by Sharon Thorsland
North Carolina’s modest win streak didn’t last long, the Tar Heels suffered a late meltdown against Virginia on Tuesday night and lost for the eighth straight time in Charlottesville. They’ve got the perfect opportunity to get back on track Saturday though, as they face ACC cellar-dweller Louisville. The Cardinals are 0-6 in the league and 2-15 overall as they continue their horrendous start under new coach Kenny Payne. Tip-off is set for 2:00 at the Yum Center.
The Cardinals blew up last year’s team after firing coach Chris Mack, and brought in Payne, who was a star player at Louisville and a respected NBA and college assistant coach. But he’s struggled to get this team going, and the Cardinals are still committing the same silly penalties, turnovers and shot-clock violations that they were doing to start the season. Granted, they’re young, but they rank near the bottom of the national rankings in nearly every category, including 338th in scoring offense, 308th in scoring defense, and are dead last in assist-turnover ratio.
Big man Sydney Curry and point guard El Ellis are the veterans on this team, while redshirt freshman Mike James has emerged as a potential star. James has scored in double figures in three of the last four games, including 24 points against Wake Forest last week. Ellis is the go-to guy, he’s the only true scoring threat for the Cardinals right now averaging 17 points a game. Curry is managing just five points a contest to go with five rebounds. True freshman Kamari Lands isn’t scoring much at all, while fellow forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield has been inconsistent on both ends of the floor. That all adds up to just 63 points per game for the Cardinals, that’s last in the ACC. The Tar Heels lead the league at 80 points a contest, in spite of managing just 58 at Virginia. Of course, they have plenty of their own problems right now, including a lack of offensive rebounds, poor perimeter defense, and trouble forcing turnovers. The Heels have a chance to improve in all of those categories against the Cardinals but need to play a compete game – they’ve lost late leads several times this season, including blowing a nine-point 2nd half lead against Virginia.