Bounce Back Time
Charlottesville,Va - When North Carolina won its first 13 games and was the unanimous top-ranked team in the nation, there was talk that the Tar Heels could roll into March without a loss.
Instead, it has dropped two conference games without a win.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the North Carolina –14.5 point spread favorites for Wednesday’s game against the Virginia. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 63% of more than 183 bets for this game have been placed on the North Carolina -14.5.
Fifth-ranked North Carolina will try to avoid its first 0-3 ACC start in 12 years on Thursday when it heads to Charlottesville, where Virginia narrowly lost a thriller against a top-five Tar Heel team last season.
Led by reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (14-2, 0-2 ACC) came into the season an overwhelming favorite to return to the Final Four - where it lost to eventual national champion Kansas.
Hansbrough and the Tar Heels got off to a flawless start, winning their first 13 games by an average of 26.0 points. But North Carolina was stunned by Boston College in Chapel Hill on Jan. 4, losing 85-78 while making 38.4 percent of its shots, easily the worst shooting performance of the season to date for coach Roy Williams' team.
After looking sharp while throttling the College of Charleston on Jan. 7, the Tar Heels' shooting woes returned at Wake Forest on Sunday night. Hansbrough scored 17 points on 3-of-12 shooting - 0-for-5 after halftime - and North Carolina shot 35.1 percent and had a season-low nine assists in an 92-89 loss.
"It's better now than in March," Hansbrough said of the Tar Heels' early struggles. "But you have to understand: It's early. We've got a lot of games to prove ourselves. Hopefully with these next couple of games, we'll do that. We'll find out who we are as a team and practice."
North Carolina hadn't started 0-2 in conference play since 1996-97, which is also the last time it lost three straight to open its ACC season. The final loss of that 0-3 start came in Charlottesville, but that Tar Heel team - led by Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison - eventually made it to the Final Four.
There's little question that Hansbrough, averaging 22.6 points, is the leader of this team, but Wayne Ellington does not seem to be the same player. Last season, Ellington averaged 16.6 points as the Tar Heels' second-leading scorer.
His average has dropped to 12.8 points as a junior, his shooting percentage has fallen from 46.7 percent to 43.4 percent and Ellington has yet to top 17 points after scoring 18 or more 17 times as a sophomore.
Williams, though just wants Ellington - and the rest of the Tar Heels - to move on.
"It is what it is. We're 0-2 and we're going to try to play better, be more effective,'' Williams said. "... There's no question that the conference race is always our No. 1 goal, but it's not over with after just two games."
North Carolina has won four in a row against the Cavaliers (7-6, 1-1), including a 75-74 road victory on Feb. 12 when its was No. 5 in the nation. Hansbrough had 23 points and Ellington 19 in that win.
Virginia has played its first two ACC games on the road, winning by four in overtime at Georgia Tech and losing 78-75 at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
The young Cavaliers have just one senior in their rotation - guard Mamadi Diane - and start a sophomore and three freshmen. One of those first-year players is 6-foot-6 guard Sylven Landesberg, who's tied for fourth in the ACC with 18.5 ppg.
Redshirt freshman Sammy Zeglinski, meanwhile, averaged 13.3 points on 50.8 percent shooting in his first seven games, but is scoring 9.2 ppg on 34.9 percent in his past six contests.
Posted: 1/15/09 1:56AM ET