Three Things: Virginia 61, UNC 52
1. Carolina fans have probably never seen first-team preseason All-ACC pick James Michael McAdoo struggle like this...unless you're talking about early last season. McAdoo's numbers are fine, and he continues to be Carolina's leading scorer (14.5 points per game) and rebounder (8.2). But those numbers are a bit deceptive. In Sunday's second half, when the Tar Heels needed a basket in the second half, they turned to Reggie Bullock instead of McAdoo. And the sophomore was pretty clearly frustrated with his results after a 4-of-9, 10-point, 7-rebound performance against Virginia. "I feel like I'm trying to help the team win," he said. "I don't know if I need to score more or rebound more or defend more, but I definitely have to play better. This is no time for excuses. We just dropped the first game in the ACC and that's not where we wanted to be."
McAdoo went through similar struggles early in his freshman season. Roy Williams asked him to be more aggressive in January of his rookie campaign--a comment that was called to mind against the Cavaliers when McAdoo gently laid it up on a second-half breakaway with no one within five feet of him instead of a more forceful slam dunk--after McAdoo averaged just 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds, shooting just 40.7% from the field during that stretch. He turned into a different player over the final six weeks of the season, averaging 6.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and hitting 45.7% of his field goals in a stretch that included some of Carolina's biggest games of the season.
2. The Tar Heels have offensive issues, and may have to make some big decisions in the post. McAdoo plainly prefers not to play with his back to the basket, meaning the Tar Heels need a complementary post player to occupy one of the opponent's best big defenders. But Virginia paid absolutely no attention to Desmond Hubert when the sophomore was in the game--literally sometimes not even looking at him when he had the ball. That left the Cavalier defense playing 5-on-4 and made it tougher for the other Tar Heels to get good looks. Combined, Joel James and Brice Johnson played 19 minutes, shot 1-of-3, did get a healthy six rebounds, but turned it over three times and scored just two points.
Assuming Roy Williams wants to play with two big men on the court for at least some/most of the game (which he has repeatedly said he does), he has limited options. Hubert was solid against UNLV but was not respected by Virginia, a tactic other ACC opponents are almost certain to emulate in the scouting-heavy ACC. James is raw and very hard on himself when he commits a mistake. Johnson will get pushed around some by bigger players and has had some defensive lapses. The Tar Heels are catching a break, because beefy Reggie Johnson will miss Thursday's must-win game against Miami. Sooner or later, though, Carolina needs a solution to the paint problems.
3. Taking the long view, one of the most troubling parts of Sunday's loss is the hole it puts the Tar Heels in with regard to NCAA Tournament positioning. The Tar Heels had earned a big credential-boosting win against UNLV on Dec. 29. But at some point, Carolina is going to have to find a road win in the league. Sunday's game--with the Cavalier students still on Christmas break and a healthy portion of blue in the crowd--looked like one of the best opportunities. Because of the way this year's schedule fell, Carolina misses what looks like a relatively easier road assignment at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels also don't go to Virginia Tech, which was throttled by Maryland on Saturday. Right now, the best hopes for a road win look like the Jan. 29 date at Boston College (which gave NC State a tough fight on Saturday) or the Feb. 28 game at Clemson. In order to get to 10 conference wins and be a legitimate NCAA at-large contender, Carolina must either go undefeated at home (meaning wins over Duke, NC State and Maryland, among others) and then steal a win somewhere, or play better than expected over the next two months on the road.
With Carolina in an 0-1 ACC hole, what's your biggest concern about the 2012-13 Tar Heels?