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It was a tough week for North Carolina basketball, as the Tar Heels failed to break 50 points in losses to Ohio State (74-49) and at Virginia (56-47), the first time UNC has failed to score 50 in consecutive games since the 1947–48 season.
Carolina’s .274 field-goal percentage against Ohio State was the lowest in Smith Center history, and the Heels’ icy shooting touch persisted in the first half against Virginia (30.4%). UNC managed only 17 field goals in each loss, the first time Carolina has made fewer than 20 field goals in consecutive games in the Roy Williams era. Carolina has also not had more than two games with fewer than 20 field goals in a season in the Roy Williams era.
Granted, these two offensive performances came against arguably the top two defensive teams in the country, as the Buckeyes and Cavaliers are Nos. 1 and 2 in pace-adjusted defensive efficiency, but Carolina has struggled to score all season, averaging only 68.7 points per game (lowest since the addition of the 3-point line) and ranking a shocking 304th in the nation in shooting percentage (.401). The Heels have yet to shoot above 47% in a game this season.
Interestingly, thanks to excellent offensive rebounding, Carolina’s overall offensive efficiency is 36th nationally according to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced metrics, suggesting that a little improvement on the shooting front could get Carolina into the realm of being a quality offensive team.
ICY PERIMETER SHOOTING
That may be a tall order, however, as UNC players not named Cole Anthony have been colder than the December weather, combining to shoot 24.3% from 3-point range (Anthony is 31.4% from deep), illustrating just how limited this team has been from the perimeter. Some of the shooting woes appear to be confidence-related, as every perimeter player except the freshman point guard has appeared hesitant to shoot when given space all season.
The lack of scoring help has also impacted Anthony’s efficiency. As Carolina’s other perimeter players have floundered, defenses have focused even more attention on the superstar freshman, who has struggled under the pressure of being a volume scorer while also trying to facilitate for his teammates. Anthony finished the Virginia game with six assists and no turnovers and now has a negative assist-turnover ratio on the season (26:30).
Carolina does have other personnel capable of scoring more efficiently. Christian Keeling, for example, is shooting an icy 21.1% (4 of 19) so far this season despite shooting 38% for Charleston Southern last year. A little more confidence — or even just a little regression to the mean — from the graduate transfer might go a long way towards alleviating Carolina’s offensive woes.
The addition of Anthony Harris to the rotation should help, as Harris shot 43.8% from 3-point range in 2018 in Nike Elite Youth Basketball League play as a prep player. After spending the early part of the season working himself back into shape after rehabbing from a knee surgery, the freshman combo guard saw his first game action in a UNC uniform in the second half against Virginia, looking surprisingly comfortable scoring four points in six minutes on 2-of-2 shooting.
Redshirt freshman point guard Jeremiah Francis also played his first three minutes as a Tar Heel against Virginia after sitting out last year to rehab his own knee injury.
Carolina was competitive with Ohio State until freshman big man Armando Bacot left the game with just under 13 minutes remaining in the first half with what appeared to be a severe ankle injury, a huge blow given Bacot’s rapid early season improvement.
After the ankle swelled to the size of a softball, Roy Williams declared Bacot out indefinitely, telling reporters on Friday that there was a 99.9% chance that Bacot would not play at Virginia on Sunday.
Bacot apparently has magical healing properties, however, because the freshman not only started against Virginia but played 25 minutes, scoring 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. With UNC now entering a week off for exams, Bacot’s ankle will get extra time to improve before Carolina’s trip to No. 6 Gonzaga on Dec. 18, which will complete a difficult stretch of five ranked opponents in six games (Carolina has lost three of the four so far).
NUMBER OF THE WEEK
47. Carolina’s final point total against Virginia was the program’s sixth-lowest total in the shot-clock era and the lowest since a 63-45 loss to Michigan State in November of 2017.
Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.