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Wofford loss helps reveal Tar Heels' identity

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Just a week ago, UNC basketball stood a surprising 10–1, having just managed a road comeback win against a quality Tennessee squad and poised to attack the beginning of ACC play, bolstered by the imminent return of forward Cameron Johnson.

Oops.

A week later, the hot start is no longer the most surprising thing that has happened this season, as the “fat and happy” (to use Roy Williams’ words) Tar Heels saw their 23-game home winning streak snapped by a Wofford team that entered as 30-point underdogs.

If nothing else, the Wofford loss helped reveal more about the 2017–18 Carolina team’s identity. Specifically, this UNC squad has been dominant most of the year, but now has gone ice cold from the field in two separate games (Michigan State and Wofford), shooting a school-record low 24.6 percent from 3-point range (1 for 18) against MSU and 36.4 percent (7 of 25 from 3-point range) against Wofford.

In each game, a lack of rebounding exacerbated the shooting woes, with the Spartans outrebounding Carolina 52–36 and the smaller Terriers managing a close margin of 34–38 on the glass. To this point in the season, Carolina has depended on being able to outrun and outshoot its opponent. Taking the next step towards a successful March will require finding ways to win when not shooting well from the outside and facing a team that can slow the pace and make the game ugly.

For a squad that came into the season depending on a group of freshmen on the front line, this concern is no surprise, but it’s safe to say that this week’s shocking loss displayed the need for more consistency on the interior.

For a team with so many veteran perimeter players, averaging nearly 18 turnovers per game is also something that must be rectified for this team to have long-term success. Last season’s title team averaged only 15.4 turnovers per game, while the 2015–16 team averaged 16.2.

CAM JOHNSON RETURNS

Largely lost in the Wofford upset was Johnson’s long-awaited debut, as the graduate transfer from Pitt returned from knee surgery with a solid showing belied by his 1-for-5 shooting numbers. Johnson then came off the bench for an efficient 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field in 23 minutes against Ohio State, serving notice of what the Tar Heels can expect as his load continues to increase.

FOOTBALL SIGNS 14 IN EARLY PERIOD

Sometimes no surprises can be a good thing in the Christmas season, as Carolina football met the bulk of its recruiting needs in the new early signing period, with all 14 expected early signees putting pen to paper before 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

The Tar Heels’ early signing class is headlined by wide receivers Jordyn Adams (Cary Green Hope) and Dyami Brown, dual-threat quarterback Jace Ruder (Norton, Kan.), and offensive lineman Avery Jones (Havelock), all of whom are rated as four-star “blue-chip” prospects by the 247Composite rankings.

With the foundation of 14 signees in place, the Carolina coaches can now focus their attention on landing the final pieces to a class that looks like it will finish in the top 30 nationally.

HATCHELL REACHES 1,000

With a 79–63 win over Grambling State, Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell became the fourth NCAA coach to reach 1,000 career wins joining Pat Summitt (1,098), Mike Krzyzewski (1,082), and Tara VanDerveer (1,017). UCONN coach Geno Auriemma has since also joined the club in the last week.

Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.

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