It’s been a struggle to start off conference play for the North Carolina Tar Heels. They currently sit at the bottom of the ACC standings after dropping the first three conference games of the year.
Carolina has some nice wins on their tournament resume, but they also have some bad losses where their weaknesses have shown. If the Tar Heels want to make a run at the ACC or the NCAA Tournament improvements have to come now. They can’t afford anymore bad losses to hurt their stock.
In breaking down the Tar Heels struggles during the first half of the season, I found three things UNC basketball must improve on, or it will continue to be a long season.
Free Throw Shooting
This one is obvious. The Tar Heels have struggled mightily at the free throw line this season and it’s cost them. Entering their game against Boston College, the Tar Heels are shooting 61.7 percent from the free throw line. That puts them at 340 out of 351 in college basketball.
That won’t win you many games come tournament time.
The Tar Heels struggles at the line are evident. They have just two players shooting over 70 percent at the free throw line, and five players shooting over 60 percent.
If you want to win conference and tournament games, free throw shooting is key. The brutal free throw shooting by the Tar Heels have cost them a few games that they would love to have back. In their six losses this season, the Heels have shot 67 percent from the free throw line. In conference play they have shot just 55 percent from the line.
Making improvements at the free throw line starts with being aggressive and getting to the line. That’s something they have struggled with as well. In their six losses, the Heels have made it to the free throw line 11 or less times in three games. This is very unlikely of a Roy Willliams coached team.
It’s time to be more aggressive by driving to the lane and creating contact. If this continues to be a problem, it’s going to be a disappointing year in Chapel Hill.
One major area the Tar Heels must focus on is their poor defense they have displayed in recent games. At times this season, we have seen this team play great defense. Some of those times have led to big wins over ranked opponents.
But when the Tar Heels aren’t playing good on defense, they will struggle.
This doesn’t mix well with the Tar Heels lack of scoring lately, which is creating a recipe for disaster that we are witnessing first hand. The Tar Heels have big bodies inside but still struggle with giving up second chance points to opposing defenses.
Another area is the pick-and-roll. The Tar Heels struggle to guard that and opposing teams are making them pay. I’ve seen at a bunch early on in conference play and it will continue as long as the Tar Heels cant guard it.
The interior defense has also seen its fair sure of criticism as well. Having players like Brice Johnson, JP Tokoto, Joel James, Kennedy Meeks and James Michael McAdoo shouldn’t lead to a team struggling on the defensive end of the floor.
This goes for both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The Tar Heels perimeter game has struggled lately, especially in conference play.
The problem with North Carolina is its lack of shooters to threat opposing defenses. That all starts on the perimeter for the Tar Heels. While Marcus Paige has been good at times this season, recently he has struggled. If Paige struggles to score, the Tar Heels will struggle to score.
With Leslie McDonald back a few weeks ago I figured it would add another scorer to the Tar Heels lineup. That hasn’t been the case at all. McDonald is averaging just 9.7 points per game in 7 games, but has looked lost at times in this Tar Heel offense. McDonald playing better would certainly give the Tar Heels a boost on the offensive end of the floor.
Much like the defense section I posted earlier, the Tar Heels really need to step up on the defensive end. Opposing guards are having their way with them and it doesn’t seem to be sending a message to the team.