CHAPEL HILL — Not that long ago questions surrounded North Carolina questions that appeared daunting.
They went like this: How would the Tar Heels adapt without P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald? Who would emerge on the perimeter? How would coach Roy Williams compensate for the loss of his two most experienced guards?
Could Marcus Paige, the sophomore guard, be counted on to provide consistent, reliable scoring? Could J.P. Tokoto, the sophomore forward, play shooting guard? Could James Michael McAdoo play small forward?
There was another question too, after UNC suffered that 83-80 loss against Belmont nearly a month ago: Would UNC even be good enough to reach the NCAA tournament?
It seems silly now, with what has transpired in the past month. Nearly all of those questions have been answered in the positive.
A month and a half into the season, the Tar Heels have the best resume in the country. They have wins against then-No. 3 Louisville, then-No. 1 Michigan State and then-No. 11 Kentucky, which entered the season ranked No. 1.
Williams, whose team hosts Texas on Wednesday night at the Smith Center, was asked Saturday after the victory against Kentucky about whether his players have figured out their roles, and accepted them. He thought for a second and said, I think theyve accepted it.
Im not sure that weve figured it out yet, Williams said. I think theyve accepted it. J.P. knows hes going to spend some time at the two, James Michael knows hes going to spend some time at the three. With such a young group, and sometimes an immature group, we dont want to give them too fat and happy kind of thing.
A month ago, Williams might have been worried about when or if his team would put it together. Now hes worried about becoming, in his words, too fat and happy. That speaks to how far the Tar Heels have come.
The loss against Belmont and then the victory against Louisville raised questions about which performance represented the true Tar Heels. A loss at UAB earlier this month made that question louder. Since then, though, the questions have been replaced by this one: How have the Tar Heels, without two of their best players, become one of the most impressive teams in the nation?
McAdoo, the junior forward, spoke Saturday of belief. How he and his teammates have had it all along.
Why do we believe? McAdoo asked, repeating a question. Why do you play the game? We love the game. We love each other. This is what this team is about playing for the guy next to you. Playing for the guys that might not be in the game as much as, per se, me. Even P.J. and Leslie this is North Carolina basketball.
McAdoo hasnt always appeared comfortable playing small forward, but he appeared to turn a corner against Kentucky. He broke out of a prolonged scoring slump and scored 20 points 12 coming at the free throw line. Tokoto, too, provided essential first-half points. Paige, meanwhile, took over in the second half.
A year ago, McAdoo said after the Kentucky game, We got killed in games like this. Indiana. Down in Maui.
At Texas. The Tar Heels suffered an 85-67 loss in Austin, Texas, against the Longhorns last Dec. 19. Now, nearly exactly a year later, the most-doubted UNC team in a while is making believers and erasing questions. And theyre doing it without Hairston and McDonald, both of whom continue to sit out amid NCAA eligibility concerns.
The primary questions that have surrounded them still remain: When will they return? Will they return? Another one has emerged, too: If they do come back, how will that affect the good thing the Tar Heels have going?
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter