Inconsistency dogs Tar Heels, leaves Williams flustered

Coach: `It's a struggle' as talented team often shows lack of discipline

ACC notebook

February 20, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

As he watched his 16th-ranked Tar Heels nearly blow a 22-point second-half lead against Maryland on Sunday, North Carolina coach Roy Williams did not attempt to hide his disgust.

During a Carolina turnover binge that aided the Maryland rally in the middle of the half, Williams stood and screamed at his players, stared at the floor, sat down and covered his face with his hand.

After sophomore guard/forward Rashad McCants blew a dunk and play was stopped temporarily, Williams was so incensed he gazed into the stands for a good 10 seconds, while refusing to look at his team on the floor.

That captured the type of homecoming it has been for the Carolina alum who likes to refer to himself as "Ol' Roy."

Upon leaving Kansas to replace Matt Doherty and return to the school where he coached under Dean Smith, Williams said he was not a savior, that he could not be expected to reverse two straight disastrous seasons - a combined 36 losses and no NCAA tournament berths - overnight. He scoffed at the Tar Heels' preseason Top 10 ranking.

Williams inherited a talented cast of players, led by the likes of McCants, sophomore point guard Raymond Felton and junior forward Jawad Williams. He inherited an interesting set of personalities, led by the mercurial McCants, of whom Williams has said, "He's not a very trusting person. He doesn't look you in the eye a lot."

And he inherited an atmosphere that had been poisoned by all of the losses and Doherty's tumultuous tenure and firing.

You think the Terps are inconsistent and undisciplined? Look at the Tar Heels (15-7, 5-6), who are sitting in sixth place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

They lead the ACC in scoring and rank dead last in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense. They have beaten then-No. 1 Connecticut, Illinois, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. They also scored just 56 points in a loss at Kentucky, surrendered 81 points in a loss at Clemson and blew a 24-point lead in a loss at Florida State.

"It's a struggle. I don't think you have to be a nuclear physicist to figure that out," Williams told The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. "It's a new coach coming in, a new style, new philosophy, new demands. And youngsters that haven't been very successful.

"When I came in, I wanted to make sure I understood these were still young people, and could make mistakes and had made mistakes. And it had to be a relationship that had to be built. I wasn't going to assume they would trust me, and that things could be rosy."

Besides any lingering trust issues, the Tar Heels have their share of on-the-court problems. McCants, who leads the league in scoring (19.9 ppg), still breaks down too much defensively. Jawad Williams torched Maryland for 23 points, but has been in a scoring slump for most of the month. And when Felton gets in foul trouble as he did against Maryland, Carolina struggles to solve well-designed traps.

"It seems like we still have a lot to change," McCants said. "We have 20-point leads and we just break down so badly. We still need to fix a lot of things."

This could be the first year that the ACC sends seven teams into the 65-team NCAA tournament. It also could be the first time since 1998 that Florida State gets to the NCAAs.

But the Seminoles (18-8, 6-6) had better find a way to win on the road, or else their tournament hopes could be in serious danger. The Seminoles are the only team besides Virginia and Clemson - which share the cellar with 3-9 records - that has yet to beat a conference opponent away from home.

With three of their last four games on the road against North Carolina, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, and a home game left against Duke, the Seminoles could finish with a league record of 6-10.

"People keep talking about the road woes of Florida State. We've improved ourselves tremendously by the way we've played on the road, but we've come up short," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said.

"I'm not discouraged by the fact that we've got two road games ahead of us. If we [win] a certain number of games, regardless of whether they're at home or on the road, I'm not sure it makes a difference."

The only ACC team to make the NCAA tournament with a 6-10 conference record was Florida State in 1998.

Instant gratification?

It's not hard to find coaches who think too much emphasis is placed on how a school performs in the NCAA tournament. Count Wake Forest's Skip Prosser among them.

"At the end of the year, when coaching vacancies occur, certain individuals get jobs, not based on what they've done for the last 10 years, but based on what they've done for the last 10 days. It gives one pause," Prosser said.

"That's just the reality when you have [athletic directors] who are more interested in winning the press conference than they are in the long run of winning championships and graduating kids. They just want to show to the press that this is the best coach who's had two great weeks. It's mind-boggling, but that's the way it is."

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