UNC (10-3) was picked second behind Duke in the ACC Preseason Poll due in large part to ACC Preseason Player of the Year Marcus Paige. While the junior guard (13.6 ppg) has thrived on defense and as a team leader, he’s shooting just 36.1 percent from the floor through 13 games after declaring an offseason emphasis on improving his field goal percentage.
Paige hasn’t been the only one struggling with his shot. The Tar Heels shot 45.1 percent or worse in five of their first seven games and in seven games overall. Unsurprisingly, UNC is 0-2 when shooting below 40 percent this season.
UNC currently ranks eighth in the ACC in field goal percentage (45.6) and ninth in 3-point field goal percentage (29.3). The Tar Heels are 126th nationally in effective field goal percentage (49.8), according to kenpom.com.
The Tar Heels have ratcheted up their shooting recently, knocking down 47.9 percent of their attempts over the last five games. UNC head coach Roy Williams said on Friday he has told his players to think more about the technique and process and less about the result.
“I think we are taking better shots,” Williams said. “I haven’t been displeased with many of our shot selections. We’ve been working awfully hard on improving our shooting. We’ve been spending more time on shooting.”
Some good news in the post: forwards Kennedy Meeks (12.8 ppg) and Brice Johnson (11.6 ppg) have been consistently efficient scoring the ball all season long. Meeks is shooting 62.4 percent, while Johnson is connecting on 55.2 percent of his attempts.
The Tar Heels’ strength and weakness, at times, have played out on the glass. UNC is rebounding nearly half of its misses while only securing two-thirds of its opponents’ misses.
UNC is currently third in the ACC and 13th nationally in rebounding margin (plus-9.2). While the Tar Heels rank fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (44.4), according to kenpom.com, they also rank 248th in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage (33.6).
UNC allowed an average of 19 offensive rebounds per game in its three losses, up from 12.8 offensive rebounds allowed in its 10 wins.
Butler grabbed 29 offensive rebounds – tying the most against UNC in the Williams era - in its 74-66 win in the Battle 4 Atlantis event in the Bahamas.
“We are not as good, where I thought we would be, rebounding the ball,” Williams said.
To be fair, opponents have collected large numbers of offensive rebounds due to UNC’s suffocating defense – the Tar Heels rank ninth nationally in field goal percentage defense (35.3) – but as Williams is quick to point out, his team must do a better job finishing the defense on the boards.
Toughness is often narrowed down too sharply into concepts such as aggressiveness and physicality. The mental aspect of toughness also includes concentration, fortitude and desire. In short, when certain elements of the game are not working in your favor (see the shooting discussion above), do you have the resolve to elevate your play in other areas to account for the deficiencies?
While Williams initially mentioned toughness in response to rebounding failures in losses to Butler and Iowa, it‘s more recently been discussed as the 12th-year UNC head coach has demanded more in practice to correct various miscues, such as turnovers, fouls and play breakdowns.
For example, UNC practiced at 11pm on New Year’s Day. When asked why, Williams responded: “I didn’t like what they did at 11am.”
Johnson told reporters the morning practice lasted 45 minutes before Williams dismissed the team. The night practice ran over two hours, and including a healthy dose of running from the start.
“Basically it was just us not paying attention to what he was saying,” Johnson said. “We did a recognition drill. The coaches would send out a different number of defensive players and he sent out one three times in a row and we couldn’t score. Coach explained it before he snapped and then we did the same thing he told us not to do. It just went downhill from there.”
In addition to the rebounding woes, the Tar Heels are seventh in the ACC in turnover margin (0.92). UNC is also committing 20.8 fouls per game, which is currently on pace for the highest rate for a UNC team under Williams.
“We’re turning it over and fouling too much; those things probably irritate me the most,” Williams said.
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