ACC Basketball: North Carolina Tar Heels Look No Better Than 5th In The Conference

By Michael Roberts
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Compared to the rest of the competition in the conference this season, the 8-3 North Carolina Tar Heels just aren’t measuring up like they have in the past.

The perennial ACC title contenders have shown so far this season that trying to recover from losing four starters to the NBA is no easy task. When the team saw Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes get drafted they knew the void would be challenging to fill but it wasn’t expected to be this ugly.

The team’s three losses have been by an average of 17.3 points with an early 82-71 upset at the hands of the Butler Bulldogs. Things only got worse from there when the Indiana Hoosiers embarrassed the Tar Heels 83-59, while they didn’t look much better in their recent 85-67 loss to the Texas Longhorns.

North Carolina has looked good in their victories, as the Tar Heels are still ranked second in the nation with 19.3 team assists per game . However, that number drops nearly in half in the team’s losses averaging only 10.6 assists. The team has only beaten two teams with winning records and both victories were apart of three of the team’s closest wins of the year.

No. 23 North Carolina had no business being ranked ahead of the No. 25 North Carolina State Wolfpack in recent weeks but it was clear the better brand name was keeping them on top. When the new rankings are released after the team’s loss to Texas, they’ll be well out of a top 25 position as the team barely looks like a top five team in the ACC.

The 8-2 Wolfpack have come on strong after being embarrassed by the Oklahoma State Cowboys in a game C.J. Leslie was ejected at the start of the second half. Besides their second loss in a close game against the Michigan Wolverines, the team has looked dominate and are clearly the conference’s second best team behind the Duke Blue Devils.

Another team that has looked dominate lately has been the 9-1 Maryland Terrapins. The team has won nine straight since their season opening loss to the Kentucky Wildcats. 7-foot-1 center Alex Len has three double-doubles on the year including 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks against the Wildcats. The Tar Heels would have a difficult time containing Len while also dealing with the team’s strong support on the wings with Dezmine Wells and Nick Faust. In the two team’s starting line-ups, the only position that’s a clear advantage for North Carolina is one of the forward slots with James Michael McAdoo. Everything else is either nearly equal or favors the Terrapins.

Another team that’s been on a role since an early season loss is the 7-1 Miami(FL) Hurricanes. After losing their second game of the year the team has won six straight. They’ve piled up wins over the scrappy Detroit Titans, who only loss by four to the Syracuse Orange. They handed the 11-1 Charlotte 49ers their only loss of the year. While their biggest victory came in a 67-59 upset over the Michigan State Spartans.

Much like the Terrapins, the Hurricanes also have the potential to be a match-up nightmare for the Tar Heels. North Carolina would have a tough time trying to contain 6-foot-10, 292lbs double-double machine Reggie Johnson with his averages of 12.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. The team’s leading scorer Durand Scott has looked great since returning from suspension that cost him the first three games of the year. He’s averaging 15.6 points 6.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 58.8% from the field.  Shane Larkin is also shooting a high percentage, through eight games he has an average of 55% from the field and 51.7% from the three point line. The 5-foot-11 guard is averaging 14.8 points, 4.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds with two steals and would be no easy task for the Tar Heels to try and contain either.

With North Carolina struggling against teams playing at a high level, it’d be difficult to imagine the trend not continuing given the competition in the conference. Along with the potential for nightmare disasters, the Tar Heels are looking  like the ACC’s fifth best team.

There’s no doubt the team is talented but the loss of North Carolina’s four starters from a year ago appears to be a bigger hole than most preseason predictions expected.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

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