Other very successful Tar Heel teams had equally disappointing conference starts. In the 1996-97 season, the team started 0-3 only to go on to make the Final Four. They started 0-2 in 2009 and the banner in the rafters shows how that season ended.
In Bill Guthridge’s three years as the head coach, the Tar Heels won just two-thirds of their conference games and two of those teams went to the Final Four.
Now, I’m not saying this team is a Final Four team. In fact, at this point in the season all signs point to no. But I am saying that it’s too early to call right now.
The next three games, starting tonight at Boston College, will provide a better idea of what this team is really made of. The Tar Heels’ next three opponents — Boston College, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest — all occupy the bottom four spots in the conference standings and provide the Tar Heels with the opportunity to boost their own ACC standing.
It is true that there is no such thing as an easy ACC game, but the next three contests make up the most favorable stretch UNC has left on the schedule.
For the Tar Heels to come away with three wins in those games, a few things will need to fall into place.
First, they’ll need more consistent play out of the backcourt. At N.C. State, freshman point guard Marcus Paige and senior Dexter Strickland were a combined four-for-18 from the floor.
That ain’t going to cut it.
Both of them started to find a little rhythm later in the game in Raleigh as UNC made its charge — the Tar Heels needed and will need more of that.
If they’re looking for inspiration, they need to look no further than sophomore P.J. Hairston.
Hairston has been the driving force for this team in the last few weeks despite coming off the bench. In his last two games he’s poured in 34 points in 34 minutes and has knocked down eight 3-pointers. UNC needs more of that too — they might even need to have Hairston on the floor for more minutes per game.
But should Strickland and Paige show some more poise and if Hairston continues to shine, the Tar Heels could come away with some much needed confidence on the road and a much more comforting 6-3 conference record.
If these three games don’t go the way the Tar Heels want them to, well, then it might be time to panic.
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