Carolina fans, particularly those of the Roy Williams era, are not used to seeing a Tar Heel team excel at shooting free throws. But this season, UNC as a team is shooting 76.5% from the charity stripe, good enough for 25th best in the NCAA, and 1st in the ACC! Duke is not far behind percentage-wise at 74.2% this season.
But the Blue Devils have been absolutely zen from the line during the NCAA Tournament. In their four games so far, Duke is shooting 86.2% (56 for 65) including a perfect 9 for 9 in their opening round win over Cal State Fullerton.
By comparison, Carolina has taken a dip in form, shooting 71.3% (62 for 87) during the Tournament. The biggest culprit is Armando Bacot, who shot a respectable 67% during the season, but has seen his percentage plummet to 54.5% in four games. Here are his splits:
- Marquette: 5-5
- Baylor: 7-15 (yikes!)
- UCLA: 2-4
- Saint Peter’s: 4-9
After a brilliant start against Marquette, it’s been downhill for the true ACC player of the year, with the last three games all at 50% or below.
Hubert Davis has not admitted that Bacot suffered any particular injury, but it didn’t take eagle-eyes to see that UNC’s star center has been receiving treatment on his lower back during time-outs. Is there an injury concern that is affecting Armando’s free-throw shooting?
Hopefully a few days rest and some dedicated time at the line with managers shagging rebounds and feeding him will course correct Bacot’s shot. It’ll be needed. He was 3 for 4 against Duke at Cameron, and similar production in the Final Four would be absolutely ideal. Bacot is more of a protagonist in the post than Mark Williams, and with the ACC Defensive Player of the Year looking to block shots, Bacot’s aggression could yield plenty of free throw attempts.
Even more important than Bacot will be the free throw shooting of Caleb Love. Remember that he went a perfect 12 for 12 in Durham, and helped salt away the game. Both Love and R.J. Davis have been shooting well during the Tournament, and they both figure to play 40 minutes each, depending on their own foul trouble. As long as Carolina can inbound the ball to one of their point guards (angrily knocks on wood), the Heels have a good shot at surviving late game stress at the line.
If Carolina is in the lead with four minutes to play, not losing possessions to missed free throws will be crucial. More than likely, it will be the deciding factor in the game.