North Carolina has two major problems facing them for the rest of the season. The first is potentially correctable; they are atrocious shooting free throws and in fact are on pace for the second worst percentage in ACC history. The second is damaging for the rest of the season — P.J. Hairston will not play again for the Tar Heels. But this season is by no means a lost cause just because of the Hairston situation or myriad clanged free throws.
Despite missing Hairston and far too many foul shots, Carolina has still had three high-profile wins with their defeats of No. 3 Louisville, No. 1 Michigan State and No. 11 Kentucky. Of course, they offset those impressive victories with home losses to Belmont and Texas and an away loss at UAB. The team is clearly wildly unpredictable, but the return of Hairston and Leslie McDonald was supposed to help settle the team and provide some much needed floor spacing and perimeter scoring.
But today Carolina announced that they will not seek to reinstate Hairston, effectively meaning that now only Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo are available as All-ACC quality players. Bear in mind that the Heels have still clocked-in with solid performances even with the absence of two of their players.
But to continue to succeed despite Hairston’s tomfoolery, the Tar Heels will have to figure out their free throw issues. If they are able to solve those (perhaps McAdoo should stop tossing the ball up higher than the ceiling when at the line), then their preseason ACC ranking will be justified. Carolina is potentially undefeated if they could simply have made their straight-shot 10-footers. The return of Hairston would not have helped them all shoot better in their losses, so clearly if they can even make a bare minimum of 70 percent, they will find great success.
If UNC is — perhaps ironically — able to continue their consistent variations in quality of play from game-to-game, they will actually be quite the dangerous team despite lacking their best player to end last season in Hairston. These may seem like dark days for the Tar Heel faithful, but they should realize that this is probably one of the best coaching jobs Roy Williams has had at the Dean Dome.
This is neither the most talented team nor the most skilled, but they are tough, and they fight for everything. If free throws are demystified, then Hairston will not be missed. It is time for everyone involved to move on and simply enjoy the remainder of the season — there is still plenty of promise left for Carolina this year.