A look inside the numbers behind struggles for UNC, now out of AP Top 25

By R.L. Bynum

Even though North Carolina’s two losses over the weekend were against higher-ranked teams, they were enough to drop the Tar Heels out of the latest AP Top 25 poll.

The Tar Heels (3–2), who lost 93–84 to then-No. 6 Purdue (now No. 3) on Saturday and 89–72 to then-No. 17 Tennessee (now No. 15) 89–72 on Sunday at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn., were No. 18 last week but only had the 29th-most poll points in this week’s poll.

Duke moved up from No. 7 to No. 5 and is the only ranked ACC team. Michigan, which visits UNC on Dec. 1, fell from No. 4 to No. 15 after losses last week to Seton Hall at home (67–65) and to Arizona in Las Vegas (80–62).

None of the three North Carolina-based poll voters — Ethan Joyce of the Winston-Salem Journal, Luke DeCock of The News & Observer or Lauren Brownlow of WRALSportFan.com — included the Tar Heels in their Top 25 ballot.

Ranking UNC the highest at No. 15 is Donald Hunt of the Philadelphia Tribune. Fifteen of the 61 voters had the Tar Heels on their ballots.

Carolina doesn’t face nearly the same challenge Tuesday in its third game in four days.

The Tar Heels welcome UNC Asheville (2–2), which is picked to finish second in the Big South Conference South Division. The Bulldogs have victories over Brevard College (101–44) and Tennessee Tech (61–55) and losses to UAB (102–77) and Chattanooga (75–45).

It will be the first meeting between the schools with Carolina unranked. The Tar Heels have won all eight meetings, and had a No. 1 ranking in half of them.

Caleb Love leads four Tar Heels averaging double-figure points with 17.4, followed by Brady Manek (16.2), Armando Bacot (14.4), RJ Davis (14.0) and Dawson Garcia (11.2).

But the offense, until the Tennessee game, hasn’t been the big problem.

One of the big issues has been defense.

UNC is giving up 83.8 points per game, with opponents shooting 53.4% on two-point field-goal attempts (271st in the country) and 37.6% from 3-point range (287th), according to Bart Torvik’s website.

Last season, Carolina held opponents to 47.0% two-point field-goal shooting (78th in the country). Defending the 3-pointer has been an ongoing problem, though. Last season, opponents shot 35.0% from 3-point range, which was 241st in the country.

“There has to be a competitive fire in nature to be able to guard your guy and keep them out of the lane,” Coach Hubert Davis said after the Tennessee loss. “One of the things that we’ve always talked about is pride in our points in the paint and our ability.

“One of the things that I’ve told the guys is that we can score points in the paint many different ways through our post penetration, offensive rebound and then transition,” Davis said. “And teams have been able to do that against us. And that’s something that not only has to change, it will change.”

The Tar Heels’ defensive effective field-goal percentage of 54.5% is 295th in the country compared to 49.1% and 128th last season.


The best evidence that UNC’s defense has been lackluster is that three opponents already this season had points-per-100-possessions values, according to Torvik’s website, of more than 120: Brown (122), Purdue (121.4) and Tennessee (120.4).

Last season, Wisconsin in UNC’s season-ending loss was the only opponent to do that with a 128.4. Before that, the highest totals were put up by Iowa (118.4), Florida State at Tallahassee (116.7) and Duke in Durham (114.6).

“The coaches, they’ve been giving us everything that the teams have been doing,” Bacot said. “And they still, somehow, have been executing it. So, we’ve got to do a better job of just following the scouting report and also taking pride and not giving up easy drive layup balls. Just, on post-ups, not giving up easy post shots and being more aggressive.”

The Tar Heels put together enough offense to either win or stay competitive until Sunday (points-per-100-possessions values of 112.0 vs. Loyola Maryland, 132.8 vs. Brown, 105.5 vs. College of Charleston and 119.5 vs. Purdue) when their points-per-100-possessions value fell to a season-low 97.4 against Tennessee.

Their effective field-goal percentage against the Vols was a season-low 49.1%.

A growing problem is turnovers, with the Tar Heels turning it over 3.6 more times a game than their opponents. UNC is only forcing turnovers on 11.8% of opponent possessions, which ranks 355th in the country compared to 19.0% and 152nd last season.

UNC traditionally dominates under the boards and led the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season at 40.9%. Through five games, the Tar Heels are only rebounding 25.1% of their misses, ranking 253rd in the country.

The Tar Heels’ offensive rebounding percentage against the Vols was a season-low 14.3%, the lowest since they rebounded only 17.3% of their misses in the season-ending loss to Texas A&M in 2018.

AP Top 25

Others receiving votes: Oregon 96, Virginia Tech 91, Ohio State 89, North Carolina 75, Indiana 45, Michigan State 44, Marquette 41, Colorado State 30, Maryland 28, Texas Tech 26, LSU 6, Iowa 6, Mississippi State 4, Florida State 4, Drake 2, George Mason 1, San Francisco 1, Ohio 1, Loyola Chicago 1. (Point values in parentheses indicate the number of first-place votes.)

UNC season statistics

DateScore, record/day, time, TVLocationOpponent
583–55 exhibition winHomeElizabeth City State
983–67 win, 1–0HomeLoyola Maryland
1294–87 win, 2–0HomeBrown
1694–83 win, 3–0RoadCollege of Charleston
2093–84 loss, 3–1Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 3 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3-2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 15 Tennessee
23Tuesday, 7, RSNHomeUNC Asheville
1Wednesday, 9:15, ESPNHomeX — No. 20 Michigan
5Sunday, 3, ESPNRoadGeorgia Tech
11Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeElon
14Tuesday, 7, ESPN2HomeFurman
18Saturday, 3, CBSLas VegasZ — No. 2 UCLA
21Tuesday, 7, ACCNHomeAppalachian State
29Wednesday, 7, ESPN2HomeVirginia Tech
1Saturday, noon, ACCNRoadBoston College
5Wednesday, 9, ESPN2RoadNotre Dame
8Saturday, 1, ESPNHomeVirginia
15Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeGeorgia Tech
18Tuesday, TBA, ESPNRoadMiami
22Saturday, 8, ACCNRoadWake Forest
26Wednesday, RSNHomeBoston College
29Saturday, 2, ACCNHomeN.C. State
31Monday, 7, ESPNRoadLouisville
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeNo. 5 Duke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadNo. 20 Virginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadNo. 5 Duke
ACC TournamentBrooklyn
RSN — regional sports networks; ACCN — ACC Network; X — ACC/Big Ten Challenge;
Y — Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off; Z — CBS Sports Classic

Photo via @UNC_Basketball


  1. Paul McGowan says:

    The biggest number was assists: Tennessee 28, UNC 9. Carolina needs a real point guard.


  2. Lee says:

    Don’t expect these guys to defend man to man! They are tragic in their man to man principles, switching off of the screen, weak side help, or an enforcer in the paint! It is not going to change or get better continuing to do what will continue to fail! Play zone defense exclusively with this group Hubert and mix it up! 2-3, 3-2, 2-1-2, box and one! Very few college teams prepare for that approach! even a moron like me can figure out how to exploit our woeful defensive deficiencies!

    This is on you and our staff to put these kids into a system that they can have a much better chance to succeed!
    Very, very disappointed in the product on the court this season!


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