The 2014 version of the North Carolina Tar Heels is not like any team we’ve seen recently in the program’s history, and that’s not a positive assessment of this group. Saturday’s loss to the No. 2 Syracuse Orange put the Tar Heels at 0-3 in ACC play for the first time in 16 seasons.
It gets worse.
UNC scored 45 points in its sixth loss of the season, tying its mark for fewest points in the shot clock era. That total also ties for the lowest a team has scored under Roy Williams in his head coaching career. He’s coached 896 games, in case you were wondering.
So what’s the problem in Chapel Hill?
To start, the Tar Heels are terrible beyond the arc. They shot 2-of-12 from the perimeter at the Carrier Dome, bringing them down to 31 percent from 3-point range. UNC has made 55 three-pointers this season. There are only four teams in the nation that have made fewer shots from downtown. Four.
Overall, the Tar Heels are shooting just over 45 percent from the floor, ranking them No. 142 in the country. Marcus Paige, their leading scorer (17 points per game), shoots just 41 percent from the field. UNC doesn’t have a pure scorer. None of the guys can take over and score at will. It’s a mixed bag of role players lining the roster for Williams this season, and no one is used to seeing a team of that caliber at UNC. Has P.J. Hairston’s absence hurt? Sure, but the train shouldn’t derail just because one player steps off.
Is size an issue?
C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, both listed as 6-foot-8, played all 40 minutes for the Orange on Saturday, while Rakeem Christmas (6-foot-9) blocked four shots in 30 minutes. The length of Syracuse’s zone clearly hindered UNC’s ability to score, the second game in a row a zone defense has bested the Tar Heels. Paige is 6-foot-1, Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto come in at 6-foot-5, and Nate Britt doesn’t even hit the 6-foot mark. There is size down low, but the big men aren’t going to carry the team this year.
The Tar Heels know how to get to the free-throw line. They make 28.3 trips per game, but when you only shoot 62 percent here, it’s not exactly a plus. If Williams can figure out a way to break his team out of a shooting funk, they can hang with the tougher teams in the nation. We’ve already seen UNC beat Michigan State and Kentucky. Defensively, the Tar Heels hold opponents to just over 38 percent from the floor. But that won’t save them from their current winless streak in conference play.
When you watch the Tar Heels play, you don’t feel the energy right now. With right around 1:30 to play in the first half against Syracuse, Tokoto came up with a steal and found himself leading a 4-on-1 breakaway. The play resulted in a foul on the floor by Fair. That’s what this offense has come to.
Williams’ 2013 recruiting class only featured three players. Isaiah Hicks was his best incoming freshman, but he’s played sparingly so far. Next year he has a trio of five-star players waiting to step in. Hopefully that group can bring something special, because the recent signing classes for the Tar Heels haven’t lived up to the hype.
This season isn’t lost. At 10-6 with 15 games to play, UNC has two meetings with Duke ahead as the only matchups with a ranked opponent. In a down year for the ACC, the Tar Heels should be able to finish with close to 20 wins. But if they continue with the same lackluster performances we’ve seen over the last three games, Chapel Hill is going to grow restless (if it’s not at that point already).