UNC Basketball: Time for Tar Heels to Hit Panic Button After Big Loss to Duke

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 10, 2013

CHAPEL HILL, NC - MARCH 09:  Seth Curry #30 of the Duke Blue Devils battles for a loose ball against teammates James Michael McAdoo #43 and Dexter Strickland #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game at the Dean E. Smith Center on March 9, 2013 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

North Carolina is reeling after a 69-53 home loss to Duke on Saturday. Coming out so flat in a game of this magnitude was shocking—especially in Chapel Hill.

Considering this was the first quality opponent UNC had played since its last encounter with Duke, it should be time to panic for Tar Heel fans.

Getting outscored 14-0 to start the contest, Roy Williams' squad never could generate any momentum. The Tar Heels shot an abysmal 33.9 percent from the field and shot just 1-of-14 from three-point range.

ESPN Stats & Info pointed out just how dire the situation was for UNC—particularly in the first half.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Duke 42, UNC 24 at half. Seth Curry has eight made field goals; North Carolina has nine. #DUKEvUNC

North Carolina would have easily vaulted into the AP Top 25 with a victory over its biggest rival. Now, barring a winning run in the ACC tournament, it's difficult to fathom the Tar Heels being better than a fifth seed in the NCAA tournament.

This is a flawed North Carolina squad, and if it does get a No. 5 slot in March Madness, it could be a trendy 12-over-five pick, which is nearly an annual occurrence.

Winning against any Round 1 opponent may even prove to be difficult for that matter, because the big adjustment that improved the Tar Heels so much recently totally backfired on Saturday night.

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After beginning with a 6-5 record against ACC competition, Williams decided to deploy a smaller starting lineup. The result was a six-game winning streak.

That worked against some of the ACC's lesser competition, but the astounding collapse against the Blue Devils leaves serious doubts as to whether that structure can hang with college basketball's elite teams.

Few doubt the talent the Tar Heels have on offense. James Michael McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston are all effective scorers, and UNC has an extremely balanced attack.

However, defense is another story. That issue surfaced in a big way against Duke, which to be fair, has benefited greatly from the return of Ryan Kelly.

InsideCarolina.com's Twitter page was on the scene to document the struggles, which left Williams in distress.

InsideCarolina @InsideCarolina

Defensive communication - or lack thereof - has reappeared tonight. RoyW was jumping up and down trying to relay a D set the last time down.

Even a seven-minute stretch in the second half in which the Blue Devils failed to knock down a field goal didn't help the ultimate outcome very much. Duke still shot 55.1 percent from the field, and the 14 turnovers were more attributable to its sloppy execution with a gigantic lead than the Tar Heels truly locking down.

Williams must find a lineup that can match up with the nation's best and avoid getting beaten on the boards.

As extremely volatile as this college basketball season has been at the top of the rankings, it is feasible that the Tar Heels could adjust properly and make a respectable run in the Big Dance.

If the chemistry can't be reworked at this late juncture in the season, though, the March music will stop prematurely for the powerhouse North Carolina program.

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