After winning six of seven conference games over the past month, the North Carolina Tar Heels have quickly fallen back down to earth.
North Carolina's narrow defeat at Duke on Wednesday night marked the Tar Heels' second straight loss, pulling them to 16-8 overall, and just 6-5 in the ACC with seven games left to play. But all it takes is a quick glance at the box score to realize that Roy Williams' crew could have easily came away with a signature road win in Durham this week.
The Heels hit just 13-of-23 free throws, turned the ball over 13 times and allowed Duke to convert on 6-of-16 three-pointers in a five-point loss.
Below we'll break down those major areas of concern and reveal why North Carolina will ultimately be doomed if it doesn't turn things around soon.
In the ACC, only Georgia Tech is shooting worse from the foul line as a team than North Carolina.
Roy Williams' squad is hitting just 64.4 percent of its freebies at the foul line, converting only 56.5 percent of them in a five-point loss at Duke its last time out. Clearly, North Carolina's inability to make free throws down the stretch is going to haunt them the rest of the way. It already has.
When your star players aren't dependable at the line, winning becomes that much more difficult.
Take leading scorer James Michael McAdoo and point guard Dexter Strickland, for example. The two have combined to make just 60 percent of their free throws this season. Therefore, it's no surprise that the Heels rank 299th in the nation in free-throw shooting in 2012-13.
In addition to giving away points at the foul line, North Carolina has done a poor job of taking care of the basketball this season. The Heels rank fourth in the ACC through 24 games in most turnovers per game, averaging 13.4.
At that mark, North Carolina ranks 178th in the country in fewest turnovers per game.
McAdoo and Marcus Paige are the two biggest culprits when it comes to turnovers for the Tar Heels. Together, the two players combine for five giveaways per game, which is problematic considering they only combine for 5.6 assists per outing.
It's no secret that turnovers kill possessions and cost teams points. And for a team like North Carolina that ranks fifth in the ACC in points per possession already, those lost opportunities are monumental in determining the outcome of a close game.
North Carolina has been playing solid defense for the most part this season, but the Tar Heels' major weakness on that end of the floor in 2012-13 is defending the three-point shot.
The Heels rank fourth-worst in opponents' three-point percentage in the ACC, allowing opponents to hit slightly more than 35 percent from beyond the arc on average. Duke nailed 37.5 percent of its attempts from downtown against North Carolina in Wednesday's win.
Roy Williams must continue to preach defense, specifically closing out on shooters and getting a hand up on each and every shot. The three-point shot is the great equalizer in college basketball, and with the Heels' opponents hitting them at a high clip, North Carolina is minimizing its margin for error over the course of a game.
Unless North Carolina sees a drastic improvement in its free-throw shooting, turnover rate and perimeter defense, the Tar Heels are headed for a disappointing finish in 2013.
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