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The Daily Tar Heel

FILM REVIEW: Do recent losses reveal March weaknesses for UNC men's basketball?

UNC guard Joel Berry (2) goes up to lay the ball against Wake Forest on Wednesday night.

UNC guard Joel Berry (2) goes up to lay the ball against Wake Forest on Wednesday night.

This is our third men's basketball installment of Film Review, where we break down a particular aspect of the action to help you better understand what's happening on the court. Here's where to find our previous pieces from the football and men's basketball season.

The North Carolina men's basketball team lost for the fourth time this season on Saturday — a 77-62 defeat down in Coral Gables, Fla., to the Miami Hurricanes. The loss pushed UNC's conference record back to 7-2, and the Tar Heels fell to No. 12 in the most recent AP Poll. 

Let’s take a look at North Carolina’s three worst losses — at Indiana on Nov. 30, at Georgia Tech on Dec. 31 and at Miami on Jan. 28 and see what similarities exist between the losses. Then, let’s see if the weakness is a concern in March, when things really start to heat up for the college basketball season. This is by no means a perfect exercise, but it's a useful one, especially to see how the team will hold up during the NCAA Tournament.

You’ll notice that I left out the Kentucky loss, which came in Las Vegas on Dec. 17. In my opinion, it’s not in the same category as the other three losses. UNC lost by three to a very good Kentucky team — the other three losses have all been by more than eight points and have come on the road. We will leave it out for this analysis while keeping in mind how important that game was for the Tar Heels as a litmus test against another top-flight opponent.


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.


Road games

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.

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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.

@bauman_john

sports@dailytarheel.com