UNC’s fortunes tied to outside shooting
North Carolina never attempted more than 22 three-pointers in a game last season. The Tar Heels are almost averaging that number of attempts this season, and UNC coach Roy Williams isn’t happy about it.
“I think you live by the 3 and die by the 3,” Williams said.
Sure enough, the Tar Heels (9-3) have been successful from deep while beating overmatched opponents, making 85 of 208 (40.9 percent), including 13 of 28 (46.6 percent) in last Saturday’s 97-63 win over McNeese State.
But in their three losses against Indiana, Butler and Texas, UNC has hit just 11 of 49 (22.4 percent) from behind the arc.
“I think we can really shoot, but if you can really shoot then you’re supposed to do it every night,” Williams said. “You’re not supposed to have those nights when you go 3-for-22.”
Instead, Williams would like to see the Tar Heels move the ball into the post more, or at least be more aggressive driving into the paint. This year’s team has basically as many free throw attempts as its opponents (219-208). By comparison, last season UNC shot 922 free throws and allowed 529, a difference of more than 10 a game.
“You should always live by getting to the free throw line,” Williams said. “Our teams in the past have been so good at getting to the free throw line, and this year we’ve barely shot more free throws than our opponents.
“Now the ABC (Anybody But Carolina) people will say that’s just because of the Carolina refs, but we challenged the basket a heck of a lot more.”
Part of the problem is that UNC doesn’t have a reliable back-to-the-basket center like Tyler Zeller, Tyler Hansbrough or Sean May. Sophomore Desmond Hubert and freshmen Brice Johnson and Joel James have traded starts, and none of those players are averaging more than 14.5 minutes a game.
However, Williams said the Tar Heels are also settling for perimeter shots too easily. Though McNeese State came out in a zone, inviting UNC to set up behind the arc, Williams didn’t like how his team accepted it.
“How many times you hear a football coach say they took what they gave us? I think that’s dumb as dirt,” Williams said. “If you give me something that means you think it’s to your advantage. I want to take what I want.”
UNC has taken 20 or more 3-pointers in seven of its first 12 games so far and has more 3-point attempts than any other ACC team. The Tar Heels have the conference’s highest scoring offense (84.0 points per game) and its overall 3-point percentage of 37.4 ranks fourth. But the team has also shown how streaky outside shooting can be, and what happens when long-range shots don’t fall.