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A Little-Noticed Part Of UNC’s Success Last Year

But a critical factor nonetheless

North Carolina v Baylor
 FORT WORTH, TEXAS - MARCH 19: R.J. Davis #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots a free throw in the second half of the game against the Baylor Bears during the second round of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Dickies Arena on March 19, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There are clear reasons North Carolina advanced to the 2022 NCAA championship game – good talent; strong guard play; Armando Bacot’s relentless work on the boards, fueling the ACC’s top rebounding offense; and a program tradition that promotes belief in success.

But a key, mostly unremarked factor in the Tar Heels winning 17 of their last 20 games to reach the ’22 title contest was individual and team free throw accuracy. UNC realized better than 18 percent of its scoring at the line, testament to aggressive play and efficiency cashing in on opportunities.

Foul shooting isn’t usually exciting or dramatic. The process advances at a deliberate, circumscribed pace. On TV the process is often needlessly drained of context. Too many directors apparently believe relevant statistics are an indulgence, not a necessity, even when the game is on the line. This has been going on for years – season, career, even in-game free throw efficiency often go unremarked, leaving an information void akin to the recent TV news practice of being more in love with network graphics than in identifying on-screen speakers.

Maybe that helps to explain why it largely eluded observers that UNC enjoyed rare free throw accuracy in 2022, both among its perimeter starters and by the squad overall.

Carolina’s cumulative .764 foul shooting paced the ACC and marked the third-highest team accuracy in program history, after .783 in 1966 and 1984.

Last year’s acuity was driven by three of the league’s top seven foul shooters – Leaky Black (.868 on 38 attempts in 38 games, a total that fell short of official note), Caleb Love (.863 on 159 tries) and R.W. Davis (.838 on 136 tries).

Overall the Heels gained the league’s second-highest percentage of points at the line (18.59 percent), trailing only the 22.70 percent realized by Pitt, a losing team that compensated for otherwise finishing near the bottom of the ACC in field goal, free throw, and 3-point accuracy.

HIDDEN STRENGTH Total Team Points Achieved Via Free Throw in 2022
School FTM-FTA FT% Pct. Pts FTM
Pittsburgh 447-1969 .696 22.70
UNC 558-3038 .764 18.37
Wake 497-2749 .730 18.08
NC State 421-2336 .725 18.02
FSU 395-2201 .708 17.95
BC 395-2209 .704 17.88
Clemson 409-2367 .736 17.28
Virginia 374-2184 .731 17.12
Miami 457-2736 .742 16.70
Syracuse 423-2553 .737 16.59
Duke 498-3122 .738 15.95
Notre Dame 396-2540 .753 15.67
Louisville 318-2154 .674 14.76
Georgia Tech 321-2195 .698 14.62
Virginia Tech 364-2549 .751 14.28