I know how this works. UNC loses a game(or three) and many fans love to talk about effort, intensity, talent level, the coaching and any number of things that may have less to do with the result of the game than they think. This is probably one of those games, at least to a degree. While there were some troubling signs, at times, regarding the UNC rebounding the basketball but the overall defensive numbers don't necessarily point to a team that mailed it in on that end. Syracuse entered the game with an eFG% of 51.9% and an offensive efficiency rating of 119.9. Today those numbers were 38.3% and 98.3. Did Syracuse win the offensive rebounding battle? Sure, but they are also the ninth best offensive rebounding team in the country and pretty much hit their average in that respect. In general, Syracuse is a good team with long athletes that gave UNC a lot of trouble on both ends. Bearing that in mind, people can talk about a lot of different factors but to borrow from a former United States president's campaign slogan.
It's the offense, stupid.
UNC is struggling mightily to simply hit shots whether it be near the rim, in the paint or beyond the arc. Marcus Paige, who ended up with a better shooting night still had some first half struggles at a point in the game where a couple of made threes may have changed the dynamics of the game by keeping it closer. Instead the Tar Heels endured an incredible scoring drought after taking a 15-11 lead fueled by turnovers on defense and some crisp offensive execution. You know, the kind of execution that would lead one to believe some decent coaching was going on. Unfortnately, the Tar Heels could not sustain. The zone took its toll, some shots were forced, opportunities were missed on multiple possessions and a 15-11 lead with 12 minutes left turned into a 34-22 halftime lead.
The unfortunate truth for UNC is they simply don't have enough offensive weapons and when the weapons they do have struggle it results in serious limitations to what UNC can do to produce points. James Michael McAdoo, to his credit, came out with a very aggressive effort early on and posted probably his best game of the season(weighed against the level of competition). McAdoo scored ten points in the first half and finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds on 7-11 shooting. Paige actually led the scoring for the first time in three ACC games with 17 points although five of his points were the garbage variety with the game already decided. Still, perhaps seeing the ball go in the basket will get him back to form.
As for the rest of the team, no one was effective on the offensive end. UNC got almost zero production from the center spot. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Joel James combined for two points and seven rebounds. Granted the Syracuse zone makes life difficult for interior players but that lack of production offensively is painful. Likewise J.P. Tokoto had plenty of issues scoring but did collect eight rebounds. Frankly speaking Tokoto mostly did what he needs to do because he was never meant to be a scoring option. It would be nice if Leslie McDonald could do that but like Paige, he has struggled to hit shots and in some cases they look forced.
That is where this team is at. They have trouble scoring and in a game that was only 56 possessions, having worse offensive efficiency that the other team while losing the battle on the boards is a sure fired formula for a loss. And on one level this loss isn't necessarily as big a deal as the first two ACC setbacks. Losing at Syracuse could be factored in but losses to Wake Forest and Miami are ones UNC could ill afford. Last season UNC won games they were supposed to and ended up with acceptable losses to teams that finished above them. That has not been the case so far and those kinds of losses are beginning to pull the season under.