UNC basketball pulled off some of the most impressive wins in the country in 2013-14—and some of the worst losses, too. The Tar Heels’ No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament owed a great deal to ugly defeats against the likes of UAB and Wake Forest, performances the Final Four hopefuls on next season’s roster must avoid at all costs.
For North Carolina to go from occasional brilliance to consistent winning, Roy Williams’ troops will need to take care of business in these three areas in particular.
Make free throws
There’s no way to overstate how important it is for North Carolina to bounce back after ranking 344th nationally(!) in free-throw percentage. Two of UNC’s worst losses, at home to Belmont and Texas by just three points each, featured a combined 49 errant foul shots by the Tar Heels.
Bidding adieu to James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald (.537 and .621 from the stripe, respectively) will help, but returnees Kennedy Meeks (.586) and Brice Johnson (.622) must improve significantly. Any offseason drills for the vets also ought to include top freshmen Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson, even if they don’t look like they’ll necessarily be liabilities from the line.
Establish the inside game
North Carolina’s offense had plenty of firepower last season, but when it went south, it went south in a big way. One of the major problems was a dearth of easy shots, as when big men McAdoo, Johnson and Joel James combined for all of 18 points against lowly UAB.
The installation of bulldozer center Meeks in the starting lineup alleviated this problem last year, and he and Johnson have ample potential when it comes to half-court scoring. Still, Marcus Paige is going to need to make sure that the big men get some touches early in games, to protect against an over-reliance on the jump shot.
Give Marcus Paige some help
Sophomore Paige was a revelation as a scorer last season, but even he had his off nights. The worst problems came when he tried too hard to provide a long-range offense by himself, as in a personal 2-of-11 performance from beyond the arc in a loss to Miami.
For the year, Paige accounted for 59 percent of the team’s treys, a performance the Tar Heels can’t afford to repeat. Jackson and Pinson will both have to contribute as three-point shooters, with the former looking like an especially good candidate to shoulder some of Paige’s load. The freshmen are under particular pressure here because returning starter J.P. Tokoto, a lockdown defender at the 2-guard position, has yet to show even a hint of long-range accuracy.
As such, if the Jackson/Pinson tandem comes up short, don’t be surprised to see some extra minutes for their classmate, Joel Berry. Unlike Nate Britt (the incumbent backup at the point), Berry has shown some potential as a deep threat, so he could find himself called on in an emergency.