The roller coaster ride of this season continues with UNC’s 86-83 loss to Texas on Wednesday. Here are some key takeaways from this game:
Free Throws Are Not Free: This says it all when describing the free throw shooting of the Tar Heels this season. In their three losses, they have combined to lose by 10 points. In those losses, they have missed 56 free throws.
Against Texas the Tar Heels shot 24-47 from the line. At this point, it seems like it is a mental problem. Roy Williams has stated they make the majority of them in practice, but it does not transfer over to games.
A possible theory in a lack of aggressiveness is that they know if they are aggressive and get a foul called for them, they might have to go to the free throw line and then are scared to miss. The problems could range from stance, fatigue, hand positioning, or lack of mental toughness.
Effort is Key: Effort is something that is reflected in many parts of basketball, but maybe more so in rebounding. In basketball often time shots are missed more than made so rebounding is very important. Rebounding is a combination of size, technique (can be defined as boxing out and positioning), athletic ability, and effort. Division 1 basketball players have different combinations of the three. As a whole, the Tar Heels have the size and athleticism to dominate the boards, but effort is the most important part.
The Tar Heels have out rebounded teams 7 times and been out rebounded by teams 3 times.
Two out of the three losses the Heels have this season they have been out rebounded, so by that statistic UNC has a 66.7% chance of losing a game when getting out rebounded. The Heels were out rebounded 51-42 against Texas and gave up 20 offensive rebounds, 52-37 against UAB while giving up 21 offensive rebounds, and 44-32 against Kentucky while giving up 17 offensive rebounds. Those games resulted in an 86-83 loss to Texas, 63-59 loss to UAB, and an 82-77 win against Kentucky.
North Carolina has won 6 out of the 7 games when they have out rebounded the other team, with the lone loss coming to Belmont. By that statistic UNC stands an 85.6% chance of winning the game when winning the battle on the glass.
By conclusion, when North Carolina puts in a good effort on the glass they will likely win the game. They have the size and athletic ability to be a good rebounding team. But the question is, will they ever consistently box out and put in great effort?
McDonald Adds Balance: Before the game against Texas, North Carolina had only made 25 3pt shots. Marcus Paige made 21 of them, while the rest of the team had only 4 (Tokoto-3 Britt-1). After the game against Texas, the Heels were up to 34 3pt shots made. Marcus with 26, McDonald with 4, Tokoto with 3, and Britt with one. That is 9 made 3pt shots. Yes, that is correct. In his first game played this season, Leslie McDonald made as many three point shots as everyone not named Paige has had all season long. McDonald went 4-9 from beyond the arc, Paige went 5-9 from 3pt land, and Tokoto went 0-1.
When McDonald was in the game, Marcus Paige had more space to operate due to McDonald’s ability to shoot the ball. That helped result in Marcus getting some easier looks. The addition of Leslie McDonald will help the balance of the offense.
In an off game for UNC’s post players, who only scored 32 out of the 86 points on shooting 12-27 from the field (44.4%) and 8-21 shooting from the free throw line (38.1%), Leslie McDonald’s added perimeter scoring helped keep the Tar Heels in the game.
The added perimeter threat can end up helping the Tar Heels win games if and when the post players have an off game.
Marcus Paige Does Not Have Much Room for Error: Until other Tar Heel players can become consistent, Marcus Paige does not have much room for error in games. He is the leading scorer and passer, tied for leader in steals, leader in FT % and FTs made. His stat line read 23 points on 5-13 shooting and 5-9 from 3pt, 8-8 from the FT line, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. The Tar Heels still almost won the game, largely due to his performance with help from McDonald.
Paige must continue to perform at this very high level in order to win and compete in games until other players on the team show consistent good performances. If Marcus Paige has an off game, at this point it is safe to say the Tar Heels would be in trouble.
Conclusion: This Tar Heel team must come to play hard every single night. They have a target on their back each and every game, and if they do not play hard, compete, and fight they will continue to get beat. Once some consistency is developed this team has a great chance to be elite.