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January 19, 2009
The Tar Heels were such prohibitive favorites that many observers wondered whether they could finish undefeated, and they steamrolled their non-conference competition to make it seem as if an undefeated season was a real possibility. But they lost their first two ACC games, and suddenly there were questions.
UNC rebounded to win its next two conference games, which leads us to our Monday tip: Have the Tar Heels righted the ship, or should they still be worried after starting ACC play 0-2?
MIKE HUGUENIN: Reason to worry
Should the Tar Heels be worried about making the NCAA tournament? Of course not. Heck, they could lose six or seven more times, and it wouldn't matter.
But, they should be worried about their ability to win the national title ? and with this UNC team, that's the only thing that matters.
Yes, the Heels have rebounded from their 0-2 conference start and now are 2-2. But the losses exposed some flaws.
One is that when Hansbrough is shut down, the Heels can struggle to score in the low post. Another is that Lawson can be exposed defensively by scoring point guards. Another is that when Ellington isn't hitting his 3-pointers, he's not that effective an offensive player.
Granted, those are three large variables, and not many opponents can make all three of those things happen. Plus, ACC opponents obviously are familiar with UNC and know how to attack the Heels.
Still, starting with the second round of the NCAA tourney, the teams UNC plays will have the ability to exploit at least one of those flaws ? and the deeper the Heels advance, the better each opponent becomes. Plus, it's not as if coach Roy Williams is flawless in March.
Those two early losses in league play may end up just being minor bumps in the road. But they also provide the blueprint for beating the Heels.
JASON KING: No reason to worry
The two losses may have made North Carolina's quest for the ACC title a bit more difficult, but they certainly won't play any factor in the Tar Heels' march toward a national championship. If anything, losing to Wake Forest and Boston College may have helped a North Carolina squad that seemed unbeatable just two weeks ago.
Gone is the air of invincibility and the potential for complacency that often plagues top teams. The Tar Heels, believe it or not, are human after all.
Thanks to an impressive surge by Wake Forest, coach Roy Williams' squad could finish second in the conference race, and the sad part is that - in the long run - fans won't really care. So much emphasis is placed on the NCAA tournament that the regular season and league titles are devalued. A second-place conference finish won't be that big of a deal as long as the Tar Heels reach the Final Four, and that's exactly what they'll do. No matter what the polls say, North Carolina still is the best team in college basketball.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.