Joel Berry struggles
Against Indiana, Berry had eight points and shot 1-for-6 from 3-point range for an offensive rating of 80, per kenpom.com.
Against Georgia Tech, Berry had eight points and finished 2-for-9 from deep to earn an offensive rating of 49.
And against Miami, Berry had two points and went 0-for-4 from beyond the arc to finish with an offensive rating of 41.
That’s three North Carolina losses and three very bad games from Berry. To be fair, against Kentucky, Berry had an excellent game (23 points, 134 offensive rating). But his performances in the losses illustrate his value to the team.
Berry is the fulcrum on which North Carolina’s offense is built this season. He’s second on the team in points per game (14.8) and first on the team in assists (4.0). His ability to shoot stretches defenses and gives the Tar Heel bigs space to operate in the paint. It’s also worth mentioning his defense (1.4 steals per game) at the point guard position. His tenacity and pressing style there sets the tone for everyone else.
Concern in March?
Berry has shown he isn't immune to bad games and off shooting nights this season, but he’s also proven to show up in big-time moments. In the national championship loss last season, Berry had 20 mostly forgotten points to help UNC claw back into the game. And this season, he’s done similar things in big games (see: Kentucky).
Berry isn’t a top concern for the Tar Heels by the time March comes around. If he goes cold, someone else will have to step up. But everything Berry has shown so far in his career suggests he can step up when needed.
The most obvious similarity between all three losses is that they’ve all come on the road. Indiana had a sold-out crowd behind them in Bloomington, and it was a big part of the reason why the Hoosiers were able to get out to such a fast start in that contest.
Georgia Tech and Miami aren’t exactly known for their home atmospheres (against Georgia Tech, UNC might have had more fans in the building than the Yellow Jackets). But they are still conference road tests.
The Tar Heels have now played five road games in conference and have a 3-2 record in those games. Even the wins have been close — North Carolina needed overtime to beat Clemson, defeated Wake Forest by just six points and finished with an eight-point margin of victory against Boston College in a closer game than the score indicated.
Concern in March?
North Carolina won’t face any truly hostile road crowds in March, so struggling in road games isn’t too much of a concern. Everyone will be dealing with the neutral-court adjustments by then.
The road struggles are a concern for the rest of the ACC slate, though. UNC still has to play Duke, N.C. State, Pittsburgh and Virginia away from home. Those will be slugfests and great challenges for the Tar Heels.
Poor 3-point team shooting
Against Indiana, UNC shot 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) from beyond the arc.
In Atlanta, North Carolina struggled again, shooting 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from deep against Georgia Tech.
And against Miami, that mark was ugly again: 7-of-24 (29.2 percent).
These poor shooting nights go against the trend on the season for UNC. Overall, the Tar Heels have actually been shooting quite well from deep, canning 37.7 percent of their long-distance shots. That’s a great improvement from a season ago, when as a team, North Carolina shot 32.7 pecent on 3-pointers. Many different wing contributors, including Justin Jackson, Kenny Williams and Joel Berry, are leading the improvement.
The poor shooting against Indiana might have been just that — poor shooting. But against Georgia Tech and Miami, North Carolina struggled to attack the zone and often settled for bad jump shots and 3-point attempts. In both games, the Tar Heels were stagnant on offense and just couldn't get going.
Against Syracuse — another team famous for its usage of the 2-3 zone — UNC also struggled, shooting 7-for-24 (29.2 percent) from deep. Rebounding and paint scoring covered that deficiency on that day, and UNC did cruise to head coach Roy Williams' 800th victory.
Concern in March?
The shooting isn’t really a concern in March because, all-in-all, the team has been very good this season from deep. What is a concern is UNC’s struggles against zone defenses.
North Carolina must improve on attacking the zone via dribble drives and passes, getting out in transition even more and getting to the free-throw line to beat those zones. It’s an offensive weakness that coaches in March will use to attack the Tar Heels if they don’t improve.