to.
But they didn't. The games weren't perfect, but they played with heart and left it all on the floor.
Maybe a 1-4 start is exactly the reality check these Tar Heels needed. We'll see over the next month or so, as they work their way through the toughest portion of their ACC schedule.
This team is very capable of going on a long winning streak if it maintains this sense of urgency. Don't underestimate these Tar Heels.
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.