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Miami 68, UNC 59: Beat Us With the Three--No, Please, Go Right Ahead

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Streeter Lecka

The current problems with this team are well catalogued and are laid fully bare in every other Carolina article you have read since the Miami game or that you will read until we win again: that we turn it over (a lot); that we cannot rebound (at all); that our best post defender averages five minutes a game (no offense, Jackson); that our youth and inexperience create a roller coaster of a win-loss record that feels more like a Katy Perry song than a basketball season (which is fitting, since most of our players are only a year or two removed from the pop star's target demographic).

So, instead of bitching and moaning about all the terrible realities of our present situation, I'll take the high road to bitch and moan about something that may or may not be based in reality at all, and take Thursday's 68-59 loss to Miami as an opportunity to put forth a completely unfounded theory that has been gnawing at me for years:

Roy Williams wants you to shoot the three.

As much as we like to bemoan the Tar Heels' collective inability to defend the three-point shot, I don't think it has anything to do with the players at all. I have a sneaking suspicion that Roy harbors a fundamental philosophy that basically says, If you can beat us with the three, you can have the game. I don't know what other conclusion to come to. Watch how we continually collapse on penetrators, how we lag or show and go on ball screens at the top of the key. How we repeatedly fail to close out effectively if it means leaving a guy open underneath.

These aren't terribly difficult things to correct, or at least improve on. But we've been bad at it for years.

Look at any Carolina loss during the Roy Williams era, and there's a good chance that our opponent either shot an unusually high percentage from behind the line, or had at least one player catch abnormal fire. Take our five losses so far this year:

Butler averages 35% beyond the arc; they shot 48% against us. (Kellen Dunham takes less than five threes a game and makes less than two of them; he was 5-for-9 against the Heels.) Indiana is a very good three-point shooting team, but we still let them jack 20 and connect on 8. Two players shot 60% or better. Texas is probably the exception here, but for a team that shoots below 30% from three, their 38.5% in the first half and 35.3% for the game against us looks pretty good. Before facing the Heels, Virginia was in the middle of the ACC pack from long range, yet they were 8-for-12 at one point against us and finished 8-for-14. This from a team that, even factoring in that spectacular performance, shoots 39% from distance.

Against Miami, it wasn't necessarily the percentage our opponent shot--though 35% isn't terrible. It was the number they were able to let fly: 26. To this point in the season, Miami was attempting only 17.5 threes per game. The most trigger happy team in the country is Texas Southern, and they average only 1.6 more attempts than Miami took Thursday. And, to be honest, Miami had a lot of shots that didn't go in that should have.

Our guys aren't incapable. We start two of the league's best perimeter defenders, after all. I think they're doing what they're supposed to do, or at least what they're asked to do. Roy makes the bet that if we can force you to take shots from beyond the arc, then you won't make enough to keep up with our offense. Of course, this philosophy is only as effective as our ability to rebound, and it doesn't help when we go 11-for-33 from the field like we did in the second half Thursday, with one made field goal from the nine-minute mark to the two-minute mark.

But the fact remains--if you can shoot it well from deep, even if only for a night, you can check off the first item on your beat-the-Heels list.

I don't know the solution here. My job as a not-highly-respected blogger is to relentlessly complain about the problems, not fix them. Maybe Roy needs to change his philosophy. Maybe the philosophy doesn't exist. Maybe our players need to quit being terrible. Maybe the NCAA needs to outlaw the ball screen. I beg someone to convince me one way or the other.

Maybe we just need Larry Drew to return, so he can leave again. That worked pretty well the last time.