To put it kindly, North Carolina’s basketball team is in a tailspin right now. The Tar Heels have lost 4 of their past 7 games, and their last three. The last quality win UNC had came on December 14th against Kentucky, a game which seems like it took place a really long time ago when you watch this team now. And the Heels are now 0-3 in ACC play, with no easy answers or solutions for how to get back on track.
When we look back on this Carolina basketball season on the end of the year, the most obvious positives that will be brought up would be the three marque wins against Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky. But other than those three games, the season has been a major disappointment. Counting the three marque wins as outliers, there have been a few common themes that have carried on throughout the season. Poor free throw shooting. Lack of improvement from sophomores not named Marcus Paige. Freshman unready to contribute, but being forced to do so anyway. Inconsistent defensive effort. Poor rebounding. Well, it seems there are a lot of bad things that have continued to show up this season.
All of those reasons themselves seem to boil down to a couple of key reasons why North Carolina is struggling. Basically, all the things listed above are leaves of the plant of UNC basketball’s struggles, but lets get down to the root of the problem. Three reasons why North Carolina is struggling so much this season are Lack of Leadership, Lack of Three Point Shooting, and Lack of Competitive Fire. Let us take a closer look at each of these reasons.
Lack of Leadership
The impact of strong leadership from within a basketball team cannot be understated. That leadership is needed even more for this year’s Carolina basketball team for two reasons- so much young talent and all the off the court distractions surrounding this year’s team. With all the PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald eligibility drama, not to mention now the literacy reports that have surfaced, there is a lot of non-basketball related stuff floating around this program. Also, this team is freshman and sophomore heavy, with seven underclassmen playing a big role this season. All those young guys need to have somebody to turn to in order to lead them in the right direction, but nobody is there!
Leslie McDonald can’t really be a leader on this team because quite frankly, he wasn’t a part of it fully until he was declared eligible before the Texas game. James Michael McAdoo doesn’t come off as a strong leader at first glance. That pretty much leaves Marcus Paige as your “de facto” leader, but even he doesn’t exactly fit the bill! Paige already has enough on his plate, forced to be the primary scorer, and now you want him to lead the team as well? Lack of leadership has really hindered the success of this year’s squad.
Lack of Three Point Shooting
The numbers do all the talking for this reason. As a team, North Carolina is shooting an atrocious 30.6% from three this season. Per NCAA.com, North Carolina ranks 343 (also known as third from last) in three point field goals per game at 3.5. They rank right ahead of South Florida and trail the likes of Jackson State, Southern Illinois, and basically every other D-1 school in the country! And UNC’s two “best” three point shooters, Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald, are shooting 35% and 31% percent respectively from three. Yikes.
In order for a basketball team to be sucessful, it must have some semblance of a three point game. The threat of a three point shot creates spacing all around the floor, especially for the big men inside. Without that threat, defenders can help off the perimeter and double or triple team the big men, shutting down the offense. When you can’t find shots inside, that leads to taking bad shots on the perimeter, which the team can’t make… it sets up a vicious cycle of evil. North Carolina’s lack of three point shooting has really hurt the team this year.
Lack of Effort/Competitive Fire
This last one can’t really be quantified with stats, but really its just the good old eye test. Any fan could see this one from the moment they started watching the second half of the Syracuse game. Here was a team in North Carolina playing on the road against a top 5 team in the country. How can you not be pumped up and ready to go? But this Heel’s team seemingly floated through the second half without a hint of competitive fire.
The one guy known for that toughness is Jackson Simmons, but he isn’t enough to set the tone for the entire team. Toughness starts from the top, and its something that guys like Ty Lawson, Raymond Felton, and Tyler Hansbrough prided themselves on. This team just doesn’t have those tough kind of guys at the top. James Michael McAdoo gives effort, but its mostly in the form of gambling on defense for steals. Brice Johnston yells a lot, but he still finds a way to get out-positioned under the basket on rebounds and disappears for stretches in games. The entire team just doesn’t have that will to win, and its hurting the team a lot this season.