It’s been a rough stretch for North Carolina basketball. We knew these past couple of matchups were going to be dogfights, but the Heels ultimately never stood much of a chance in their games against Ohio State and Virginia, losing by a combined 34 points. Yes, it’s been extremely demoralizing and yes, there are plenty of areas to be concerned about, but I still strongly advise against jumping off the proverbial bridge, at least for now. The Tar Heels have a crucial opportunity this Sunday against Wofford to right the ship before hitting the road to face another top-10 foe in Gonzaga. Here are three things to watch for on Sunday.
Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis
The Tar Heels have been plagued by injuries this season. Junior big man Sterling Manley, along with freshmen guards Anthony Harris and Jeremiah Francis, were all out with knee injuries to start the season. Though Manley remains sidelined, Harris and Francis made their Carolina debuts against Virginia.
It’s difficult to draw too much from the duo’s first college basketball action as they notched just nine combined minutes. However, both players made solid use of those minutes. Harris scored four points on 2-2 shooting while Francis looked comfortable running the offense and contributed some nice defense on Virginia’s Kihei Clark.
Regardless of whether they can continue to be as dependable in extended time, the Heels have had a major need for more ball-handling wings for some time. The hope is that Harris and Francis can fill that hole and take some pressure off of Cole Anthony.
There are plenty of problems with this Carolina offense but when it comes down to it, guys have to make shots. The team ranks 314th in the country in field goal percentage (40.1%) and 319th in three-point percentage (28.4%). Anthony, Garrison Brooks, and Armando Bacot have really been the only reliable options so far, but Anthony’s efficiency is less than desirable because of the defensive attention he receives.
It’s possible the aforementioned Harris and Francis can provide some assistance in this department but everyone on the team needs to step up. Andrew Platek was advertised as a sharpshooter coming into college but now that he’s receiving significant minutes, he’s hitting just 16% from beyond the arc. Brandon Robinson looked like he could be the consistent deep threat the Heels needed when he returned from injury but his three-point percentage has since dropped to 29%. Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce have had their moments but neither has been the least bit consistent.
Wofford will be a nice opportunity for these guys to get some cleaner looks and hopefully boost their confidence after going against the top two defenses in the country in back-to-back games. The shooting has to get better in this one in order for there to be any sort of optimism heading into a road matchup with Gonzaga on December 18th.
Feeding the Frontcourt
At this point, there’s pretty much no denying that Carolina’s most efficient offense is getting the ball into Bacot. Shooting 58% from the field, his injury against Ohio State was a big reason that game got out of hand and against Virginia he was basically the only reliable scoring option. Bacot has considerable touch around the rim, especially for a freshman, and he’s the best true center the Heels have had since at least 2017.
Brooks, while maybe not quite as skilled as Bacot offensively, is also extremely important. It’s clear he’s worked hard to improve his back-to-the-basket game and that’s shown by his jump in scoring from last year (7.9 ppg to 11.6 ppg).
Coach Williams has sort of gotten away from traditional Carolina basketball in the last couple seasons but this team has no choice but to play inside-out. Every single possession should feature an attempt to get the ball to one of Brooks or Bacot on the block. There’s no Cam Johnson or Coby White who can simply shoot his way out of a slump. The only way to improve these struggles is to get the ball close to the basket, draw the defense in, and hope guys can eventually find their spots and start knocking down open shots.