Time for North Carolina to find itself

Struggling Tar Heels are lacking an identity

March 23, 2012|Mike Preston

When No. 13 North Carolina plays No. 10 Maryland on Saturday, it might be a great time for the Tar Heels to find an identity.

They've been nomads for more than a decade.

Syracuse has an identity. The Orange likes to run and gun and have great midfielders. Virginia is known for its fast pace, transition and athleticism.

When you think of Maryland and Johns Hopkins, you think of physical defense and gritty play. But Carolina? Nothing comes to mind.

Even in Joe Breschi's four years as North Carolina's head coach, the Tar Heels still haven't found themselves. You could say it is a team on the brink of greatness with a lot of star talent.

Maybe that's the biggest problem.

The Tar Heels are the New York Yankees of lacrosse but can't solve the chemistry problem. Their offense consists of a bunch of attackmen who are still playing the position or have been converted to midfield, and the style of Jimmy Bitter (12 goals, 5 assists), Joey Sankey (14, 9) and Nicky Gallaso (2, 1) is too similar

Is there really any difference between Dave Emala (12, 4) and Jack McBride (8, 1)?

"He has been using a lot of different players and seems to have a ton of attackmen," said ESPN analyst Mark Dixon. "I watched them against Duke and they used six attackmen in the first half. That's pretty unique for a Division I team.

"When you are using that many players, you're trying to get everything out of every player or he might, and I think this is the case, he might be still trying to find the right combinations."

Or Breschi might be trying to keep everybody happy.

The Tar Heels (6-3) are loaded with talent and have 11 players from the MIAA, possibly the best high school league in the country. But with talent comes headaches, especially in the sport of lacrosse.

There has been a lot of talk about North Carolina fans being unhappy with the Tar Heels' performance this season and parents complaining about the lack of playing time for their sons.

Maybe that's why North Carolina keeps working these crazy combinations and has committed 149 turnovers.

Breschi needs to remember that he can't make everyone happy, and no coach has at North Carolina since Willie Scroggs left in 1990.

Dave Klarmann, who replaced Scroggs, was sound technically, but was not all that well-liked personally. John Haus was just as dry, and failed to draw top recruits.

Breschi is a good recruiter and has instilled discipline again. But now he has to win a few more games to get over the proverbial hump and possibly back to a Final Four appearance.

"It's not like they have been losing to the little sisters of the poor," Dixon said. "They've had losses to quality teams."

Two of the team's losses have come to No. 11 Duke and No. 9 Lehigh, one of the biggest surprise teams of the season. North Carolina, though, has one major strength in faceoff specialist R.G. Keenan, who has won 101 of 163 faceoffs this season.

Keenan, a sophomore, is the great neutralizer. If he continues to dominate and the Tar Heels can control the ball and cut down on turnovers, they could hide major weaknesses on defense.

But North Carolina has to stop being so one dimensional and find more ways to attack on offense. There has to be more balance. The Tar Heels can go deep into the NCAA tournament if they hit their stride.

They've got a good opportunity against Maryland today followed by games against Hopkins and Virginia. If this isn't a great time to find an identity, then when is?

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