We are past the half-way point in the men’s basketball season, and while the heels have failed to live up to their preseason hype, tonight has the potential to be a new beginning, and will almost certainly be a pivotal point in the season. After losing their first two conference games to Virginia and Miami, the Heels have managed to win three straight, improving their conference record to 3-2. A win tonight would mark UNC’s first win against a ranked opponent this season (although #18 NC State is likely to fall out of the top 25 on Monday following their loss to Wake Forest this week), and would be a huge confidence boost to a very young group of Tar Heels. On the other hand, a loss would undo the work that the Heels have done getting ahead of a five hundred record in the ACC, and destabilize a team that has only recently begun to show their true potential in streaks of cohesive play over the last three games. This cohesion has been driven by the play of Reggie Bullock, who has emerged as Carolina’s offensive leader. Bullock has proven to be a more consistent offensive threat than James Michael McAdoo, who began the season on a hot streak but has cooled off since ACC play began.
Some familiar problems continue to plague Carolina on both sides of the ball. On defense, our players consistently fail to make successful switches in man-to-man, and the weak-side wing is repeatedly left wide open, allowing opposing teams to eviscerate us from the 3-point line. On the offensive end of the court problems with consistency have been the primary dilemma. For instance, when the Heels played Maryland on January 19th they came out on fire, scoring 42 points in the first half (21 points by Bullock alone), but in the second half Carolina only managed to put up 20 points, while giving back twelve points of their lead to the Terps.
Despite the problems that have clung to the Tar Heels throughout the season, our boys have been slowly turning things around. With each conference win they are becoming more confident, and each week they are come closer to playing up to their potential. Unfortunately, new found confidence tends to be fragile and could be easily broken by a loss tonight, but with any luck that will not be a problem and the Heels will come out of the fray with the added confidence of a win against a ranked conference rival.