January isnt here yet, but North Carolina may already be in resume-watching mode.
Tar Heels supporters have generally viewed the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) with respect to North Carolina's worthiness for a No. 1, 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Forget the stress of being on the NCAA fence.
But with just one nonconference game remaining before UNC dives into a new 18-game ACC format, Roy Williams team has done little to build its resume. And if the unranked Heels cant beat No. 20 UNLV on Saturday at the Dean Dome, it must use conference play to make its case for inclusion come March.
Asked Friday if its too early to worry about tournament resumes, Williams told the media, Its not for you guys, but it is for us.
Honestly, has Williams ever been asked about the tournament so early in a season before? Only two of his teams have failed to qualify. His first Kansas squad was on probation and the 2010 Tar Heels were decimated by injuries and barely missed out. Otherwise, the Hall of Fame coach's other 22 teams have made the field and won at least one game.
The Tar Heels (9-3) can all but shelve this topic by taking care of the Rebels, who upset Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and company a year ago. But that game was in Las Vegas and the Heels may have been caught off guard.
This game is a big deal, and one UNC cant afford to lose.
Its defeats have been by a combined 53 points, but North Carolina trailed by 29 and 31, respectively, to Butler and Indiana, and by 21 at Texas. A lack of a true post game is one issue, but more than that a lack of consistency on defense and struggles at point guard were grossly exposed during those routs.
Butler, Indiana and Texas combined to convert 26 of 62 3-pointers (42 percent) because the Heels struggled staying on shooters. Problems getting over screens, communicating, and a lack of intensity were components triggering the struggles. All were a point of emphasis coming off the loss to the Longhorns before last Saturdays 34-point drubbing of McNeese State.
Picking up the intensity on defense was the main thing, said sophomore wing P.J. Hairston. We werent playing with a sense of urgency at Texas, and Texas basically converted on all of our mistakes... We wanted to pick up intensity on defense and I think we did that.
North Carolina may be the top assist team in the nation, averaging 20.1 per contest, but thats because many have come on general swing passes for 3-pointers, the team has been rather unselfish and because of open-court scoring opportunities. The half-court offense has been littered with problems because freshman point guard Marcus Paige has not performed as expected.
The fourth-rated point guard in the class of 2012, Paiges desire for perfection has hampered his overall game.
I like to get things right, and when I first learned the system I started to get the system down then I tried to run it exactly the right way every time, but I started to stop being a basketball player, Paige said. At the same time, you have to make basketball plays, you cant come down to the same spot every time and try to run the same play every time. (Coach Williams) wants me to run the system but be Marcus Paige and be who (I am) as a player.
Paige had 39 assists and 28 turnovers on the season prior to the McNeese game. But against the Cowboys, he handed out nine assists with no giveaways. Instead of running the offense through all of the options, and if nothing opened finding himself standing in the corner almost playing spectator, Paige was a different player, one his teammates knew would surface at some point.
Marcus is going to be good for us, said junior Reggie Bulock, the teams second-leading scorer at 13.1 points per game. I just knew the main thing with him is settling down. Hes a freshman and still has a lot more time.
In UNCs losses, the Tar Heels have amassed 32 assists against 45 turnovers. In their wins the numbers are 209 and 129. So the importance of Paige and senior Dexter Strickland - who leads the team with 57 assists but wont before long if things go as Williams plans coupled with more intensity and communication on defense could make March life as usual for UNC fans.
That process begins Saturday against UNLV. Rarely has North Carolina played such a big game in December.