Seemingly every time the Tar Heels take the court they simply don't have what it takes to prevail against the better teams on their schedule. From revealing November games against Gardner-Webb to ugly December wins over dregs like Rutgers to Wednesday night's 64-54 home loss to Duke, nearly each game has carried the same sound, feel and taste. It has become what this team is, and it's just not any good.
Toss out early wins over Ohio State and Michigan State as aberrations. You know how losses to Boston College and Maryland a year ago were generally regarded as slight speed bumps and engendered little panic? Reverse that line of thinking this season. Disregard the high end and bottom end, and what's left is who you are.
The real Carolina isn't the team that beat the Buckeyes and Spartans; it's the one that collapsed over the final 12 minutes at Maryland on Sunday and over the final 10 minutes against the Blue Devils. It's the one that has lost four straight at home and dropped seven of its last eight affairs. The real Tar Heels are now 13-11 overall and 2-7 in the ACC, just a half game ahead of last-place N.C. State.
Looking at UNC's schedule and trying to mentally manufacture a way it can earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament isn't recommended. Save yourself from the agony. That is the fans' reality.
Carolina led 43-39 with 11:52 left, but the bottom really began to fall out a few moments earlier when the Devils started getting into the lane and scoring. They missed 31 of their first 34 two-point shot attempts, converting just three times, and all on put-backs of missed shots.
They didn't shoot well, but the Heels did a solid job staying in front of their men, an issue that has plagued UNC all season. But Carolina mustered enough fight on this emotionally filled night to handle their responsibilities into the second half. But once Nolan Smith netted a pair of jumpers – Duke's first conventional two-point baskets out of its halfcourt offense - several moments into the second half, Duke more regularly got looks driving to the basket. Eventually, those dribble-drives seemed less and less challenged.
On the flip side, the carry-over affected Carolina's offense, just like it has so often of late. Carolina missed 12 of its next 14 field goal attempts and four straight free throws. One could almost hear Robert Plant wailing away in the background.
"I don't know that it was a drop off or just that they were more active," Roy Williams said after noting his team played with intensity over the contest's first 30 minutes.
The same thing can be said for so many games this winter.
We could sit here and itemize 12-15 reasons why, but the truth is, no matter what issue is brought to the surface, these Heels just don't have an answer.
They aren't going to consistently run a more fluid half-court offense nor are they suddenly going to become a quality fast-break team. And no matter what, they aren't going to significantly raise their shooting percentages.
They aren't going to play suffocating defense for 40 minutes and they aren't going to keep opposing guards from going on scoring binges.
They aren't going to go after rebounds with reckless abandon nor are they going to block out with regularity. A leader isn't going to emerge and they just aren't going to make great decisions, especially when close games creep toward decisive moments.
As for the offense, Will Graves said, "It's just a matter of getting good shots…" He could have been quoted saying that in November and December.
As for the defense, Marcus Ginyard said it's as simple as "making stops." He could have been quoted saying that in November and December.
And as for the late-game struggles, John Henson said, "They made plays and we didn't." Again, that has been a familiar theme after all 11 losses and is really the crux of UNC's nosedive.
These issues have been there from day one and it's highly unlikely anything is going to change.
Like it or not, Williams and Carolina simply have no answers.