CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina’s record is what a lot of people thought it might be entering the start of conference play, yet the journey the Tar Heels have taken to reach this point has been as unpredictable as coach Roy Williams can remember.
“We’re 10-3,” junior forward James Michael McAdoo said Friday. “So a lot of people probably thought we were going to be that but probably didn’t think we were going to lose to the teams we lost to, obviously. But we’re confident. We’re ready for this.”
“This,” as McAdoo put it, is the start of ACC play. UNC has 18 regular-season games left, and all of them are against conference opponents. The first one comes Sunday at Wake Forest, where Williams, McAdoo and the rest of the Tar Heels are hoping to find something that has been elusive: consistency.
UNC has been maddeningly inconsistent, so much that Williams identified that characteristic as the one that has displeased him the most about his team. The Tar Heels have beaten three of the best teams in the nation – Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky – but also have lost to Belmont, UAB and Texas, all unranked teams.
UNC needed some late-game heroics to beat both Holy Cross and Davidson, too. Sometimes, though, the Tar Heels have made the game look easy. Sometimes they’ve made it look impossible. From game to game – sometimes from half to half – Williams hasn’t often been able to predict which version of his team will show up.
“Sometimes we’ve been a really good rebounding team, sometimes we’ve been a sorry rebounding team,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve been extremely unselfish and other times we’ve been extremely selfish. We’re not running the ball as well as I would like for us to run it.”
The start of conference play brings the return of the familiar. There will be familiar road trips against familiar opponents in familiar buildings. There’s a rhythm to the ACC schedule, too, that doesn’t exist during the nonconference portion of the schedule.
Not that Williams knows if any of this will help his team find stability.
“With my team, I don’t know what they benefit from,” Williams said. “It’s been a little bit of a circus routine sometimes. I don’t know. I think the older guys will sort of try to pull (the freshmen) along a little bit and get them to understand (the challenge of ACC play).
“You’re getting ready – somebody’s hitting you with a hammer right between the eyes.”
UNC doesn’t ease into its conference schedule, either. The Deacons appear to have improved significantly, and Wake proved last season – with victories against then-No. 18 N.C. State and then-No. 2 Miami – that it can beat anybody at home.
The Tar Heels didn’t travel to Winston-Salem a season ago, and haven’t played at Wake Forest since 2012, when they walked into a surprisingly empty Joel Coliseum and left with a sloppy victory. McAdoo expects a different kind of atmosphere on Sunday night.
“(My) freshman year, I don’t know what we were ranked,” McAdoo said. “We were pretty high but the atmosphere (at Wake) was pretty dead. They’ve gotten a lot better and they’re a really good team. So we definitely have to be prepared for not just their team but the atmosphere.”
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter