North Carolina defies reports of early demise

Joe Breschi has heard and read the reports suggesting that North Carolina, once a preseason favorite advance to the Final Four, will be lucky to even qualify for the NCAA tournament. And he’s not impressed nor convinced.

“We tell our guys not to listen to the media or read the message boards,” the Tar Heels coach said Tuesday. “I think every coach does the same thing. I think for us, it’s about the guys in the room, it’s about the guys who are going out there to practice every day and are working hard and are trying to get better every day. That’s our goal, to continue to work hard, and now we’re an underdog every week, which is not a bad role to be in.”

Once considered unfathomable, the “underdog” label just might stick as No. 16 North Carolina has been decimated by injuries, especially in the midfield.

The careers of Sean Burke and Tyler Morton were cut short permanently by concussions. Sophomore Cam Wood suffered a knee injury in his first scrimmage that will sideline him for the entire season, and sophomore Greg McBride is still not 100 percent after undergoing back surgery in the offseason. And senior long-stick midfielder Milton Lyles will sit out 2011 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in a scrimmage.

“You can’t make up for those losses, but we all talk about the next guy stepping up, and all those freshmen are getting opportunities now,” Breschi said. “And I think in the long run, you hear about teams being young, we’re young at the midfield and we just became younger based on those injuries. So we just talk about the next guy stepping up and encouraging him to make plays.”

The Tar Heels are 1-1 after falling to then-unranked Ohio State, 13-8, last Saturday, and the schedule doesn’t get easier with upcoming contests against No. 8 Princeton, No. 10 Duke, No. 3 Maryland, No. 9 Johns Hopkins, No. 2 Virginia and No. 4 Notre Dame (in chronological order).

Perhaps that’s why Breschi doesn’t mind embracing the underdog label.

“From our standpoint, I think we’re just trying to motivate our guys and get them excited to play,” he said. “… I think from our standpoint, it’s about getting better every day. The Ivy League hasn’t started their season yet. So I think it’s so early that we’ve got to continue to figure out our identity.”

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