The North Carolina basketball team traveled to Texas on Wednesday to take on the Longhorns in what I felt was a statement game for this young team. The Tar Heels played a very uninspired first half of basketball which saw them get down by as many as 19 points. Adjustments were made at the half and the Heels were able to cut the lead to four but were unable to dig out of the insurmountable hole ultimately falling to unranked Texas 85-67.
Roy Williams will have two more games before tipping off ACC play, one against a scrappy McNeese State team that has rattled off five consecutive victories and the other will see UNLV, currently ranked #21 in the country, invade the Dean Dome. The Heels will be tested in both of these games and could be limping into ACC play with a 9-4 record.
Most experts considered this to be an off year for ACC basketball, preseason polls had the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East all rated higher than the ACC. I see at least six conference foes that could give Carolina fits as the season progresses. Here is a closer look at some of those teams.
Duke (11-0) Seeing Duke ranked #1 in the country is a bitter pill for Tar Heel Nation to swallow. It is hard to argue considering the quality wins over highly ranked teams in Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State. The Devils have been playing a better brand of team basketball that was not on display last year while Austin River was on the floor. Mason Plumlee is scoring at a near 20 point per game clip and will be a challenge to stop in the paint. Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon has shown he can be an effective scorer as he is averaging a shade under 13 points for the year. North Carolina travels to Cameron Indoor on Feb 13th and plays host to the Blue Devils on March 9th
Maryland (9-1) The Terrapins are a three point loss to Kentucky away from being undefeated on the young season. They currently rank 3rd in the country in rebounds and 4th in assists. Alex Len, the seven footer from the Ukraine, anchors a balanced attack. Len is averaging 13.9ppg and 8.8rpg and looks to be a match up nightmare for the Heels. Sophomore Dez Wells is also capable of putting up big numbers on any given night. UNC makes the trip to the always hostile Comcast Center on Jan 19th and will play host to the Terps on March 6th.
North Carolina State (8-2) The Pack came into the season as the favorite to win the ACC crown. A pair of early losses to Oklahoma State and Michigan dropped the team from Raleigh from #6 in the AP poll down to #25. If there is one thing we already know about Mark Gottfried and his team is that they have the two meetings with North Carolina circled as their biggest games of the season. There is plenty of talent here with C.J. Leslie, T.J. Warren and Richard Howell but will they have the discipline to get off the schneid and finally beat UNC?
Virginia, Miami (Fla) and Virginia Tech also look to be major players this year in what appears to be a conference that has the potential to send seven teams to the Big Dance come March. Will North Carolina be one of them? The expectations for this team were not as high after losing their four top players to the NBA. I don’t think anyone envisioned a trip to the NIT. There are positives as the four Freshman continue to gain valuable playing time. Five star recruits Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks have already committed to join next years team and there is still a chance Roy can land the crown jewel of the class in Andrew Wiggins. It is fairly certain that this current group will not be making a run to the Final Four in Atlanta but Tar Heel fans need to be patient, things will turn around soon.