This year's Tar Heel squad doesn’t resemble a typical North Carolina basketball team. One can just look at the record to determine that.
But the deeper reason for UNC's struggle is pretty simple. They can’t make 3-point shots at the rate Roy Williams' teams normally do.
The 3-pointer has revolutionized the game of basketball and the ability to shoot from beyond the arc has become essential for successful teams, so much so that the last two NCAA Tournament champions finished with a 3-point shooting percentage in the top 15 in the country.
2019 champion Virginia shot 39.5 percent from deep, and 2018 champ Villanova shot 40.1 percent. But no one is asking this UNC team to shoot that well. They just want the Tar Heels to be average, like the program’s 2017 NCAA Tournament champions, which shot 35.5 percent from 3-point range, good for 154th in the country.
This season, though, North Carolina is shooting 30.1 percent from deep. That’s 304th of 347 teams in the country.
Shooting the long ball is clearly an issue for the Tar Heels. The team’s best 3-point shooter is first-year guard Cole Anthony, and he isn’t expected to come back from injury for at least a few more weeks.
The next best shooter is senior Brandon Robinson — who takes the majority of the Tar Heels' 3-point shots — shooting 34.2 percent. After that, there's not much.
But North Carolina’s offensive three-point output isn’t the only thing harming them. They can’t defend the 3-pointer either.
That was clear when Pittsburgh, a team that shoots 30.1 percent from 3-point range for the season, went 8-12 from deep in the second half to secure a road win in Chapel Hill.
The losing effort against the Panthers wasn’t the only time a team lit it up from beyond the arc against UNC. The team has given up 131 three-point makes in its 15 games. That’s 313th in the country.
This is a recurring theme for the Tar Heels this season. The 3-point shot is killing them on both sides of the ball. It could be that this team is the “least gifted” as Roy Williams called it, but the roster is still filled with considerable talent. It all boils down to the great equalizer in college basketball: the 3-point shot.
So who can step up for the Tar Heels and start hitting shots?
The obvious answer is graduate transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce. Both were expected to come to Chapel Hill and be prolific scorers, but the two have combined to shoot 13-58 from 3-point range.
If they can start hitting shots, it would improve the entire outlook for the team’s season. Historically, 3-point shooting is rarely a strong suit for great UNC teams. The Tar Heels as a whole just need to be average from 3-point range to turn things around.
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