UNC’s struggles boil down to players, not Davis


Well, barring a miracle, it looks like the UNC men’s basketball team will actually miss this year’s NCAA tournament.

*Screams internally*

Since the Tar Heels’ home loss to Duke on Saturday in their regular season finale, every arm-chair point guard on social media is trying to pinpoint what went wrong with this team, just one year after making it to the national championship game.

A lot of the discourse has surrounded head coach Hubert Davis, and whether or not he even deserves to continue as the team’s leader past this season. People are clamoring for Jay Wright or Jerry Stackhouse, but they seem to forget that a basketball team is normally made up of 12-15 players, and not just one man way past his playing days.

Davis does deserve criticism for some things — namely strange personnel decisions and an inability to fully motivate his players — but at the end of the day, the players are the ones at fault for how things have shaken out this season.

Problem No. 1 for the Tar Heels has been the play of their guards, especially junior Caleb Love. After cementing his name in UNC lore last spring by knocking down the game-winning 3-pointer in the Tar Heels’ Final Four win over Duke, Love has become one of the most wildly inconsistent players in the entire country this season.

After shooting 36.0% from 3-point range as a sophomore in 2021-22, Love’s percentage has dropped all the way down to 30.1% across the team’s first 29 games this season. In what very well could have been his final game with the Tar Heels on Saturday against Duke, he shot 3-of-12 from the field and 0-of-6 from 3-point range.

Fellow junior R.J. Davis has seen his numbers drop off, as well, and entering the ACC Tournament, he was shooting 42.8% from the field and 34.4% from 3-point range. But despite his poor shooting performances, Davis plays a style of basketball that is appreciated by the average fan. I can say the exact opposite for Love, who has a penchant for chucking up wild hero shots from 3-point range and taking other unnecessary shots from mid-range instead of trying to drive to the basket or find open teammates.

Moving to the frontcourt, small forward Leaky Black and power forward Pete Nance have also been unable to shoot, especially from 3-point range. Entering the ACC Tournament, the pair had combined to make 58-of-185 (31.2%) of their long-distance attempts this season.

Nance has been a massive downgrade from Brady Manek, who started for the Tar Heels at power forward in 2021-22. Manek shot 49.3% from the field and 40.3% from 3-point range. Without any threat of UNC’s wing players making an outside shot, opponents have been able to crowd the paint and force the Tar Heels to make open jumpshots, something they’ve rarely done this season.

The only shining light on this year’s team has been senior center Armando Bacot, who was named first-team All-ACC after averaging 16.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game during the regular season.

Earlier this season, Bacot became the Tar Heels’ all-time leading rebounder. He is also the only one to consistently show a sense of urgency on the team over the past several months, calling out his teammates after losses to Wake Forest, Miami and N.C. State.

The good news for UNC fans is that Bacot is eligible to return to school next season after receiving a COVID waiver for the 2019-20 season. Davis can come back, too, as well as several other players on the UNC bench.

Of course, Love could decide to come back too, but I think he’s overstayed his welcome in Chapel Hill. While we’ll all remember the shot he made last year against Duke, he has done little since that moment that could be considered memorable, or a positive force, for this team.

For the sake of the program, I hope he and the team move in different directions.

Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at jeremy@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.