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UNC vs. Syracuse: Three Things Learned

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This is the song that never ends.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

In true 2020-21 fashion, UNC followed Saturday’s euphoric win with a maddening, lackluster 72-70 loss to Syracuse. It was the first regular season loss to Jim Boeheim’s squad since 2014, and the Orange have now won two of the last three against the Heels.

There’s plenty to talk about from the game, but with one regular season game remaining, there isn’t much to learn about this team. They don’t value the ball, cannot shoot, and occasionally give maximum effort. Truthfully, even though I’ve never disliked watching a UNC team more than I do this year’s version, their commitment to mediocrity is impressive.

However, because we are contractually required** to provide three lessons from the game, I’ll give it a shot.

**We are not contractually required.

Three-Point Discrepancies

We know this team cannot shoot. It’s actually on track to tie last year’s squad for ineptitude from behind the arc. In case you forgot, the 2019-2020 team was the worst three-point shooting team in program history. So, that’s nice.

Then take a deep breath. Pour a strong beverage of your choice. Take another breath. Take a sip. Actually, take two sips. Then let the following numbers ruminate in your mind.

In nine losses, UNC is 43-153 from three. That’s 129 points on 28.2% shooting. Or 14.3 points a game.

Their opponents? They’ve effectively doubled up the Heels by going 87-213 from three, for 261 points on 40.8% shooting. That’s 29 points per game from behind the arc.

I do not have words to adequately explain the dual offensive-defensive ineptitude that is required for a discrepancy like this. That trend continued last night. UNC had 12 points to Syracuse’s 24.

If this was even an “average” shooting team (say 34.0% instead of the current 30.4%), then some of those discrepancies are wiped away. Three losses are by one possession (1, 2, or 3 points), and five losses are by single-digits

Note: In UNC’s 15 wins, the Heels have scored 249 points on 83-262 shooting (31.7%). Not much different. Opponents have scored 324 points on 108-342 shooting (31.6%). Very different.

Points Off Turnovers

Here’s the thing: we know there are potential issues with UNC’s old-school defensive schemes in regards to defending the three-point line. This is a more complicated issue that requires a dedicated conversation.

However, those frustrations are compounded by the fact that those discrepancies could still be overcome if UNC didn’t give away so many possessions.

We already know that UNC’s turnover rates are atrocious. They currently sit at at a turnover rate of 20.9% through 24 games, which is the second-worst rate in the Roy Williams era. However, more damaging is that UNC has given up 381 points off turnovers. That’s 22.8% of the total points allowed by UNC this season.

To put it in the most basic terms: UNC literally throws away a scoring opportunity every fifth trip down the floor, which has resulted in 22.8% of the total points scored by opponents. It averages out to 15.9 points per game.

That number goes up to 18.6 points per game in the nine losses. Couple the three-point shooting discrepancies with the total points allowed off of turnovers and honestly it’s a modern day miracle that UNC hasn’t lost more than nine games.

And yet, if just one of those weaknesses are fixed, UNC is equally “close” to being ACC champions. That’s how thin the margins are and why this season has been such an emotional roller coaster.

Post-Season Play

Before last night, UNC was widely considered to be firmly “in” the NCAA Tournament. Minus losing their next two games (vs Duke, unknown ACCT opponent), that will likely hold up. The seed, though, could wildly swing from the “play-in” rounds on the Tuesday before the “official” tournament starts all the way to an #8 seed. Anything higher is likely out of the question, and even an #8 seed may require an appearance (or win) in the ACC Tournament title game.

Just to set expectations, that feat just became more daunting as last night’s loss put the Heels on the outside looking in for a top-four finish in the ACC. Not every ACC team played the same amount of games, so the top-four will be determined by winning percentage. A win against Duke gives UNC a 10-6 record and .625 winning percentage.

Assuming there are not any more cancellations, Louisville, Clemson, and Virginia Tech all have two games remaining. All three are ahead of UNC, while Georgia Tech shares UNC’s 9-6 record. All four team’s remaining games are as follows:

Virginia Tech (9-4): vs Louisville, at N.C. State
Louisville (8-4): at VT, vs UVA
Clemson (9-5): at Syracuse, vs Pitt
Georgia Tech (9-6): vs Duke, at WFU

Best case for UNC is for Louisville and Clemson to lose both their remaining games, and Georgia Tech needs to drop one of their final two. That ensures all three teams are below UNC’s hypothetical .625, should the Heels win on Saturday.

Had UNC won last night and wins on Saturday, a final record of 11-5 would have given them a .688 winning percentage.

Alas, we can’t have nice things for more than one game at a time.

Bring on Duke.