UNC’s perimeter shooting has gone from historically bad to among the best in the country

By R.L. Bynum

By a long shot, North Carolina is more dangerous from the perimeter than in recent seasons, and it isn’t close.

If Kerwin Walton was struggling with his shooting last season, the Tar Heels had little margin for error and it was tougher for them to win. He came through most nights and led the team in 3-point shooting percentage at 42.0%.

He’s having a tough time finding a rhythm so far this season, shooting a team-low 35.7% (minimum six attempts) from 3-point range but the impact isn’t the same because of the depth of UNC’s perimeter game. That shooting percentage still would have led the team last season (minimum 10 attempts) but four regulars this season are shooting at a better clip.

Carolina has gone from the two worst 3-point shooting teams in program history the past two seasons to third in the nation so far this season at 43.3%.

Two seasons ago, the Tar Heels shot a program-worst 30.4% from 3-point range and were 308th in the country. Their 31.8% last season was 283rd in the nation and the second-worst in program history.

UNC (6–2, 1–0 ACC), which returns from exam break to face Elon (2–7) at 8 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network), easily leads the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage, with Clemson second at 41.8%.

For a season, only two Tar Heels teams have shot better, and that came when the arc was much closer than the current 22 feet, 1¾ inches away from the basket: 1982–83 (43.7%) — when the arc was only 17 feet, 9 inches away under an experimental rule for ACC games only — and 1986–87 (43.6%) when it was 19–9 away.

The Tar Heels are on pace to set the school record for 3-pointers per game at 8.9 with the arc farther away than in any of the previous best seasons.

The record is 8.7 by the 2018–19 team (when it was 20–9 away). Only three other Carolina teams made more than eight per game: 2002–03 (8.3, arc 19–9 away), 1982–83 (8.3, arc 17–9 away, only ACC games) and 2017–18 (8.2, arc 20–9 away).

The big advantage for this season’s Carolina team is that the perimeter prowess is spread around with no player on a record per-game pace.

RJ Davis leads the team and is tied for sixth in the ACC with 2.25 3-pointers per game but isn’t close to Shammond Williams’ school record of 2.71 in the 1996–97 season (arc 19–9 away). At Davis’ pace, Carolina would need to play more than 46 games, which obviously won’t happen, for him to reach Justin Jackson’s school-record 105 3-pointers in 2016–17.

Brady Manek is averaging 2.13 (ninth in the ACC), Caleb Love 1.88 (15th in the ACC) and Walton 1.3.

Davis is shooting 51.4% from 3-point range, followed by Dawson Garcia at 50.0%, Manek at 41.5% and Love at 40.5%. Anthony Harris and D’Marco Dunn each have made their only attempts and Justin McKoy is 1 of 2.

Some of the 3-pointers by Davis and Love in the 79–62 win Sunday at Georgia Tech would have been long enough to count for 3 points in the NBA.

Carolina is shooting better and isn’t on pace to break any records for 3-point attempts.

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UNC has attempted more 3-pointers per game in four seasons than the 20.5 per game this season: 23.9 in 2018–19, 23.5 in 2002–03, 22.9 in 2017–18 and 21.6 in 2001–02.

There was a lot of talk in the preseason about the offense being dominated by 3-point shooting considering that, under Coach Hubert Davis, four players would be outside of the arc at times. While perimeter shooting is important this season, the number of successful attempts in a game isn’t coming close to any records, either.

The Tar Heels have double-digit 3-pointers in three games (12 against Purdue, 10 against Tennessee and 10 against Georgia Tech), which isn’t close to the best 16 games in program history. The record is 17 against Florida State on Jan. 25, 1995, and the 9th-most of 14 has been done eight times, most recently against Virginia Tech on Jan. 26, 2017.

Carolina still has work to do when it comes to defending 3-pointers but the Tar Heels have improved. Opponents are shooting 33.3% from 3-point range (173rd in the country) after they shot 35% (241st) last season.

If the Tar Heels were to maintain that all season, it would be the best defensive 3-point-shooting percentage since the 2014–15 Sweet 16 team was 12th in the country at 30.0%.

UNC season statistics

DateScore, record/
day, time TV
LocationOpponent
November (4–2)
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. 2 Purdue
2189–72 loss, 3–2Uncasville, Conn.Y — No. 13 Tennessee
2372–53 win, 4–2HomeUNC Asheville
December (2–0, 1-0 ACC)
172–51 win, 5–2HomeX — No. 24 Michigan
579–62 win, 6–2, 1-0 ACCRoadGeorgia Tech
11Saturday, 8, ACCNHomeElon
14Tuesday, 7, ESPN2HomeFurman
18Saturday, 3, CBSLas VegasZ — No. 5 UCLA
21Tuesday, 7, ACCNHomeAppalachian State
29Wednesday, 7, ESPN2HomeVirginia Tech
January
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
February
5Saturday, 6, ESPNHomeNo. 1 Duke
8Tuesday, 9, ESPN or ESPN2RoadClemson
12Saturday, 2, ESPN or ESPN2HomeFlorida State
16Wednesday, 8, ACCNHomePittsburgh
19Saturday, 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadVirginia Tech
21Monday, 7, ESPNHomeLouisville
26Saturday, 2 or 4, ESPN or ESPN2RoadN.C. State
28Monday, 7, ESPNHomeSyracuse
March
5Saturday, 6, ESPNRoadNo. 1 Duke
8–
12
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

ACC pool photo

1 Comment

  1. Butch says:

    Thanks for great analysis and perspective for this team comparative to teams past. I’m excited about Coach Davis, a good start to his first season.

    Like

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