Beyond the Scoreboard: What’s wrong with Duke and North Carolina?

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams talks with his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. Virginia won 61-49. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

There is probably not an ACC basketball fan in the country – and especially in the state – that believes the current regular-season standings will hold up.

With preseason and perennial favorites Duke and North Carolina mired among a cluster of seven teams stuck in a tie for eighth place at 1-2, the theory that the cream will rise to the top suggest patience is the key to waiting for the Blue Devils and Tar Heels to climb back toward familiar surroundings.

Currently, that’s where Clemson, Virginia and Notre Dame reside, with 3-0 records just more than one week into what UNC coach and Asheville native Roy Williams calls the 18-game ACC schedule - “a marathon with a lot of 100-yard sprints thrown in.”

And while the belief is both Williams and Duke counterpart Mike Krzyzewski will turn things around, both are very blunt in their assessments of the slow starts by their teams.

“We’ve played horrible defense. We know more than anyone how poorly we’ve played on defense,” Krzyzewski said on the ACC Coaches’ Teleconference.

“An old-fashioned butt kicking” is how Williams described a 12-point loss at No. 3 Virginia on Saturday, the fifth straight time the No. 20 Tar Heels lost at Charlottesville.

That came on the heels of a last-second loss at No. 23 Florida State, so at least UNC has the excuse of losing to a pair of ranked teams on the road.

No. 7 Duke’s defeats have also come away from home, to unranked Boston College and N.C. State. The Blue Devils needed a late rally to hold off FSU at home, three games in which the team has allowed 89, 93 and 96 points.

Some of that can be attributed to trying to nail down a rotation that is mostly freshmen, said Krzyzewski.

“Part of the problem with the defense is the development of bench strength so we can be fresher.”

And as the Blue Devils prepare to resume ACC play at Pittsburgh (0-3 and last in the ACC) on Wednesday, they will do so with a more limited bench.

Reserve big men Marques Bolden (knee strain) and Javin DeLaurier (hamstring) are out, this coming after news that 6-7 freshman Justin Tucker plans to transfer.

That means Coach K expects to go deeper into an already thin bench, something he has been hesitant to do in the past.

“It means we have to get Antonio (Vrankovic), Justin (Robinson) and Jack (White) more reps in practice to be ready,” Krzyzewski said.

For the Tar Heels, who host Boston College Tuesday night to begin a stretch of three home games in the next four starts, getting better begins with improved play from veterans like senior Theo Pinson.

“He hasn’t played very well the last couple of games,” said Williams of Pinson, who has just 17 points on four-of-14 shooting in ACC play.

“We need him to get going, we need him to be more involved defensively and on the backboards.”

Williams and Coach K have seen so slow starts before – Duke’s 2015 national championship team started 1-2 in the ACC – and remain confident their teams will soon start playing better.

“This league is a marathon full of 100-yard sprints, and if you lose you are worn out,” said Williams.

“The league is so tough (and) hopefully guys know how to fight through the funks they get in.”