UNC Basketball: Tar Heels' Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses Ahead of ACC Play

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2013

UNC Basketball: Tar Heels' Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses Ahead of ACC Play

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    North Carolina (9-3) has had a little of everything in its first dozen games of the 2013-14 season.

    Big wins? The Tar Heels have taken down Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky.

    Frustrating losses? They dropped games to Belmont, UAB and Texas.

    Close calls? They only beat Holy Cross by eight and needed overtime to defeat Davidson.

    Through it all, the Tar Heels have shown that they have both capabilities to leverage and areas of improvement to work on.

    Here is a quick look at three of the Tar Heels' biggest team strengths and weaknesses as they inch closer to opening their ACC schedule after playing UNC Wilmington on New Year's eve.

Strength: Crashing the Boards

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    North Carolina is a good rebounding team. The Heels' 40.8 boards per game put them at No. 18 in the nation.

    Six Tar Heel players are grabbing at least four rebounds per game. Power forward Brice Johnson leads the team in rebounding (6.7 RPG) while only playing a little over 20 minutes per game.

    UNC outrebounded both Louisville and Michigan State when they beat these highly ranked teams earlier this season.

    Staying strong on the boards will be a major factor as the Tar Heels start their ACC slate at Wake Forest on January 5.

Weakness: Letting Opponents Get Too Many Offensive Rebounds

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    One area where North Carolina needs to improve is on reducing its opponents' offensive rebounds.

    In their first 12 games, the Tar Heels' rivals have pulled down an average of 10.5 of their own missed shot attempts (No. 257 in the nation).

    This represents too many second chances and too many times when UNC could be building a lead if the team would be able to be more effective on the defensive glass.

    It is good that the Heels had things otherwise under control when they played Kentucky because the Wildcats seized 17 offensive rebounds. Even a lesser opponent like Northern Kentucky grabbed 10 offensive rebounds this past week.

    Make no mistake about it: This is an area that will come back to haunt the Heels in ACC play if they do not get this shored up quickly.

Strength: Pounding the Ball Inside

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    No one can accuse North Carolina for settling for easy jumpers from beyond the arc this season.

    North Carolina is the No. 1 team in Two-Point Rate (82.6 percent). Roy Williams' squad is putting up better than four of every five shots from inside the arc.

    With having low-post scoring threats like James Michael McAdoo, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, why not get it to them as much as possible?

    This is quite a change from last year's Tar Heels squad that took 69.1 percent of its field-goal attempts from two-point range.

    Carolina has to knock down its shots regardless of where its players are launching them from. But taking two-point attempts generally puts the Tar Heels in better rebounding position if they do miss the mark.

Weakness: Limited Three-Point Capabilities

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The other side of this coin is that North Carolina is dead last in three-point rate (17.4 percent) and three-pointers attempted per game (10.3) in its first dozen contests of the 2013-14 season.

    If you take away Marcus Paige's 74 beyond-the-arc shots, the Tar Heels have only put up 49 threes as a team.

    UNC is not shooting a poor percentage from distance (35 percent). They just do not look to launch shots from outside the arc very often.

    One of the benefits of having Leslie McDonald back in the lineup is his ability and confidence to take threes. The senior guard has connected on eight of 17 bombs in three games.

    Just by adding McDonald into the mix, this shortcoming is becoming less of a liability.

Strength: Getting to the Line

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    Very few teams get to the line more than North Carolina.

    The Tar Heels are averaging 32.9 free-throw attempts per game (No. 4 in the nation).

    Their 55.3 free-throw rate (No. 10) shows that they are getting plenty of low-post touches and taking the ball aggressively to the basket.

    Power forward James Michael McAdoo has made huge strides this season in terms of not settling for mid-range jumpers. Last year, McAdoo averaged an ordinary 4.8 attempts per game. So far in UNC's first 12 games, the 6'9" junior is going to the line 9.3 times per game (No. 8). 

    By going to the line, Carolina not only gives itself great opportunities to put points on the board, but the team is also consistently getting its opponents in foul trouble.

Weakness: Making Free Throws

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    North Carolina may be getting to the line a lot this season (395 attempts in 12 games), but the Tar Heels are struggling as a team in making their free throws.

    They are shooting a meager 61.8 percent from the charity stripe. That puts the Tar Heels at No. 333 in the nation. 

    This is an unexpected flaw in Roy Williams' recent squads. No Carolina team has hit at least 70 percent collectively since the 2008-09 season (75.2 percent), when Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Ty Lawson were on their way to winning the NCAA championship.

    In each of North Carolina's three losses this year, poor free-throw shooting has been a factor. Against Belmont, UNC missed 26 of its 48 free throws. Against UAB, the Heels only knocked down four of 11 attempts from the line. In the loss to Texas, UNC hit a frustrating 24 of 47 freebies.

    Currently, leading scorer Marcus Paige is the only player who has attempted at least 10 free throws to be shooting over 70 percent on the season. He is shooting 92.3 percent from the line (No. 10 in the nation).

    There may be hope. The Tar Heels, in their last two games, have hit 70.5 percent of their free throws (54-of-78). Even though that won't set the world on fire, it may be good enough to prevent more disappointing defeats as they begin ACC play.

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