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March 7, 2013It has been no secret all year long that North Carolina has some shooters on its team.
Early in the season Roy Williams employed a larger lineup in the middle for offense, defense, and rebounding; something that he has done for many years.
Now, the Tar Heels are playing small ball and stretching the defense out and having almost three or four different players on the court that can stroke it from deep at any given time.
Right now, the Tar Heels are second in the ACC in three point attempts with 595, behind only Boston College.
In fact, this year's team has shot more three point attempts than any team since the 2008-2009 NCAA title team, as Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Bobby Frasor, and Will Graves put up three point attempts left and right, with a total of 682 that year.
Of course the 2009 UNC team had played something like ten more games than this current Tar Heel squad by the time they cut down the nets in Detroit, so if Carolina makes a run this March they might eclipse that 682 number.
The four main threats for the Tar Heels this year from downtown, Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald, and Marcus Paige, have given North Carolina a new sense of identity from what they were at the beginning of the year.
Bullock and Hairston in particular have drastically improved from last year, becoming one of the most dangerous tandems in the entire ACC.
If one watched last year Hairston struggled terribly at times as a freshman, which might be an understatement.
Hairston was 38 of 139 from behind the arc, shooting just 27.3 percent for the year. He was known as a sharp shooter that can put the ball in the hoop, no matter what distance it was, coming out of Dudley High School and Hargrave Military Academy.
Now, Hairston has got his flare back in his shot and has been one of the bright spots in the recent changes to the starting lineup.
This year, Hairston is 67 of 175 from behind the arc, shooting 38.3 percent from three; a drastic improvement from what the fans saw last year.
Bullock has been the most consistent player all year long for the Tar Heels, ranking third in the ACC in three point percentage (45.2 percent), while he and Hairston rank third and fourth respectively in attempts.
Bullock has already made more threes than last year with far less attempts, as he is 76 of 168 from behind the arc (compared to 71 of 186 last year).
Even though these are the two main threats on the floor for North Carolina to stroke it from deep, one can't help to look past McDonald and Paige.
Paige's confidence is booming right now, as this was a guy that had the world on his shoulders, with all the pressure on him early in the season, and now he's coming into his own.
Paige has gone through his growing pains this year, struggling at times and learning a system that is determined by and large by how the point guard plays.
But now he is coming around, showing what he is capable of doing and how he can run this team.
Early on, Paige struggled with his shot and there were a few that questioned his ability at times, but Paige has been one of the players that has benefited the most from Hairston's insertion into the starting lineup.
With defenses having to spend more time focusing on Bullock and Hairston along the perimeter, it's opened up many more good opportunities for Paige, and lately he's been hitting them.
From the three point mark, Paige has been shooting 33 percent all year long, knocking down a total of 36 shots in 109 attempts this year.
However, since Hairston was inserted, Paige has been 11 of 24 from behind the arc, shooting roughly 45 percent over the seven game stretch.
Lastly, one can't forget McDonald, as he not only provides the slick dance moves to "Jump Around" before the game, but is one of the main threats off the bench that can stretch the defense with his jumper.
McDonald had to miss a few games this year, but has been consistent the past two years he has played from the perimeter, shooting roughly 38 percent from three.
In multiple games this year, McDonald has led the team in threes and in overall points, showing that he can step up to the challenge when the team needs him to. They're going to need more of that down the stretch if they're to make some fond memories during March Madness.
In Williams' system, it is important to have that guy who can come off the bench and either provide a spark for the team defensively or continue the scoring ability when the starters need a rest.
Before the lineup change Hairston used to be that guy.
Now it's McDonald, as he has been the go to guy down the stretch and is one of the few that receive double digit minutes off the bench since Williams shortened the rotation.
A stat from this year's North Carolina team that stands out is the comparison between three point attempts to free throw attempts.
In most years Williams wants his players to attack the rime---and the Tar Heels have been one of the national leaders in free throw attempts most years as a result.
This year on the other hand, North Carolina has had 595 three point attempts, compared to only 556 free throw attempts; something that has happened in quite a while.
North Carolina will look to make a deep run in both tournaments coming up but the sharp shooters must be out and ready to play. It might be a little different look than what fans have seen in the past.
But with each team, the players, coaches, and team in general have to adapt to each other's strengths and weaknesses.
And by far, the long range shooting capability for the Tar Heels is a strength they need to utilize.
It is what has turned around the Tar Heels season, giving them their recent six game winning streak, and making them a team to reckon with in March.