Join Chris, Doc, Paul and me as we discuss the "slump" and the road ahead.
Brian: UNC took a loss on Monday night that everyone from KenPom to Vegas predicted would happen. It wasn't a bad loss and in the grand scheme shouldn't matter(as the lack of movement in UNC's KenPom ranking indicates.)
The big question on everyone's mind is the shooting. UNC is shooting 23% from three in ACC play and last night even Joel Berry couldn't keep UNC afloat. The problem here is there isn't anything that can really be done about right? At some point the shots will start falling again. Maybe? We hope?
Chris: One would have to assume so. If nothing else, I doubt we will see Paige/Berry/Hicks combine to go 4-20 on 2-point field goals, again. It is interesting that their offensive slump coincides with a stretch of having lots of time off between games. Paige mentioned that the other night, so it’s possible a more normal "2 game per week" schedule will help.
Brian: Though the more I think about it, the more I wonder if Paige needs to stop worrying about shooting threes as much and make a more concerted effort to drive, hit shots inside the arc and draw fouls. Feels like he's too much of a jump shooter right now. In a little Twitter argument Chris is having with Mike DeCourcy, DeCourcy is focused on the three point shooting and trying to make hay out of a bunch of games in December where Paige went 1-3, 1-4, 1-3 and 1-5 from three before the 5-9 vs FSU. Yes, the threes didn't fall but Paige also didn't attempt as many. In those same games Paige shot very well inside the arc going 2-3, 4-5 7-9 and 4-5 from from two. Not to mention his offensive rating ranged between 119 and 174 during the 10 games prior to the "slump"
The issue here is not just the three point shooting, it's his whole offensive game is out of whack. The cure might be getting him going on drives and jumpers 15 feet in then worry about the threes.
Chris: Yeah, I just can’t get worked up about a "1-3" shooting game; as you say, if the ORtg is 120+, he’s doing what UNC needs. The next four games should be telling. None of ND, BC, Pitt or Duke play defense in a way that could be considered "good." If he’s still in a funk after this stretch (in which UNC could still go 4-0), then there is really something to worry about.
Also, to add to Brian’s point about the 2-point attempts… in the first three ACC games, Paige took 26 shots within the arc. Over the last 6, he’s had just 21, and that includes 7 against Louisville. Hopefully those 7 attempts will start a trend (with an expected improvement in FG%), because Paige taking only 2-3 2PA per game may be worse than not hitting a bunch of threes is.
Paul: The issue I see is that Louisville has real size at every position, something that Carolina clearly was not ready for yesterday. Hopefully this game becomes a learning experience and they can work on performing well against length for future opponents. You hope that they get this team again in the ACC tournament so we can see if the Heels manage to learn anything from this game.
For Paige, I agree that he needs to get into the paint and draw more fouls. He just doesn't seem particularly involved in the offense, some of his shots make him look like a gunner who is determined to get out of the slump by shooting. Paige is still a good free throw shooter and he can really help the team by driving for contact or to create for the bigs.
Chris: Exactly right. For the season, Paige’s FTR of 29.2 is fine, but he’s down to 23.0 in ACC play, and that hurts UNC, both in terms of lost (free) points and fewer fouls on the opponent. I think it’s also important to remember that Roy’s best teams, both at UNC and Kansas, were led in scoring by a "big." UNC's current roster has that same type of ability, so for UNC to be at its best, Paige doesn’t have to be the team's highest scorer; he needs to be its most efficient one.
Doc: I echo the concern is that Paige's shooting woes from outside are impacting the other things he can do. He is dangerously close to having the yips offensively. He looks hesitant to drive and I think he probably feels the rim is the size of a tomato can. The usual way for shooters to break out of a slump is to take the ball to the hole and simply have it start going in. During his early outside struggles he was still driving and attacking but now not so much.
UNC's wings other than Jackson shot 5-29 against Louisville and 3-15 from three. Odds of that happening again all at once are slim. That has been UNC's advantage this year over last, in that at least *someone* would pick up the slack if one shooter was off. When your guards stink that badly and you're still in a one-possession game on the road against a top-20 team, things could be worse.
Brian: As for UNC's road ahead, how important is Saturday night versus Notre Dame? Would a loss feel like a missed opportunity to bulk up the resume a bit and set up the forthcoming home stand?
Chris: With the caveat that I don’t think a loss would be the end of the world, I do think it is big for a couple of reasons. One, a narrative is starting to be built that this team can’t beat "good teams" on the road. Personally, I think this is ridiculous because a) both FSU (KenPom: 40) and Syracuse (KenPom: 34) are proving to pretty good teams, and b) look around college basketball and show me any team that consistently beats good teams on the road. Regardless, a win at ND will basically stop that narrative before it gets any real momentum.
The second reason I think this game is important is the obvious avoidance of a second-loss on a row. Roy’s "great" teams at UNC (2005, 2008, 2009, and 2012) all did this, while is good/very good teams (2007, 2011, and even 2006/2015 to some extent) did not. Do I think a loss dooms them to a lower-tier? No, but it would give them that much less room to breathe.
Doc: I agree with Chris. The narrative has been how "backloaded" UNC's schedule is, and a pair of road losses, even to good teams, will just add to the idea that the Heels are not as good as advertised. I think most fans in December would have taken a split of road games at Louisville and ND so there is no reason to back off that in February. A win restores order and, as Brian said, sets up the homestand nicely.
Chris: Doc brings up a good point about the backend of UNC's schedule, but I’m surprised people don’t do the same for Louisville (or maybe I just miss it). They’ll win Saturday against BC, but then 5 of their last 8 are on the road, which includes trips to: Duke, ND, Pitt, Miami, and UVa.
UNC winning Saturday and maintaining that 1-game lead heading into a game with BC, then 3-straight at home would be huge.
Paul: I think a lot of the lack of speculation around Louisville is the fact that the Cards are not supposed to be as good as they are. That's a team that lacks superstar freshmen and lost more than 80% of their scoring from last year. Teams like that normally can not compete for long stretches of ACC play. There were much higher expectations with this Carolina team, pre-season #1, etc. However, Carolina hasn't really played like world beaters so far and that fuels the idea that they just might not be all that good. If the Heels played up to their potential then people would be saying that it is a hard stretch but that Carolina will learn from adversity and it will strengthen them come tournament time. The lack of sustained great play makes Carolina seem vulnerable and that fuels this narrative.