Entering the season as the nation's top-ranked team, the North Carolina men’s basketball squad faced high expectations. But, to this point, the Tar Heels have struggled to live up to them.
After last season's team made a run to the Final Four, UNC fans had a lot to look forward to, especially with four of five starters returning. The Tar Heels, however, lost four games in a row in an early stretch — knocking the preseason No. 1 team out of the AP poll altogether.
UNC has figured out some of its problems since then. The Tar Heels have gone 10-2 since that early skid, dropping games to Pitt and Virginia by a combined margin of less than 10 points. Still, some numbers remain concerning.
Caleb Love has taken nearly 25 percent of the team’s shots – more than any other player on the roster – but he only makes his attempts at a 38 percent rate. The junior guard leads the team in 3-point attempts by a sizable margin, but he has been making just 28 percent of his shots from behind the arc this year. Love's shot selection might be the cause of this poor shooting trend, as he often settles for contested jump shots and off-balanced 3-point attempts.
The Tar Heels’ frontcourt, consisting of senior center Armando Bacot, graduate forward Pete Nance and graduate wing Leaky Black, has been essential for UNC’s recent success. Bacot is averaging just under 18 points per game alongside 11.4 rebounds, and Nance is averaging 10.9 points per game. Nance’s versatility has come up big for the Tar Heels, and he can provide some spacing with a 3-point percentage of 35.5 percent.
The North Carolina basketball program has built a foundation on strong ball movement, and in the team's recent string of success, the Tar Heels have done a better job sharing the ball. But the team still has a long way to go before it can reach its ceiling on the offensive end.
Currently, the Tar Heels rank 214th in Division I in assists per game at 12.8. If UNC wants to excel in their remaining conference schedule and postseason play, they must find ways to generate playmaking.
Head coach Hubert Davis isn't known to reach deep into his bench, but several reserve players have proven their worth when stepping in for injured starters this season. First-year forward Jalen Washington, sophomore guard D’Marco Dunn, and junior forward Puff Johnson have all had breakthrough games. All three players are shooting higher than 43 percent from the field and were crucial in games where Bacot and Nance were unavailable.
The Tar Heels are undefeated thus far in the Dean E. Smith Center, but they've had trouble securing victories on the road. UNC is 5-6 away from Chapel Hill, including victories in the Jumpman Invitational, the CBS Sports Classic and one win in the Phil Knight Invitational.
Looking ahead through the remaining conference schedule, the Tar Heels will aim to secure tough victories at Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Florida State and Notre Dame.
UNC’s play has been better as of late, but the team must improve its ball movement, continue to use its bench and limit contested three-point attempts.
Overall grade: B
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