Last year around this time, North Carolina fans were wringing their hands over the Tar Heels' NCAA prospects. UNC had opened the ACC season with a pair of losses for only the third time in school history, and already had lost to Butler, Indiana, and Texas. What's-wrong-with-the-Heels? was the theme of the day.
This year Carolina again opened with consecutive ACC defeats, but the cries of anguish were relatively muted. Despite victories over top-10 teams Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky, the 2014 club also lost five times in 15 outings - to Belmont, Alabama-Birmingham, and Texas, then to Wake Forest and Miami to open the league season.
None of the five victorious opponents got a vote in the AP poll, testament to their lack of heavyweight status.
Then UNC lost again, this time at second-ranked Syracuse, clearly the class of the new, amalgamated Big ACC.
This is only the 11th time in 61 ACC seasons that Carolina opened with one or more conference defeats. That means it enjoyed at least one win to start 50 ACC seasons, an 82 percent success rate.
The fact Carolina fans aren't too worked up about the current state of affairs is telling.
Some are doubtless still a bit stunned by the ongoing revelations of academic shortcomings raised by such diverse sources as CNN, The New York Times, and Raleigh's News and Observer. Losing wing P.J. Hairston, the 2013 scoring leader and a potent offensive threat, due to eligibility issues didn't help, either.
The inefficiency of the '14 team, especially at Chapel Hill against a patched-together Miami unit replacing last season's top six scorers, was also stupefying.
The current squad's wavering concentration and intelligence, its erratic execution, left Roy Williams declaring that he felt "mentally probably worse than I've ever felt as a head coach," a statement he later sought to recant.
The slow start is hardly fatal to the Tar Heels' ambitions. Last season was the fourth that began with at least two UNC losses in a row in ACC competition. In all four of those years - 1980, 1997, 2009, and 2012 - Carolina got to the NCAAs, anyway. In 1997, Dean Smith's last season on the job, the Heels reached the Final Four. In 2009 under Williams, following another slow start, they won the national championship.
Still, things to be going poorly of late. This year's 0-3 ACC start is only the second ever at Chapel Hill, and the fourth time in 11 seasons a Williams team got off on the wrong foot in conference competition.
Never before has Carolina inaugurated consecutive ACC seasons with two or more defeats.
Seasons North Carolina Started With ACC Losses
(Home Games Underlined)
|Defeats to Start Seasons|
|1||6||2004-WF; 1999-GT; 1995-NCS; 1992-FSU; 1990-M; 1966-C|
|2||4||2013-V, Mia; 2009-BC, WF; 1980-C, V|
|3||2||2014-WF, Mia, Syr; 1997-WF, M, V|