ATLANTA -- There isnt the typical glamour factor with this years North Carolina basketball team. The Tar Heels are off to one of their worst starts in ACC play, and they find themselves in the rare position of being unranked.
But dont be fooled by North Carolinas pedestrian record, Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory warned. The Tar Heels, who remain NCAA basketball royalty, make a visit to McCamish Pavilion for Wednesdays game.
If they shot their free throws in November and December, they would have been 13-0 and been in the top 10, maybe No. 1, Gregory said. Theyre a really good team.
North Carolina (12-7) lost its first three ACC games (Wake Forest, Miami, Syracuse) and is 2-4 in the conference after Sundays 19-point victory over Clemson. The 1-4 start in conference play matched the 2001-02 team, which started 1-5, then 2-10 and finally 4-12 in the conference. But this is the same North Carolina team that beat No. 1 Michigan state, No. 3 Louisville and No. 11 Kentucky.
They played one bad game (against Miami), Gregory said. Wheres the problem?
North Carolina traditionally has had difficulties in Atlanta. Georgia Tech has won five of the past seven meetings on its home court. But the Tar Heels lead the all-time series 62-24 and have won the past three games in the series by an average of 13.3 points.
Even though Georgia Tech is coming off a disheartening overtime loss to N.C. State in Raleigh, the Yellow Jackets have played pretty well, especially considering the personnel issues.
Things could get better. Robert Carter Jr. is making a speedy recovery from his ACL surgery and is already shooting and doing some zero-gravity running.
Hes progressing well, said Gregory, who said the final decision on Carters return will be made by the teams doctors.
Until then the Yellow Jackets (11-9, 2-5) will continue to lean heavily on seniors Daniel Miller and Trae Golden and sophomore Marcus Georges-Hunt.
Miller is coming off one of the best games of his career against N.C. State with a season-high 21 points and 14 rebounds. But the big senior obviously was weary late in the game from playing 42 minutes.
Thats a lot of minutes to play, Gregory said. There were a couple of plays late where he was just dead on his feet. But he fought through it.
Golden continues to pick up the offensive slack left by Carter. During the past five games he has averaged 19.2 points. Goldens intensity is contagious, and he seems to relish any opportunity to take command.
One bright spot against N.C. State was the play of freshman Quinton Stephens. He played 31 minutes and scored 13 points, both career highs.
North Carolina is led by James Michael McAdoo, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia Tech in Atlanta last year. The 6-foot-9 junior averages 14.8 points and 6.5 rebounds and has scored in double figures in 12 straight.
The Tar Heels top scorer is Marcus Paige, who averages 16.7 points and 4.2 assists. The 6-1 sophomore is deadly from the outside and is 11th in the nation at the free throw line (90.4 percent).
Talented freshman Kennedy Meeks has been a work in progress. But since going scoreless against Syracuse, the 6-9, 290-pounder responded with three consecutive games in double figures. He matched his career-high with 15 points against Virginia.
We played with a greater sense of urgency against Clemson, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said.