Down at The Heels
Four straight losses ended North Carolina's run in the Top 25. Is its streak in the NCAAs next?
At North Carolina they're known simply as the Streaks, and fans can rattle them off like their home phone numbers: The Tar Heels have had 29 consecutive seasons with 21 or more wins, 35 straight finishes among the top three in the ACC and 25 appearances in a row in the NCAA tournament But after a dismal 76-71 loss to a mediocre Florida State team at home last Saturday dropped North Carolina's record to 11-8, talk turned to another streak: the Tar Heels' four straight defeats and how that streak might signal the end to all the others.
After a shocking loss to Weber State in the first round of the 1999 NCAA tournament, North Carolina appeared loaded for redemption this season. With the only starting five in the nation that featured a McDonald's All-America at every position, the Tar Heels debuted with victories over USC, Georgetown and Purdue to win the Maui Invitational and jump to No. 2 in the polls. Through Sunday they were 8-8 since. "We've been making too many stupid mistakes," says 7-foot junior center Brendan Haywood. "If s very frustrating. A lot of people don't believe in us right now, and maybe they shouldn't."
Haywood has become a lightning rod for criticism. His 71.4% shooting from the floor led the nation at week's end, but he was taking fewer than seven shots a game, a manifestation of the passivity that has characterized the entire team. Coach Bill Guthridge is more concerned with the Heels' porous defense, which was allowing 71.6 points a game, the second most in the ACC. North Carolina is tall but slow—a team better suited to the 1970s than to the 21st century—and consequently had given up more turnovers (15.5 a game) than it had caused (12.5).
Against Virginia on Jan. 18, North Carolina shot 58.6% from the floor and outrebounded the Cavaliers by 13—and still lost, thanks to 21 turnovers. And that was with senior Ed Cota at point guard. Facing Florida State without Cota, who was out with a viral infection, the Tar Heels shot 50.0% from the floor but committed 16 turnovers and allowed 10 three-pointers, many on wide-open looks. In the game's decisive final minutes North Carolina played Julius Peppers, a walk-on from the football team, and Jonathan Holmes, a freshman who entered the game with 40 career minutes.
In the postgame locker room, where U-N-C and N-I-T were uttered in the same sentence, Haywood and freshman wunderkind Joseph Forte looked stunned, each stating that he had never lost four consecutive games in his life. The loss left North Carolina with its worst record after 19 games since the 1964-65 season, during which Guthridge's predecessor, Dean Smith, was hanged in effigy in January after four straight defeats.
So far the Tar Heels' coaching staff has been subjected to nothing more than an increase in angry mail. "Losing is contagious," says Guthridge, who regularly speaks to Smith to get his input. "We need to get the feeling back that we can win."
Saturday's defeat ended one significant Carolina streak: a nation's-best 172 straight appearances in the AP Top 25. The fate of the other Streaks will be decided shortly. "We want to live up to this school's great tradition," Forte says. "That's why each loss gets tougher. We need some wins urgently."
Indiana's Family Feud
Alford Versus Knight
Last week's much ballyhooed reunion between Indiana coach Bob Knight and one of his former stars, Steve Alford, now a rival Big Ten coach at Iowa, didn't disappoint those eager to see fireworks between the two. The game was a hard-fought one that the Hoosiers narrowly won, 74-71. Then the real entertainment began.