Teams fall from grace every year, but in the end those teams usually have a good reason. That is why nothing is more baffling than the North Carolina Tar Heels struggles in 2013-2014. This is a team that was justified at the beginning of the season with a near top-10 ranking. Now they are 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 1997 leaving a nation wondering what went wrong.
They had the 13th-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals and a majority of their team returning. Not everyone returned, and the issues surrounding P.J. Hairston couldn't have helped a team as young as the Tar Heels. Outside of James Michael McAdoo and Leslie McDonald, the Tar Heels are largely a team of underclassmen. The youth might be playing a factor into the equation, especially considering McDonald wasn't eligible until the loss to Texas on Dec. 18. To a certain extent, it resembles the issues that the Kentucky Wildcats had last season -- a ton of young talent with no one to lead it.
Taking a look at the box scores, one statistic jumps out in almost every North Carolina loss, and pretty much in every game they play. The Tar Heels are one of the worst three point shooting teams in the nation. Not just one of the more worse off, but really one of the worst. They've made a total of 55 three pointers as a team all season, good for 347th in the nation. The top 10 three-point shooters in the nation have individually made more than the Tar Heels have as a team.
Marcus Paige and McDonald, the lone three-point shooters, aren't exactly raining from beyond the arc. Without the threat of an outside shot, it is much harder for North Carolina to space the floor and create much on the inside. This contributes to the inconsistencies in the Tar Heels ability to score. In their most recent loss to Syracuse, the Tar Heels mustered just 45 points, their lowest point total since 1985.
The early warning sirens went off when North Carolina dropped a game, at the time inexplicably, at home to the Belmont Bruins. Wins over then No. 3 Louisville, No. 1 Michigan State (on the road no less) and No. 11 Kentucky made it seem like everything was getting back to normal. But the recent three-game losing streak suggests otherwise. As Tar Heel Blog points out, North Carolina's offensive efficiency has slowly crumbled away since beating Kentucky.
DeCourcy pointed out there was one instance where McDonald passed up a wide-open J.P. Tokoto to force a contested three. Brice Johnson did something similar, ignoring an open Kennedy Meeks to take a contested jumper in the lane. Those two examples and UNC's overall issue with turnovers in the past two games likely points to a team that simply isn't being effective in offensive execution, particularly with passing the ball and movement. Player motion and ball movement has been mentioned by more than one player since the Miami loss. It stands to reason that the issue is not just the shooting but the quality of the shots which simply haven't been as good.
If there is a slight glimmer of hope for the Tar Heels, it is that the losing streak should most likely end with their next game at home against Boston College. The Eagles are the worst team in the ACC, and the Tar Heels will be playing that one at home. The ACC doesn't allow for a whole lot of breathing room, so if the Tar Heels want to be hanging out with the upperclassmen in March, they need to get their act together sooner than later.