The UNC Tar Heels pulled out a great win on the road against Florida State on Saturday. It was a great sign that showed the Heels can stay strong and finish out a close game on the road. This game was an outstanding building block that should help the team’s confidence as they continue their ACC play. Roy Williams’ confidence should have been raised a lot in guard P.J. Hairston. His shooting of 62% from the floor and his 23 points were a pertinent part of the Heels’ win. However, there are a lot of things that UNC needs to continue to stress in order to raise into the upper ranks of the ACC.
A trend that has been haunting Carolina this entire year has been the perimeter shooting of their opponents. The Florida State game was no different. Players can obviously get hot from 3-point range from time to time, it just happens more often than not against UNC. Florida State shot 50% from 3 point range going 11-22. This included Florida State’s Terry Whisnant II going 4-7. The 3-pointer is a huge equalizer in basketball and UNC needs to identify their opponent’s shooters better and contest their shots more. If one or two less of those shots are missed, the ending of the game is not nearly as nail-biting for Tar Heel faithful.
Great teams get to the free throw line early and often. There is an art to forcing an opponent into fouling you while in the act of a shot. This art was mastered by players such as Tyler Hansbrough, Antawn Jamison and Phil Ford. In 3 ACC games this year, the Heels have only gotten to the charity stripe 41 times. It seems as though players like the ones mentioned above got to the free throw line 20 times a game by themselves. Getting to the stripe is only half the equation though; then the players have to make the free throw. It is the most efficient place and time to score in basketball yet of the 41 attempts in those 3 games, the Heels have only converted 25 of them, which is a low 60%. Williams needs to know he can count on his team to hit clutch free throws down the stretch of games. Without a doubt, Carolina will be in multiple games where the ending will be determined by the better free throw shooting team. UNC’s inside players need to toughen up and force fouls down-low while guards like Dexter Strickland need to slash to the basket more. This will not only provide more free throw attempts but it will also breakdown the defense in order to get higher percentage shots. It’s basketball 101.
Just refining those two things will vastly help out the Heels and get them to the NCAA tournament. Free throws provide more points while contesting shots will provide less points for the defense. Its just that simple.