Now that North Carolina has won seven straight and is nationally ranked again, freshman center Brad Daugherty can admit that a teensy bit of fear crept into his heart when Carolina, the defending NCAA champion, lost its first two games and barely won the third.
"Yes, I did wonder," Daugherty said today. "I kept thinking, 'What's going on here? What are we doing wrong? Is this going to be an off year for Carolina basketball?' "
After struggling through the first six games, the Tar Heels have improved to 10-3 and are ranked No. 11. North Carolina is playing like North Carolina again.
That may be bad news for Maryland, which will play the Tar Heels Wednesday night at 7 (WMAL-630) in Carmichael Auditorium. It will be the first Atlantic Coast Conference game for North Carolina, and the second for the Terrapins (7-3), who lost to No. 2 Virginia Saturday.
It is no coincidence that Carolina's three most recent victories--by an average margin of 18 points--have come with Daugherty starting. "I see only a little connection between the two," Daugherty said, like any good Carolina freshman would.
But as guard Jimmy Braddock, the team's only senior, said, "Brad's moving into the starting lineup has meant so much to this team."
Some people wonder why Daugherty, who just turned 17, wasn't starting from Day 1. He already weighs 235 pounds, is very coordinated and has good offensive moves, including a jump hook.
But Daugherty, as well as Coach Dean Smith, knew he needed a lot of work. "I didn't know I'd have to come in here and work so hard," Daugherty said. "As a senior in high school (in Black Mountain, N.C.), I had watched North Carolina win so convincingly, I thought the team would just go on--you know, win on its own."
Daugherty, who will start his fourth game Wednesday, has averaged eight points and five rebounds.
"Brad is starting to execute better, both offensively and defensively," Smith said. "That has certainly been a help to our team."
More significantly, Daugherty's playing center has allowed Matt Doherty to move back to small forward from power forward. Michael Jordan was moved from small forward back to shooting guard; he is averaging 18.5 points per game.
"These are the same names, the same faces that were 3-3," Braddock said, "But Mike and Matt have gone back to their natural positions, and that is significant. Matt's not an inside player. He never has been. And Mike's best position is second guard. Plus, we needed the extra height."
With Daugherty in the pivot, all-America Sam Perkins has been moved to forward after two years at center. The change has not hurt Perkins, who says, "There's really no difference in the two positions, except I get introduced as a forward before the game."
Carolina isn't the same powerful team it was last year, with Jimmy Black and James Worthy. But it has played inspired defense lately.
"Early in the season," Braddock said, "we were playing in spurts. Now, at 10-3, we're playing 40 minutes of basketball. Still, it's very different from last year.
"People expected so much from us after winning the national championship," Braddock continued. "And they were displeased with us after we lost the first two games."
Braddock's improved play also has been a factor. He shot poorly in early games, earning the name "Brick" Braddock in some quarters of the ACC. But against Rutgers last week, Braddock made six of seven three-point field goal attempts.
Braddock's improved shooting should be of special concern to Maryland, which missed 13 of 15 three-point attempts in a 19-point loss to Virginia.
The North Carolina game will be Maryland's third in its last five against a team ranked in the top 11. Said Coach Lefty Driesell: "Obviously, I didn't have anything to do with the scheduling."