After a tumultuous start to the season, the UNC Tar Heels righted the ship and seem to be sailing towards a decent seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Despite winning five-straight games against tough ACC competition, there’s still work to be done if this group is actually going to contend for a championship.
First and foremost, the Tar Heels will need to finish the 2012-13 campaign strong against Maryland and their biggest rival, No. 3 ranked Duke. Wins over Maryland and Duke will not only help their seeding in the ACC tournament, but should greatly improve their value in the eyes of the committee on Selection Sunday.
As of now, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has North Carolina penned in as a No. 7 seed, but they could conceivably rise much higher before the tournament kicks off on March 19—assuming they win at least one of these next two games and make a deep run in the conference tourney.
Aside from improving their chances via a higher seed, the Tar Heels will need to test their “small ball” lineup on the glass.
Coach Roy Williams has found a string of success employing 6’9” forward James Michael McAdoo at center and sliding in 6’5” shooting guard P.J. Hairston down to the power forward position, while Reggie Bullock, Dexter Strickland and Marcus Paige continue to play in their normal roles.
While this starting five certainly isn’t averse to scoring, they do struggle to battle on the boards—especially against bigger opponents. That unit grabbed just 22 rebounds against Florida State and 22 versus Clemson in their last two contests.
Those figures will have to improve if the Tar Heels are going to advance deep into March Madness. Coach Williams will need to get his players to commit to boxing out and outworking their opposition to come down with the rebound.
Assuming the Heels can get their act together on the glass, they’ll need to figure out free throw shooting in order to truly contend in 2013.
How far will UNC go?
UNC is shooting a pitiful 65.2 percent as a unit from the charity stripe, tying for 286th place in all of Division I. Add in the fact that the program is earning just 18.3 attempts per contest (T-247 in D-I) and you have a recipe to get upset.
If the Tar Heels get involved in a close game during the tournament, it’s going to be a nail-biting experience each time they have to go to the charity stripe.
These poor shooters could easily end up blowing a game against an inferior opponent, or cost them down the stretch in the latter rounds of the event.
Expect Coach Williams to make the proper adjustments and have his team practicing their freebies in the days leading up to the 2013 NCAA tournament.