I wrote a story for today that examined the reasons behind North Carolina’s 1-4 start in the ACC – which is tied for the worst in school history after five games.
The Tar Heels were once unpredictable this season. They followed confounding defeats (Belmont, UAB) with equally-confounding victories (Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky) and, for a while, UNC was this enigma of a team. Not anymore, though. Not really.
Since conference play began earlier this month, UNC has been predictable. The Tar Heels haven’t shot well against good defensive teams, haven’t gotten to the free throw line all that often, haven’t taken advantage of second-chance opportunities and haven’t yet solved their lack-of-effort problem.
Those four issues, more than anything, have led UNC to its 1-4 start. Here’s a deeper look all of the Tar Heels’ problems – with the exception of effort, which is involved to an extent in all of these issues – and what needs to happen to fix them:
The problem: Poor shooting
The evidence: UNC has shot 41.3 percent from the field or worse in all four of its ACC losses. It’s not a coincidence that all of those poor shooting performances have come against good defenses. Wake Forest, Miami, Syracuse and Virginia are all holding their opponents to less than 41.3 percent shooting, and Miami and Virginia rank among the top 31 teams nationally in field goal percentage defense. In its lone ACC victory UNC shot 52.7 percent against Boston College, but the Eagles are last in the ACC – and 298th nationally – in field goal percentage defense.
The solution: The Tar Heels need to take more high-percentage shots, especially against good defensive teams. UNC is not a good 3-point shooting team, yet it has attempted more 3-pointers than usual in all five of its ACC games. The Tar Heels are averaging 11 3-point attempts, but they took 15 3s against Wake Forest, 21 against Miami, 12 against Syracuse and 15 against Virginia. Opposing teams have to be content to let UNC shoot from the outside, given that it’s shooting 30.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. That ranks 312th nationally. One way or the other, UNC has to work the ball inside to Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks.
The problem: Inability to get to the free throw line
The evidence: UNC is averaging 27 free throw attempts. In its four ACC losses, though, the Tar Heels have averaged only 13 trips to the line. Given the fact that the Tar Heels are a bad free throw shooting team – they’re shooting 61.5 percent from the line, which ranks 343rd nationally – their inability to get to the line hurts even more than it would ordinarily. In three of its four ACC losses, UNC has attempted 12 or fewer free throws. UNC’s 2009 national championship team had one game all season in which it attempted less than 15 free throws. UNC already has four this season, with three of those games coming in ACC play.
The solution: Roy Williams has called on his team to be tougher and to not shy away from contact close to the basket. The Tar Heels’ lack of physicality is part of the reason why they haven’t been going to the line as often as they’d like. Another issue is shot selection. UNC is settling for a lot of jump shots – which, again, has hurt its shooting percentage – and the more often the Tar Heels shoot from the outside, the less often they put themselves in a position to get fouled and go to the line.
The problem: Failure to capitalize on second-chance opportunities
The evidence: UNC ranks 23rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (37.9 percent) but what good is offensive rebounding if you don’t take advantage of those second chances? In the loss against Wake Forest, the Tar Heels scored 17 points off of 24 offensive rebounds. UNC had 18 points off of 20 offensive rebounds against Miami, two points off of 10 offensive rebounds against Syracuse and 14 points off of 17 offensive rebounds against Virginia. That amounts to 51 points off of 71 offensive rebounds in UNC’s four ACC losses.
The solution: It’d be interesting to go back on film and see exactly how many short put-backs the Tar Heels have missed. Those add up. Among all of his team’s issues, Williams has seemed most flummoxed by UNC’s inability to score after offensive rebounds. Asked about the problem on Monday night after the Virginia loss, he said: “I don’t have an answer. If I did, I would have tried to have already fixed it. But got to be more attentive to finish the play instead of worrying about getting fouled. Tyler Hansbrough was the best I’ve ever seen, had more old-fashioned three-point plays than anybody because when he got the ball he was finishing the play and then started to run back down the court and realized the referee had blown the whistle and called a foul.” Williams added that his players seem too concerned with knowing where the defender is, instead of just going up and being aggressive.