The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 9th

While Tar Heels Endure Off Year ...

Whether Oswald acted alone, whether aliens crashed at Area 51 and whether astronauts actually landed on the moon are no longer the great fruitless American questions.

What North Carolina wants to know is who's responsible for this men's basketball season.

Everyone has a scenario. Maybe UNC pulled an Elvis and faked its own death. Was that Lee Harvey Guthridge peeking out a Hinton James window? Perhaps Roy Ruby masterminded. Is that Dean Smith scurrying from the grassy knoll? Did Matt Doherty poorly organize motorcade security?

One thing's for certain: Dick Baddour won't be calling Oliver Stone anytime soon.

But who or how many are to blame is irrelevant. Camelot is gone, and the problems with the current administration are what really matter. So without further adieu, here's the Warren Commission breakdown of some loose nuts and bolts:

Offensive Guard Play

Offense begins with the guards. No way around it. And that's where UNC has struggled the most to find consistency.

Doherty has started sophomore Adam Boone, freshman Melvin Scott, freshman Jackie Manuel and sophomore Brian Morrison at least three times each in the two guard spots.

Doherty and his players have spoken all season of poor decision-making, most of which is done by these guards, who have yet to get comfortable.

"That's been the problem for most of the season, the backcourt play and turning the ball over," Jason Capel said.

The Tar Heels have relinquished possession 17.4 times for each of their 11 losses. But just holding on to the basketball hasn't always been enough.

"Early in the year we haven't been executing, shot selection and things like that," Scott said. "We're the ones who have the ball most of the time, so we have to be very intelligent out there with our decision-making and shot selection."

Easy to say. UNC has a long-standing tradition of good ball movement and high percentage shooting, hitting 51.7 percent from the field during the past 30 seasons. This year the Tar Heels haven't been as patient and have a 42.8 field goal percentage to show for it -- the next-to-worst in the ACC and worst in Chapel Hill in 42 years. They also trail the entire conference in scoring offense and margin.

"(Jawad Williams) passed up a shot the other day that I was excited about," Doherty said. "I'm serious because we talk so much about shot selection."

Lots of selections lacking in wisdom have been made while running the offense.

"A lot of things," Kris Lang said. "It's everything, man. Press offense, if a team is in a zone -- or man-press defense. That's just the way it is. I can write a whole paper for you if you want me to on it."

Crashing the Boards

North Carolina also typically places a big, physical team on the court. But UNC is getting out-rebounded this season for the first time in 36 years.

During the recent six-game losing streak, opponents outdid UNC on the glass 243-188, including 90-62 offensively. Although the Tar Heels have routinely packed into a 2-3 zone, the players have had trouble finding a body to box out and have allowed many cheap rebounds and putbacks as a result.

"It is a little more difficult to box out out of the zone, but I can't really use that as an excuse because in the second half we didn't rebound quite as well out of man," said Boone after the 86-54 loss at Connecticut on Jan. 19. The Huskies out-rebounded the Tar Heels 43-31 and scored 19 second-chance points. "We have to get after it. It's hard to say exactly what was missing in terms of the rebounding."

Who Else Can Score?

"I really don't know. It's hard to find a third option after those two people," said Williams after the UConn game, in which Lang led a Capel-less team with 15 points.

Finding go-to scorers has been a huge problem. Four-year starters Capel (16.1 points per game) and Lang (14.3) are without a doubt the backbone of this team, which lost its other top seven players from last year. But they're the only Tar Heels averaging double figures. The third leading scorer in each game is averaging 10.6 points, and just two players have reached 10 points in five games.

Williams (9.8) has shown flashes of aggressiveness but too often seems hesitant and lacking confidence. "I think I can be a big-time scorer, but I have to do what it takes to help this team win," Williams said. "(Doherty) is letting it come to me. I think we're doing a good job of letting the offense come to us instead of just forcing things."

So defenses have focused their strategies on Capel and Lang, who aren't the most dynamic offensive players. But since last year, they've picked up their scoring 7.7 points as a pair from last season. As seniors, they've mostly excelled in their newfound scoring roles when the other is injured.

"I don't expect anything. But I would have liked to have seen more (people stepping up)," Lang said.

"Of course, everybody wants more players to score in double digits, but it hasn't happened."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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