Go Figure: Hot on the Heels
There’s a notion among the Carolina faithful that teams go out of their mind when they face the Tar Heels, making circus shots and raining down an endless barrage of three-pointers that they miss against everyone else. I won’t necessarily dismiss this, although obviously it’s not statistically provable. There’s certainly truth to the idea that some opponents will step up their game, consciously or unconsciously, against a name program that they would like to beat.
But this Carolina team, particularly in ACC play, has not really had that problem. Most teams are not playing way above their heads against Carolina. But the Tar Heel defense has gotten worse each game in league play, points per possession wise. To be fair, the quality of the opponent’s offenses have steadily risen as well (a bad Virginia offense, a good Miami offense and a good FSU offense).
Virginia is probably the only game so far that qualifies as an opponent “going crazy” from three or playing a bit above its capabilities, especially since the young Cavaliers have lost two games to Wake Forest and Clemson after beating UNC. But UVa has been up and down all year, and it was playing at home, riding some momentum from the fans.
While Virginia made 8-of-14 three-pointers against UNC and has shot a solid 38.1% from three this season, the Cavaliers are just 8-of-28 in the last two games combined. And that is a statistic that elicits an eye roll from Tar Heel fans everywhere.
Miami missed a number of open shots and still shot 47.2% from the floor, its best percentage since shooting 48% against Hawaii in late December. Yes, Miami’s nine three-pointers tied the most it has made this season. But a number of those were open looks, and even some of the open ones were missed. The 26 three-pointers also tied Miami’s most attempts of the year.
Carolina had some bad luck offensively against Miami, but the Hurricanes are actually a better defensive team than they are offensive. In the first half, Carolina defended Miami pretty well, which is why it led at half. In the second half, Carolina couldn’t stop penetration and/or recover after helping on drives. Hence the 5-of-14 made threes in that half for Miami, which really could have been worse.
Florida State shot its highest percentage of the season in league play (48%) and made 11-of-22 from three, but the Seminoles actually shoot three-pointers well this year (39.1%). In a win at Clemson, FSU made 10-of-23 threes (43.5%), not all that different from the way it shot against UNC.
Now, here’s one I will give you, though. Last year, Florida State - in two games against North Carolina - made 23-of-49 three’s (46.9%). Those 23 made three-pointers accounted for TEN PERCENT of all FSU’s made three’s last season, in just two games (out of 35 total). In fact, taking out FSU’s two games against UNC, the Seminoles’ three-point shooting percentage would have dropped an entire percentage point (from 35.4% to 34.3%).
In general, this year, Carolina is going to have to understand that yes, teams might hit more crazy, improbable, statistic-defying shots against them than they would another opponent. Sure, that’s possible. And it was arguably more true at Florida State than it has been all season. But this team is going to have to play tough, get through it and make more plays than the other guy because no one is going to feel sorry for them if that happens. And they did that on Saturday, which is a good sign.