Amazed and Confused: Will the Real Heels Stand Up?
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No 1 no more.
After three weeks on top, North Carolina's mercurial Tar Heels toppled Michigan State in East Lansing on Wed 4 Dec as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Impressively, it wasn’t even close. It was actually more of a lopsided beat down than the 79-65 score showed.
Why? How? Well, for starters, here's what UNC's stats haul featured:
- They outshot the Wolverines, 44.6% to 35.9%
- They out-rebounded the Wolverines, 49-38
- They out-hustled the Wolverines, who found themselves down by 14 in the first half
All of the above adds up to an impressive win over a top team.
North Carolina burst out the gate with a gladiatorial fervor that caused them to catapult to a 14 point lead and hold steady. Michigan State flashed glimpses as to why they were ranked No 1 when they battled back to tie the game up. However, UNC stepped on the gas again and that was that.
Now, Tom Izzo is left scratching his head, wondering why his team lacked the intensity and mental prowess that they normally display.
Maybe the Heels suffer from a Jekyll/Hyde syndrome. It's an ambiguity so far this season that no one quite understands.
While prevailing over the nation's top-ranked team may qualify as an epic win for many schools, the fact that the Tar Heels did it makes it less monumental. This is their usual level, but it comes after a lackadaisical loss down south on Sun 1 Dec to a run-of-the-mill UAB outfit. But earlier, UNC beat No 3 Louisville. And yet, before that, the Heels squeaked by Holy Cross and lost to Belmont at home.
A promising sign is the Tar Heels are wandering through this wayward path without PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald. They've still beaten two Top Five schools. How much better -- and more consistent -- will they be when these two make it back to the court?
Of course, that's what the upcoming three months will answer. North Carolina fans, though, surely don't want to wait that long to discover the real face of their Heels. But until they can shake off performances like the one in Birmingham, they won't have a choice.