Back on Their Heels
This is the time of year when Top 25 teams are supposed to be rounding into shape for the NCAA tournament, but North Carolina is doing just the opposite. The Tar Heels' 82-80 loss at Maryland on Sunday was their fourth straight defeat, their longest losing streak in 27 years. The Heels, in fact, haven't played a solid game since they upset Duke on Feb. 5.
How concerned is North Carolina coach Dean Smith? Probably more than he is letting on. Smith chose to concentrate on how well his team played in the second half against Maryland, when the Heels overcame a 22-point deficit. But Smith's behavior at intermission, when he stomped out of the locker room in disgust after giving his players a rare tongue-lashing, might have been more indicative of his real feelings.
After the game the players also professed not to be worried. "We're catching opponents at the peak of their games," said guard Hubert Davis.
"Everybody's hot when they play us," said center Eric Montross.
The losing streak must have the Carolina players feeling disoriented, because, in truth, three of the teams that beat the Tar Heels in succession—Virginia, North Carolina State and Florida State—all ended losing streaks with their wins.
North Carolina has been especially woeful on defense. The Tar Heels surrendered 110 points to Florida State—equaling the most ever allowed by a Smith team in his 31 years in Chapel Hill—and 99 to North Carolina State. The team's recent struggles have prompted critics to trot out some time-honored knocks against Smith. The complaint is heard that some of the most talented players stop developing, while others—Walter Davis and Michael Jordan being prime examples—don't really flourish until they turn pro. The system is the star, with the result, it is said, that players are reluctant to take charge when the game is on the line.
Not that anyone is ready to count out the Heels, however. "I think North Carolina is going to be a very good tournament team," said Maryland coach Gary Williams after Sunday's game. "If you look at the teams in the ACC this season, from top to bottom they've all gone through bad stretches."
But the Tar Heels' stretch seems particularly ill timed. With the postseason fast approaching, they don't have much time to find themselves.
Prince of the City