Heels no longer get benefit of doubt

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Fans trickling out of the Dean Smith Center after North Carolina 's third home loss of the season could engage in a lot of blame and finger-pointing.

They should start with Louisville.

Then Michigan State.

And yes, Kentucky, too.

Carolina's trio of wins over ranked teams built a substantial benefit of doubt cache that it continued to tap -- until Wednesday's 63-57 loss to Miami.

The Tar Heels are on empty right now. They're wounded, they're hurt, they're experiencing more doubt now than they did after losses to Belmont and UAB.

"There's no question we're feeling stress," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "You do that at North Carolina, you're not supposed to lose."

The Tar Heels dropped to 0-2 in the ACC for the second straight season and the third time under Williams. The first time it happened, the Heels went on to win the 2009 national championship.

Against the Hurricanes, who entered 0-2 in conference play, there weren't any moments to suggests the Heels are a potential title team.

"We're a little shook, 0-2 in league play is not the way we expected to start," said guard Marcus Paige. "Everyone faces a little adversity here and there. I know we have guys who are not ready to give in and quit, but this group is tough enough to make things happen. We just have to change."

Williams was almost as emotional postgame as he tends to be during season-ending news conferences after a NCAA tournament loss.

"When you go to school here and you coach here as an assistant, and you come back and coach here, it's a feeling of ownership and it's a feeling of pride," Williams said. "And right now I'm not doing a very good job with this basketball team. That's the hardest thing there is that I've ever had to say."

The Heels have shown all along they're a team with a thin margin of error and a thick stack of flaws. Carolina did a good job of masking them for most of the season.

There was a thought that P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald would return and their inconsistencies and deficiencies would go away. Once it was known that only McDonald would be reinstated, nothing has really changed from the North Carolina team of the preseason.

The Tar Heels are still limited from the perimeter. They are still limited when forced to play a half-court game. Miami exposed both of those weaknesses.

The Canes held the Heels to a season-low 23 points in the first half.

Paige, the Heels' leading scorer, struggled for the second straight game shooting 2-of-15 from the field and tied his season low -- set Sunday in the loss to Wake Forest -- with eight points.

McDonald, who is second on the team in 3-pointers, shot 3-of-12 from the field and also had eight points.

Miami played zone the entire game, which the Heels will see again Saturday at No. 2 Syracuse.

Here's the part where a public service announcement on Carolina's 3-0 record against ranked teams this season would have come up a week ago. That was before back-to-back losses against teams expected to finish in the lower tier of the ACC.

Freshman guard Nate Britt said the team hasn't been dwelling on those wins, but they could still serve to help confidence.

"The only thing that we draw off it is that we're capable," Britt said. "Other than that, I think it's a thing of the past. We have to worry about the games ahead of us and how we can best execute against the teams that we have to play in conference."

Paige added that the wins don't define the Heels any more than their losses do.

"The wins aren't going to help you win the game Saturday, the losses aren't going to help you lose the game Saturday," Paige said. "You've got to show up to play every day."

Consistency of play happens to be a lesson the Heels are still trying to learn.