Lofty expectations and one of the most hyped incoming freshmen in history haven't been enough to keep North Carolina from tumbling into a position that became familiar last season.
Falling from No. 8 to unranked in the span of two weeks isn't what the Tar Heels had in mind, but a victory at No. 20 Illinois on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would help stop their slide.
Preseason All-American Harrison Barnes - the first freshman to be bestowed that honor - is shooting only 35.2 percent, including a 3-for-12, eight-point performance Sunday in North Carolina's 74-69 victory over College of Charleston.
After blowing most of a 22-point lead in a 80-69 win against UNC-Asheville last Tuesday, the Tar Heels needed a 12-2 run midway through the second half to pull away from the Cougars.
Sophomore John Henson scored a career-high 19 points to lead the Tar Heels (4-2).
Roy Williams won his 200th game with North Carolina - something only previously accomplished by Dean Smith.
"I thought our team in the second half came together with more emotion, more enthusiasm," Williams said. "I think they lost themselves in the game more than they have at any point this year, and I think that's the way you grow and mature as a team."
Facing the vastly improved Fighting Illini may provide a good lesson.
Illinois (6-1) committed a season-low 10 turnovers Saturday in a 78-63 victory at Western Michigan. The Illini have won three straight since losing to Texas at Madison Square Garden and are second in the Big Ten in scoring at 80.4 points per game.
"We had it all going, offense, defense, transition," coach Bruce Weber said.
Mike Tisdale scored 18 points and Brandon Paul added 14 in his first start of the season.
Demetri McCamey scored only eight points but had 10 assists and now leads the nation in that category with 54. The senior guard also leads the Big Ten with a 3.86 assist-to-turnover ratio and is averaging 15.0 points.
"I thought we were great early, cutting and passing," McCamey said. "We got Mike Tisdale the ball and he did a god job in the first half."
Coming off a disappointing 21-15 season which left the Illini out of the NCAA tournament, McCamey, Paul and Tisdale have stepped up their game along with Mike Davis, who scored 12 points against the Broncos.
"We were focused. We were very focused," Davis said. "We were guarding, we were running. That's what we've got to do."
This is the fourth time the Illini and Tar Heels are meeting in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with Illinois holding a 2-1 edge. The last matchup was Nov. 29, 2005 when the then-No. 12 Illini won 68-64 in Chapel Hill. North Carolina leads the all-time series 4-3.
Illinois has won 16 straight regular-season home games against non-conference opponents.