The established preseason narrative in college basketball centered on a purported lack of dominant teams -- a claim that is looking exceedingly more true four weeks from Selection Sunday. For example: Villanova is No. 1 in both the human polls and KenPom's rankings, but the Wildcats' Pythagorean rating assigned by Pomeroy's site only would have ranked seventh last year.
To put it another way: Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky aren't playing for free anymore. This season really is wide open.
As such, it's easy to convince yourself that North Carolina is the safest pick to win it all. The Tar Heels are experienced, returning four starters from last year's Sweet 16 team. They have size to spare, with Player of the Year candidate Brice Johnson, the bruising Kennedy Meeks and an improved Isaiah Hicks forming one of the country's best front lines. There's a star point guard in Marcus Paige, athleticism on the wings and a top five defense.
There's really only one problem: the Tar Heels can't shoot. Like, at all.
North Carolina is currently shooting 30.825 percent from three-point range this season, which is the worst mark in program history, according to the school. With seven games left, UNC is shooting just 25.96 percent from behind the arc in ACC play. That's dead last in the conference.
For Tar Heels fans, this problem is all too familiar. The Heels desperately lacked shooters last season too, when Paige made more threes (94) than the rest of his teammates combined (90). The goal for this season was to get more shooters on the floor next to Paige. That's happened to a certain extent, but it hasn't been good enough for a few different reasons.
Sophomore Joel Berry III has taken the departed J.P. Tokoto's spot in the lineup, giving Carolina a two point guard look and allowing Paige to play off the ball more often. Berry has been the team's most consistent shooter, knocking down 36.1 percent of his 4.5 attempts per game from three. It still hasn't been enough.
The first problem is that Paige has fallen off -- or at least he did for a while. Paige is 12-of-28 from deep in his last four games (42.85 percent) but that follows a nine-game stretch where he shot just 21.7 percent from three-point range. A fractured hand that caused Paige to miss the first six games of the year might be playing a role in his streaky shooting, but UNC needs him to find consistency if it's going to advance further than last season in the NCAA Tournament.
Another problem is that Justin Jackson hasn't developed into the three-point threat Carolina was hoping he'd become. Jackson started out the season hot from behind the arc, but now he's only shooting 22.4 percent from deep. That's eight points worse than last year and it's starting to handcuff Roy Williams' offense.
Because the talent distribution on the roster is so lopsided in the frontcourt, UNC is almost always playing two traditional big men during a time when the game has become increasingly more perimeter-oriented across all levels. With Meeks, Johnson and Hicks all sharing time together, North Carolina is already playing with a small margin for error when it comes to shooting and spacing. Jackson's inability to hit a jumper allows defenses to cheat off him and double inside, which is a death wish for offensive efficiency.
This has been a problem for Williams' teams for so long that it might be time to start targeting a different type of player in recruiting. UNC hasn't been a good shooting team since Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston were on the wings in 2012-13. Williams did ink 6'3 shooter Kenny Williams in the class of 2015, as well as power forward Luke Maye, who could develop into a stretch four. It might pay off for UNC in the future, but those players aren't ready to contribute just yet.
Maybe Paige's stroke is back for good and he'll be the knockdown shooter Carolina needs him to be. Maybe Jackson gets hot at the right time in the tournament. Maybe Brice Johnson simply takes over games and the three-point shooting concerns are overblown. It's all on the table.
Yes, this North Carolina team is a deserved national title favorite. It's also currently the worst three-point shooting team in program history. Good luck filling out a bracket this year. You're going to need it.