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The University of North Carolina department of psychology got its best endorsement in years on Sunday, as a frustrated Roy Williams explained, “If I had to go to college again, I wouldn’t major in health and physical education.”
Instead, the UNC head coach explained, “I’d major in psychology to see if I could be any better than I am right now.”
Williams’ team certainly could use therapy right now, as the Tar Heels have now dropped three straight after Sunday’s 68-64 loss to Wofford in the venerable Carmichael Arena, formerly Auditorium. Carolina has shot under 40% from the floor in all three games of the losing streak, including 36.5% in Sunday’s loss, which was impacted by the absences of starters Cole Anthony (right knee) and Leaky Black (right ankle) but hasn’t shot well even with that pair on the floor this season.
“(It’s) probably the lowest percentage team by far that I’ve ever had in 32 years and five years as a high school and eight years as a J.V. coach,” Williams observed.
What makes Carolina’s anemic offensive performance so frustrating is that the roster is full of players one would expect to shoot better than they have.
Graduate transfers Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce, for example, are each shooting over 12% worse from the field than they did last season. Keeling is shooting .328 from the field (last year .456) and Pierce is shooting .333 (.464 last season). It would be easy to blame the higher level of competition, but Wofford is a mid-major, as were UNC Wilmington, Elon, and Gardner-Webb.
The grad transfers aren’t the only ones struggling from the field, either. Senior Brandon Robinson has also struggled, shooting .385 from the field after shooting .494 (albeit in a much smaller role) last season.
And despite going 2 of 3 from deep against Wofford, Andrew Platek is still 5 of 22 (.227) from 3-point range — this from a player that set the second-highest score of any player Williams has ever coached in one of Carolina’s frequent shooting drills.
“Sometimes he gets in his head,” Williams explained on his radio show a couple weeks ago, “he can’t throw it in the ocean from the shore.”
The bottom line is that past performance would suggest Carolina has shooters on the roster, but those shooters haven’t been able to shoot so far this season. And although Williams may not be a psychologist, his diagnosis seems as good as any.
“I think basically you’ve got to be tough enough to make shots,” Williams said after the Wofford loss, “If you make them in practice, you’ve got to be able to make them in games. So, that’s the mental side of the game.”
More than anything else, North Carolina has a confidence problem; anyone watching the first 10 games will have noted how tentative Carolina’s perimeter players (other than Anthony) have looked on offense, often passing up shots and often looking hesitant even when shooting.
“You can try to give them confidence, but you know how you get confidence?” Williams mused. “Make a dadgum shot. It’s pretty simple. Make a dadgum shot and the other one gets a little easier.”
Easier said than done so far for the Tar Heels, but if they ever do start making a few, that confidence could change the outlook moving forward.
TOP 25 STREAK SNAPPED
Now 6-4, Carolina is unranked this week for the first time since Feb 17, 2014, breaking a streak of 105 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25. That was the second-longest active streak in the nation (Kansas, 206) and the program’s longest since the 1990s.
ANTHONY, BLACK OUT
It’s not clear how long either Anthony or Black will be out of action; Black wore a boot on his right foot on Sunday, while Anthony was not wearing any visible hardware. Robinson emphasized in postgame interviews that nobody is panicking, as the veterans know from experience that what really matters is getting things right by March, so the important thing is making sure that they get healthy by conference play.
EARLY SIGNING DAY APPROACHES
Wednesday begins the college football early signing period, and Mack Brown and staff are expecting a full class. Carolina’s class currently includes 26 commitments and ranks 17th in the nation and third in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Of note: Brown signed a one-year contract extension (through 2024) this week, noting that the extension contradicted the message of a few recruiting rivals who had been suggesting that Brown would retire before current recruits finished their careers.
NUMBERS OF THE WEEK
Minus-40, plus-70. Carolina has been outscored by 40 points with Leaky Black at point guard so far this season. The Tar Heels have outscored opponents by 70 with Black at small forward.
It’d probably be best to keep Black at forward when he returns, something the emergence of Jeremiah Francis should allow as the latter rounds into playing shape. Francis has now played in the last two games, his first action since his sophomore season of high school due to knee injuries.