Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's sixth loss in 17 games, and second defeat in four Atlantic Coast Conference contests.
Raymond Felton - Felton has really matured as a player over the last few weeks. He had another excellent statistical game on Wednesday, scoring 14 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out five assists and registering three steals. He's shooting the 3 and seeing the floor better. His FG percent would be higher if it weren't for the numerous forced misses as the shot clock winds down. His defense also continues to improve.
Rashad McCants - McCants didn't have his best shooting day (10-24) by any stretch, but many of his misses were when trying to bring the Heels back toward the end of the game. He finished with 26 points and eight rebounds and played with tremendous fire. McCants says he doesn't feel like the team's top option because he believes his mates are also capable of scoring. But one has to wonder if he felt like he had to take over because UNC wasn't getting many quality looks and he's one of the few Heels capable of creating his own shot. It's something to consider.
Jawad Williams - Williams put up nice numbers (18 points, seven rebounds) although nine of his points came from beyond the arc. His other baskets were a baseline jumper, a layup and a slam. Carolina must get him the ball just off the block more often. His footwork around eight feet from the basket has improved and he can hit the short jumper all night long.
No quit - The Heels could have folded a few times but didn't. Maryland had first-half runs of 11 and 12 points and had a 14-2 spurt after UNC cut the margin to 41-39 but Carolina was within 61-53 with less than five minutes remaining. The team and coaching staff deserve credit for never giving up.
Where's the scoring? - Once again the Heels had a lengthy stretch with little scoring, this time scoring two points over an eight-minute period after closing to 41-39 with 17 minutes left in the game. As much as they were beaten on the glass and were outclassed in other areas, this is where UNC lost the game.
Felton and McCants both said they basically ran no set plays during the stretch, which comes at least once a game, win or lose. The Heels are clearly offensively challenged, and its about time this is addressed. Two starters have virtually no offensive skills, while another is playing out of position, if his skills even suit an exact position. The other two are fine players, although one doesn't shot well while the other doesn't handle the ball too well (see turnovers). Without a real threat inside, it's a mystery why Carolina doesn't run a bunch of set plays, especially screening on the perimeter as they obviously must shoot the 3-ball well if they are to beat a quality opponent. Screening the perimeter will also create mismatches - advantages for UNC - and will likely open up some lanes - both passing and dribbling - which means more high percentage shots.
Perhaps a set like N.C. State successfully employed last year might be more effective. Running more backdoors, double screens for McCants, Scott, and Williams (and Johnson when he is in the game because he can shoot), and even running the curl that helped make Juan Dixon a star at Maryland would be better than pass, five dribbles, pass in the corner, player stuck, bad pass turnover, or bad shot, or a player losing his dribble.
UNC shot a woeful 34.8 percent (23-66) for the game, including 12-54 (22.3%) on non-3s.
Carolina plays with tremendous desire and intensity. The kids work hard on the floor and have exceeded the expectations of many. But if the offense were more orchestrated it would result in a more efficient team, and perhaps a couple of added victories down the road, which could mean the difference between going to the NIT or NCAA tournaments.
Rebounding - The Tar Heels were outrebounded 45-34 by the bigger Terps. At times it appeared as if UNC had nobody under the glass. This was just a simple case of a mismatch not favorable to UNC.
Easy baskets - Maryland got way too many easy baskets, from its ability to post up the Heels, to putbacks on missed shots, to open court buckets after poor UNC possessions.
Free throw attempts - The Heels' trend of not shooting as many freebies as their opponents continued as the Terps attempted 25 and UNC 12. Granted Maryland shot eight down the stretch, but that still leaves them with an edge prior to UNC's fouling at the end of the game.
Shot clock - The Heels are horrible at getting off a decent shot with the shot clock winding down. Too often they rely on Felton to "shake and bake" before missing a fall-away long jumper or a highly contested shot in the lane amongst the trees. There has to be something else in the "playbook" than that.
TO/Assists - For the fourth consecutive game UNC had more turnovers than assists. There are many reasons why UNC's hasn't been as efficient of late. Tougher competition has been able to shut down the Heels' freelance offense, putting UNC in difficult situations where completing quality passes are more difficult and turning the ball over more likely. UNC's poor spacing, lack of cutting, too much dribbling, and lack of set plays can only be overshadowed by McCants' outside touch, a solid open court game, and the wonderful abilities of Felton so much.
Two of five - Carolina's starting center had no rebounds and its starting shooting guard had no points. Consider the odds of this happening. Trying to figure the odds would be a waste of time. It's just incredibly rare and sure isn't a recipe for success.
Byron Sanders - Sanders just didn't have a good game. He worked hard trying to defend Maryland's beefy and experienced interior but had no answers stopping them from scoring or dominating the boards. He finished with zero turnovers and two points - both free throws.
Jackie Manuel - Manuel plays extremely hard, is easily the team's best defensive player, and has developed into a solid rebounder for his thin 6–foot-5 frame. However, he has not progressed offensively and at times is a liability. He doesn't handle the ball well, makes questionable decisions, is a mediocre shooter, and rarely completes a dribble penetration move without either turning the ball over, losing it (with a mate bailing him out), or putting up a shot that may or may not draw iron. As good as Manuel is on defense, Matt Doherty has to ponder if it's worth having him on the floor so much considering Carolina's challenges offensively. Perhaps more minutes for Melvin Scott, which means getting a longer sweat going and an increase in confidence, would help him get out of his slump. Maybe not, but at this point, especially in games when the Heels aren't scoring (they have scored more than 69 points just twice in the last nine games, and had 72 and 79 in the other contests), it couldn't hurt.
The Tar Heels travel to rival N.C. State for a Sunday tipoff of 2 p.m. at the RBC Center. The game will be televised nationally by FoxSportsNet.
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.