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Do Tar Heel Statistical Woes Foretell The Way The Season Unfolds For UNC?

There are some worrisome trends for North Carolina

Wake Forest v North Carolina
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 20: Garrison Brooks #15 of the North Carolina Tar Heels battles Emmanuel Okpomo #30 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons for a rebound during the first half of their game at the Dean Smith Center on January 20, 2021 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Throwback uniforms are nice. Throwback prices are nicer. Throwback basketball stats are not as welcome, especially when it comes to field goal accuracy.

North Carolina, trying to climb out of the crater of last season’s 14-19 finish, has a number of problems in 2021, perhaps none more significant than its field goal shooting acumen.

Or lack thereof.

Earlier this season we examined the platoon of ACC squads displaying terrible 3-point accuracy. Among them was Carolina, which last season endured its worst bonusphere bombing since the 3-point arc was officially introduced throughout NCAA men’s ball in 1987.

In 2020 the Tar Heels made .304 percent of their threes. This year through 14 games they were at .307, second-worst in school history.

There’s more.

To this point in the ’21 season UNC has 204 assists and 212 turnovers. If that imbalance stands it would be the first time since 1982, when the school began recording turnovers, that Carolina has suffered a negative ratio of assists to turnovers. Failure to notch assists on baskets reflects either weak execution or heavy and dangerous reliance on one-on-one offense.

But perhaps the most telling flaw for the ’21 Tar Heels is their inability to convert shots, worst in the ACC. That trait harkens back 60 years to a time when 40 percent team field goal percentages were common.

The UNC program has long prided itself on intelligence and acuity in shooting from the floor. Dean Smith continuously preached giving up a good shot for a better shot, either your own or your teammate’s, especially by feeding the ball inside.

Each season for 19 seasons, from 1971 through 1989, the Heels made more than half of their field goal tries as a team, peaking at .559 in 1986. That was the best ever in the ACC. Twenty-one of Smith’s 36 teams paced the league in shooting acumen.

This year, through 14 games, UNC was hitting at a .422 clip, most recently bolstered by .468 shooting (29-62) in a narrow win at struggling Wake Forest.

That field goal accuracy essentially matches the school’s worst since 1960, nearly an exact repeat of last year’s .420 as the Heels finished tied for last in the ACC standings.

One strength helping Carolina keep its head above water is the league’s most formidable team rebounding, on offense and overall.

Unfortunately this prowess is a bit of a mixed blessing. The more shots you miss, the more rebounds you create. To their credit the Heels are making the most of their misfires. But hitting on the first try remains preferable, and less likely to generate personal fouls or opponents’ fastbreak opportunities.

UNC, now 9-5, is apparently a better team than it was last year, when it lost 14 of its last 20 games. Then again it has faced few of the ACC’s best clubs to this point. How well it escapes its suddenly habitual throwback shooting tendencies will be a major factor in a stronger finish this go-round.

North Carolina’s Worst Field Goal Shooting As ACC Member
(2021 Season Through Games Of Jan. 20)
FG% Year Record ACC Finish
.377 1954 11-10 5-6 5
.39605 1958 19-7 10-4 T-2
.39610 1955 10-11 8-6 T-4
.411 1956 18-5 11-3 T-1
.413 1960 18-6 12-2 T-1
.420 2020 14-19 6-14 T-13
.422 2021 To Be Determined
.429 1959 20-5 12-2 T-1
.431 1957 32-0 14-0 1
.436 2003 19-16 6-10 T-6
.439 2002 8-20 4-12 T-7