Defending the 3-point shot has plagued North Carolina during the past two seasons. The current squad ranks 10th in ACC play in 3-point field goal percentage defense (36.1), while the ’08-09 title team also stood in the No. 10 spot with a 37.1 mark. But last year’s edition was also scoring nearly 20 more points per league outing (87.2-67.9).
When you can score quickly, absorbing an opponent’s 3-point barrage is manageable. But when you’re struggling on offense like the ’09-10 Tar Heels, those bombs from deep can be crippling.
In North Carolina’s 10 conference losses, opponents have connected on 41.0 percent of their 3-point attempts (77-of-188). In five league victories, the Tar Heels are holding their opposition to 28.2 percent (32-of-117) from beyond the arc. It helps that three of those wins came against teams ranked in the bottom-third of the ACC standings in 3-point field goal percentage (N.C. State, Virginia Tech).
The Blue Devils are knocking down 36.1 percent of their 3-pointers (105-of-291) in conference play this season, good for 3rd place behind Maryland and Georgia Tech.
“They really have an ability to shoot the basketball,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his press conference on Friday. “They have a very confident air about them from the 3-point line.”
That point was made clear in Duke’s 64-54 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Feb. 10. The Blue Devils missed 29 of their first 32 field goal attempts inside the 3-point line, but ultimately connected on nine of their 18 shots from long range.
With Duke holding a 49-48 lead with 6:02 remaining in regulation, Jon Scheyer drilled two back-breaking 3-pointers during his team’s next five possessions to build a 59-50 margin that sealed the victory.
“We had Ed [Davis] and John [Henson] that were blocking a lot of shots,” Williams said in describing that first meeting. “So when they did go inside, they were trying to find out where those guys were. I think Ed had four or five blocks and John had four or five blocks, but they weren’t out there blocking those 3-pointers.”
One of North Carolina’s problems this season on the defensive end has been an inability to stop dribble penetration, which forces other defenders to collapse on the lane and delivers wide open space beyond the arc. Duke’s ‘Big Three’ – Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler – have made opponents pay all season by knocking down gifts from outside.
“We understand that they’ve got some great perimeter shooters,” Ginyard said. “We’ve just got to do a great job of containing the basketball and not having to draw so many help defenders and allowing those shooters to get open looks on the perimeter.”
Larry Drew expanded on his teammate’s comments, saying, “It’s doing a good job keeping your man in front of you on the perimeter – me, Marcus, Will [Graves], Dexter [Strickland], Leslie [McDonald], whoever’s out there – and doing a good job on closing out the shooters.”
Williams indicated several weeks ago that Drew and Strickland have the potential to be the best defensive guards that he has ever coached, but the first step in realizing that lofty goal is becoming strong on-the-ball defenders. Stop penetration, and the 3-point line will instantly become a less-inviting place to play.
ACC Tournament Seeding Update:
While it may appear that North Carolina is only playing for pride at Cameron Indoor on Saturday night, the outcome will play a significant role in the program’s ability to make a deep run in next week’s ACC Tournament.
A UNC win paired with a Virginia loss to Maryland on Saturday would deliver the Tar Heels the No. 9 seed and a Thursday showdown at noon with No. 8 seed Boston College. A UNC loss – or a Virginia win – would result in the No. 10 seed with a 7 p.m. time slot on Thursday night.
If the latter scenario plays out, the Tar Heels are likely hoping for a Georgia Tech win over Virginia Tech on Saturday and a Clemson win over Wake Forest on Sunday. If that happens, North Carolina will play a Demon Deacon squad that has lost five straight games on Thursday night while avoiding the difficult frontcourt matchup with the Yellow Jackets.