Roy Williams and North Carolina at a Crossroads in the ACC
Just a few games into the ACC slate, and for UNC it is "Do or Die."
Roy Williams gave North Carolina its fifth NCAA Championship last season, and many thought they were primed for another March run.
Somehow the defending champions have found themselves in a deep hole with seven losses already.
Although their RPI may not indicate a daunting schedule, the Tar Heels have faced their share of elite competition.
A win over in-state rival North Carolina State Tuesday hasn't satisfied the Heels in the ACC standings; they are currently 10th.
Williams and his staff have had a huge problem on their hands, starting with the backcourt.
Larry Drew II spent time backing up Ty Lawson in last year's title run, but now Lawson's playing in the NBA, and nobody has stepped up to fill his role.
Highly touted freshman guard Leslie McDonald has struggled in his reserve role and has been somewhat of a disappointment. He's only averaging 3.6 ppg in 16 played games.
Much of his lack of production is related to Williams not playing him often and his reliability.
Drew has been solid this season, but solid is nowhere good enough in the ACC. He hasn't protected the ball well enough to win and has become inconsistent throughout many games. Drew notched five assists at Clemson and matched that with five turnovers against the Tigers' press.
Dexter Strickland is Carolina's brightest spot. While not overly aggressive, he can attack in transition unlike any other guard for UNC.
Strickland is only averaging 6.2 ppg, but against North Carolina State he looked like a superstar, scoring 14 points in 17 minutes off the pine.
Drew penetrates to pass, but Strickland penetrates to score, and that type of combo could blitz opponents if they limit the turnovers like they did against NC State, combining for only three.
Not only did those guards show up, but the sleeping giant Ed Davis also woke up after a brief hibernation of sitting out in a loss against Wake Forest. Deon Thompson also went for 20 points, matching Tracy Smith, who couldn't stay out of foul trouble for the Wolfpack.
If UNC wants to get back into the ACC race, they'll need consistency from their veterans.
Roy Williams is a Hall of Famer and will figure the puzzle out soon, but he should honestly consider inserting Strickland into the starting lineup. Will Graves and Marcus Ginyard combined for six points on 2-of-12 shooting.
Although UNC showed up Tuesday night, they'll have to have a strong showing the rest of the season.
I'm not sure if the Heels are on the outside looking in, but they certainly aren't a lock for an at-large bid. They have a quality win over Michigan State and a solid one over Ohio State in which they forced Evan Turner to commit 10 turnovers.
The remaining schedule features four hostile environments in Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Maryland, who have all beaten North Carolina in the recent era.
Oops, I forgot to mention their two showdowns with rival Duke, who's playing like a dark horse contender for the Final Four.
We'll have to wait and see how much better Roy Williams' team can be as they venture into uncharted waters.
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