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NC State will confront an unusually vulnerable UNC team in Raleigh

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Overcoming Roy’s anti-State mojo still probably won’t be easy.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have heard by now, the North Carolina men’s basketball team has had to endure some injuries this season. And while that is a large part of UNC’s unusual struggles in 2020, Roy Williams’ roster had some cracks well before we got to this point.

The Tar Heels brought in multiple graduate transfer players to fill gaps this season, and they had a lot of shooting to replace, both inside and out. Two freshmen turned pro, and three seniors graduated—or had their NCAA eligibility expire, anyway.

To avoid a drop-off in efficiency at the offensive end, UNC needed Cole Anthony to be great—not to mention healthy—have some of the secondary options from 2019 step up, and have those transfers step more or less seamlessly into a power-five league. Not a lot of that ended up materializing.

UNC Offense

2020 Tar Heels Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Tar Heels Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 106.1 (104) 45.9 (311) 18.2 (98) 35.1 (21) 21.8 (11)

Setting the shooting aside, UNC’s performance in the other three factors is right in line with its performance last season, but shooting is kind of important in basketball, I hear tell. And UNC is across the board one of the worst shooting teams in the country: 287th in 2FG%, 302nd in 3FG%, 315th in FT%. That latter number tells you that the shooting is no fluke—there’s just not much shooting touch to be found on this team as it is currently constituted.

Cole Anthony’s absence is definitely a significant problem, but he was also struggling to shoot efficiently under the weight of an enormous workload. He was accounting for a third of UNC’s shots while on the floor, which helps to illustrate the lack of scoring options on the roster this season. That’s a lot of weight to put on anybody’s shoulders, and while Anthony is a great talent, he also has a slight frame, and that’s contributed to his shooting just 38% on twos.

Anthony is also only shooting 68% at the free throw line; when he gets back, he’ll help UNC, no question, but he’s no magic fix for the shooting woes plaguing the team.

In addition to shooting poorly from three, UNC also ranks 311th in three-point attempt rate, so there are not a lot of points coming from the perimeter. In an increasingly three-oriented sport, that’s a significant handicap and made worse by the poor shooting in the paint. The Tar Heels do grab offensive boards at a good clip—an eternal staple of Roy’s teams—but that can only go so far.

Starters

Brandon Robinson (6’5, 173) — Robinson has seen both his minutes and his role expand significantly and is holding up well under the circumstances—he is UNC’s best perimeter shooter at 37.1% from three. He’s also at 55% on twos, though he’s more of a jump shooter than anything.

Andrew Platek (6’4, 200) — Platek’s playing time this season is evidence enough that the Tar Heels have been hurting, as under ideal circumstances there’s no way he’d be on the court as much as he has been. He’s 9-42 from three and 19-40 from two this season. He’s limiting turnovers, at least, but dude is just not very good.

Leaky Black (6’8, 195) — Black doesn’t account for a lot of shots which is good considering he is a ghastly 26-81 (32.1%) inside the arc. He’s shot the ball slightly better from three (32.4%).

Garrison Brooks (6’9, 235) — He’s become extremely important for his effective paint scoring (55% on twos) and he is an excellent rebounder at both ends. He draws a lot of fouls but is shooting only 63% at the line. If he were better in that area, he’d probably be getting a lot more attention.

Armando Bacot (6’10, 232) — UNC’s other star freshman has been exceptional at times but also inconsistent. But he is already the team’s best rebounder and shot blocker and with some refinement, he’ll be downright scary. Like Brooks, he’d be a serious problem if he could match his free throw shooting (also 63%) with his ability to draw fouls.

Bench

Justin Pierce (6’7, 210), Christian Keeling (6’3, 180), Jeremiah Francis (6’0, 210). Pierce and Keeling were both meant to be plug-and-play boosts to UNC’s shooting but both have had their share of struggles in transferring over from William & Mary and Charleston Southern, respectively. Pierce is hitting free throws at a career-low rate and has made only 26% of his threes

Keeling’s season is just baffling to me. He had the stat line indicators to suggest he’d be a good-if-not-great rotation player at this level, but has seemingly been on a year-long mega-slump to such an extent that he’s having trouble getting minutes for THIS team. He’s a career 35% three-point shooter but only 5-26 from deep, and his ability to draw fouls has disappeared. He hasn’t logged more than 20 minutes in a game since November.

UNC Defense

2020 Tar Heels Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Tar Heels Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 98.0 (88) 48.3 (134) 15.9 (333) 21.9 (6) 28.1 (82)

Roy’s teams tend not to be disruptive in terms of forcing turnovers, but it’s especially pronounced in 2020. The Heels defend the paint well and block an above-average number of shots, but any time a team allows so many possessions to end with a shot attempt, it’s playing with fire. The whims of opponents’ shooting streaks are more pronounced in those cases, and that can negate the Heels’ effectiveness on the defensive glass.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by eight.