UNC Basketball: What's Causing Tar Heels' Struggles from the 3-Point Line?

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 22:  James Michael McAdoo #43 of the North Carolina Tar Heels shoots against Darrun Hilliard #4 of the Villanova Wildcats in the second half during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Sprint Center on March 22, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

No Division I college basketball team has struggled in the first month of the 2013-14 season from beyond the arc like North Carolina.

No one takes or makes fewer three-point shots than UNC. They are No. 351 of 351 in both categories. Ouch!

In their first nine games, the Tar Heels are only averaging 9.3 attempts from downtown. Even worse, they are only finding the bottom of the net on a stunning 2.8 tries per contest (29.8 percentNo. 304).

They are also dead last in three-point rate. Just 15.9 percent of UNC's field-goal attempts are from distance.

Only three Tar Heels players have made a three-point basket. Marcus Paige has hit 21 of their 25 three-pointers. It would be hard to imagine that any other player in the country is hitting 84 percent of his team's threes.

J.P Tokoto has knocked down 3-of-9, and Nate Britt has put in one of 6 trifectas. Tokoto's' 33.3 percent mark so far is a vast improvement over his 1-of-11 (nine percent) shooting from deep as a freshman.

Power forward James Michael McAdoo and Luke Davis have both missed all six of their beyond-the-arc attempts. Wade Moody came up short on his one try from downtown.

This distance deficiency is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Roy Williams basketball. Even though he likes his teams to work inside-out, Williams is not a three-point hater. He is not a coach who keeps his team on a shooting short leash:

Tar Heels' Beyond-the-Arc Shooting (2011-Present)
Season3PM3PA3-Pt Percent3-Pt Rate
2013-14 (9 games)258429.815.9 percent
2012-13 (35 games)25969437.330.7 percent
2011-12 (38 games)18955933.823.2 percent

What is causing the Tar Heels' struggles from the three-point line? In one word: talent.

Carolina simply finds itself lacking players who legitimately can shoot the long ball.

It is almost unbelievable. You would think that a program with Carolina's tradition would never lack for skilled players of any kind.

But, even an established coach and exceptional recruiter like Roy Williams is not exempt from the effects of player turnover that are negatively impacting this important aspect of the Tar Heels' attack this season.

Who is UNC missing?


Early Departing Shooting Stars

Two players who technically could still be tormenting other teams for the Tar Heels are Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock. These two high-impact beasts would be seniors if they had stayed in Chapel Hill instead of leaving for the NBA.

Barnes hit 116 threes in his two seasons, dropping in a respectable 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. Bullock connected on 188 threes in 100 games, making 38.7 percent overall and 43.6 percent in his junior season.

Without a doubt, these two first-round selections would more than handle the distance shooting load for Carolina.


Unavailable Marksmen

Two more players who could be firing from all over the floor later this season but have not been cleared to play are junior wing P.J. Hairston and senior shooting guard Leslie McDonald. They have not dressed for any of North Carolina’s nine games this season because of possible rules violations that happened before the season began.

Hairston has rang up 127 threes in his two seasons (34.9 percent). McDonald, who isn't known as a dynamic scorer, has made 104 of 304 treys (34.2 percent) in 100 games.

No one knows whether these two will be eligible to play this year. The NCAA is apparently not in a hurry to make a decision. If they are given the eligibility green light, Williams will certainly find major minutes for both of these silky shooters to be able to spread the floor.  


Looking Ahead

Some might ask, "Why are you making such a big deal about this? Did you miss that North Carolina beat Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky already this year?"

The fact that they took down these elite teams while only making nine threes in the three victories is mind-blowing.

What can the Heels do to compensate for their lack of three-point results if they don't get Hairston or McDonald back this season?

Continuing to get to the line as much as possible certainly helps. Shooting 30 free throws per game offsets some of the scoring burden caused by North Carolina's lack of production from far off.

Shooting 51.2 percent on its two-point shots gets the scoreboard going.

And, pounding the ball inside in order to utilize McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks' size and skills to dominate the paint will be a key factor in UNC's success going forward.

If the Tar Heels keep winning games like they have over the last two weeks, not many in Chapel Hill will complain about the current three-point scarcity.

But, if they lose a couple contests when conference competition ramps up, Carolina will be scrambling to find ways to open up the middle, get to the rim and silence the critics.