The North Carolina Tar Heels were projected to be one of the nation’s very best this season. When the journey to March began, it seemed as if they were destined to live up to those expectations, too. However, nine games into the season and UNC is currently sitting with a 7-2 record — with some not-so-great losses to Northern Iowa and a ho-hum Texas team.
That’s not to say the Tar Heels are toast. There’s plenty of season left to be played. Few teams rummage around, dominating consistently, being the top-ranked team in the country without their being hiccups along the way. The task at hand for UNC, though, is identifying its weaknesses, seeing if they can be addressed, and being at full-strength come the ACC portion of the schedule.
Scoring is obviously not an issue. North Carolina ranks in the top-third in the country in most major, useful offensive categories. In only one game this season, its loss to Northern Iowa, has it failed to score at least 70 points. Moreover, UNC has scored more than 80 points seven times, with three over those being 90-plus performances. Pretty special numbers considering how few college teams can perform at that level.
The Tar Heels are efficient doing so, too. As of today, UNC hits on nearly 50 percent of its field goal attempts (22nd in the nation), shooting 55 percent from two (44th), and makes a more than respectable 36 percent of the threes they attempt.
It can’t be depth, either. Most teams in the nation rely heavily upon a seven-to-eight man rotation, but none have balanced their minutes out as well as the Tar Heels. Through the nine games, there’s currently eight North Carolina players averaging at least 20 minutes per game. While that numbered is a bit skewed, as the absence of Marcus Paige early in the season created extra-minutes, it highlights how many options Roy Williams has off the bench.
Could it be their defense? Well, they are holding opponents to a field goal percentage of 41 percent. In fact, the opposition is only averaging 70 points per game against them. Other than a few issues which present itself statistically — total rebounds allowed and opponents three point percentage (39) — there isn’t an alarmingly glaring issue which needs to be fixed.
Honestly, it could be a few things. One of which is the less popular theory — which is that maybe North Carolina isn’t as good as the hype. There’s a true argument for this since — sans Maryland — the Tar Heels have mostly defeated bad-to-decent teams.
Another theory? Well, maybe they have simply hit a snag or a few hot teams. Texas, while not great, isn’t a bad team. It was an away game for UNC, the score was close, and stranger things have happened to good teams.
And, yes, the Northern Iowa loss wasn’t great. But to be fair, the Panthers played out of their minds that night — shooting over 51 percent from the field, having an offensive rating floating above 104, and the Tar Heels were without Marcus Paige.
There’s also that how “dadgummit” Roy Williams fellow. Few coaches with as many accolades as Williams gets as criticized for decisions they make on the hardwood. While there’s always going to be questions surrounding him, many of them are made in hindsight. Almost as if folks strictly want to play the results with the folksy head coach. That said, if this season turns sour and UNC can’t rebound, Roy Williams will need to do some explaining.
More than likely, North Carolina simply lost two games in a schedule which will hand them a handful more before before the season’s end. Unless you projected the Tar Heels to go undefeated, there’s no huge concerns to point to or flaws which should alarm fans of the program.
The good news is that three of their next four games are against the cupcakes of the college basketball world. If North Carolina wins those, while scooping up a victory off the backs of a good UCLA team, all issues will be forgotten about. Worst case scenario, really, calls for a slight readjustment of expectations — removing “preseason No. 1” and using the “going to be dangerous in March” tag, which isn’t a bad thing.