One of the most unpredictable roller coasters in all of college basketball took another dip on Sunday afternoon, as the ride that is the No. 16 North Carolina Tar Heels fell to Chad Frazier and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, 63-59, at Bartow Arena in Birmingham.
Two Sundays ago, Roy Williams' schizophrenic squad shockingly fell to Belmont. Last Sunday, the Heels seemed to turn things around in a major way with an impressive win against then No. 3 Louisville.
This time around, they trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half and saw a late comeback attempt fall short against the gritty, up-and-coming Blazers, who got 25 from Frazier and achieved easily the biggest victory of second-year coach Jerod Haase's career.
As ESPN's Andy Katz explained, it was a momentous victory for the 39-year-old Haase, who worked as an assistant under Williams from 2003 through 2012:
While many will point to North Carolina's inconsistency as a reason for this result, Haase quietly has UAB moving in the right direction after two losing seasons.
Before this victory, the 6-2 Blazers had beaten Rutgers and Nebraska and taken then No. 19 New Mexico to a double-overtime thriller in Charleston. Behind Frazier and C.J. Washington, junior college transfers, and senior Rod Rucker, who had 11 points and five 'boards on Sunday, the Blazers are set to make some real noise in the Conference USA.
Nevertheless, these are games the talented Tar Heels can't afford to lose, especially if they hope to be dancing in March.
Still looking for a consistent identity without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald, UNC got 16 points from the athletic J.P. Tokoto and 13 points from point guard Marcus Paige, but couldn't get enough shots to fall and gave up 21 offensive rebounds.
The Tar Heels shot 42.9 percent from the field and an anemic 8.3 percent (1-of-12) from beyond the arc. After Frazier knocked down a couple free throws to put the Blazers ahead, 60-57, Paige missed two consecutive three-point attempts to seal the game.
They continued to struggle from the free-throw line, as well, going just 4-of-11. Yahoo! Sports' Brad Evans summed up the misery:
Carolina entered the day shooting 62.1 percent from the line (320th in America, per kenpom.com), and that number will continue to plummet. It's difficult to win games that way.
Sans Hairston and McDonald, the Heels still boast a ton of talent from Paige to Brice Johnson (eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks on Sunday) to Kennedy Meeks (seven points, six rebounds) and more. But without those two, this is a young team still trying to gel while one of the few veterans, the once highly hyped James Michael McAdoo, continues to struggle to live up to expectations.
On Sunday, McAdoo went 3-of-13 from the field and 0-of-3 from the free-throw line on his way to six points, although he did provide two steals and four blocks.
You're going to continue to see plenty of peaks and valleys from this team as the season progresses.
Just don't try to predict when each is coming.