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UNC basketball: Trouble From Deep

UNC’s problems from the perimeter extend beyond not being able to make them. They can’t defend it, either.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

UNC’s season hit its lowest point yet in a year surprisingly full of these deep valleys: the crushing defeat against Michigan State, the shocking loss at home to Wofford, and now an overtime loss against an NC State team winning only its second game in the Dean Dome since Roy Williams took over. The shortest way to describe this stunning defeat—the Heels’ second in row after dropping one earlier in the week at Virginia Tech—is that the Wolfpack couldn’t miss from deep and the Heels couldn’t buy a bucket.

This has been a common thread this season: UNC has a bad habit of going ice cold from deep. Out of the 22 games UNC has played so far this season, half of them have seen UNC shoot less than 35% from deep. Of those 11 games, five of them make up part of UNC’s six losses thus far this season.

It’s difficult to point the finger at just one player, because this is a UNC team uniquely challenged from deep. The team shoots 37.4% from deep so far this season (although this stat and all below stats have yet to reflect the NC State game), which is actually UNC’s best output since the 2012-13 season. But it’s not getting that percentage from a lot of sources.

Joel Berry II leads all UNC players with 150 attempted threes but shoots third-worst among qualifying players (>30 attempts) at 36%. UNC’s qualified leader in three-point percentage is Luke Maye at a stunning 49.2%, but he has only attempted 63 threes. No other UNC player with at least 30 attempts is shooting above 40% from deep. (Brandon Robinson and Andrew Platek are both shooting above 40% but only have 13 and 17 attempts respectively.)

However, this isn’t a one-dimensional problem. UNC’s opponents always seem to be able to find the bottom of the bucket against the Heels. UNC doesn’t have a single player with at least half a defensive win share—the league leader is Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins with 2.1. That statistic tells just one part of the story.

UNC has only made more threes than its opponents this season four times: Ohio State, Stanford, Western Carolina, and Clemson. Oddly, three UNC losses (Wofford, FSU, Virginia) have come in the four games where UNC has broken exactly even in terms of three-point makes. In fact, UNC’s only attempted more threes than the other team in six games this season!

The season’s a long way from over, and UNC has no reason to be ashamed of how they’re playing thus far. They only have six losses against the toughest schedule in the NCAA, and they’re playing in a season in which there’s no team that’s pulling away from the pack. But if there’s one thing they want to identify as the conference schedule gets even meatier, it’s both making and defending the deep ball. And that fact was no more evident than on Saturday afternoon.