It's easy to look back in April and single out the 2014 Tar Heel basketball stats that were important. It's tougher to do it as the calendar actually flips to 2014. Here's a look at a few numbers to keep an eye on as Carolina begins Atlantic Coast Conference competition this weekend:
James Michael McAdoo's free throw shooting. No, this isn't a way to single out one individual for Carolina's team-wide (other than a certain Iowa native) free throw shooting issues. But McAdoo has attempted almost twice as many free throws as any other player on the roster, and his fouls drawn per 40 minutes rate (as measured by Ken Pomeroy) is 22nd in the country.
So McAdoo, in all likelihood, is going to continue to make trips to the line, especially if league plays sees a continued emphasis of the rules on hand checking and physical play. If the junior can convert those trips at a reasonable rate-he's a combined 16-for-24 in his last two games, a respectable 66.7%--it immediately makes the Carolina offense more efficient.
One unique feature of McAdoo's free throw style: he puts so much arc on the ball that he's been the beneficiary of multiple good bounces that eventually drop through.
By the way, the Tar Heels have hit 71.6% from the line in their last three games. Just saying.
Marcus Paige's minutes. Before the Christmas break, Paige admitted he was "exhausted." Part of that was due to an emotionally and physically trying week that included a 5 a.m. practice and the permanent ineligibility of a teammate.
But it's also because the sophomore is averaging 35.2 minutes per game, which would be the most in the Williams era. The previous record holder is Raymond Felton, who played 34.6 minutes during Williams' first season back in Chapel Hill.
Paige is playing significant minutes because he has been indispensable to this year's team. His offensive rating according to KenPom.com is 124.2. Only two players in the Williams era have posted higher figures, and it's good company: Ty Lawson and Tyler Hansbrough.
Paige's wiry frame belies his toughness, and it's true that he got better as his freshman season progressed. But it's also true that he made that improvement while playing "only" 29.2 minutes per game. It remains to be seen how he will physically handle this year's increased workload.
Leslie McDonald's shot selection. Since his return, McDonald has been overwhelmingly a three-point shooter, as 21 of his 33 field goal attempts have been three-pointers (and one of those two-pointers came with his foot on the line).
Those numbers were even most drastic before Tuesday night's win over UNC-Wilmington, when McDonald attempted six two-pointers--as many as he had tried in his previous three games combined. Perhaps not coincidentally, that might have been McDonald's most complete offensive game, including one very nice pump fake on a three-pointer in the corner that he turned into a layup.
Carolina's offense desperately needs some balance, even if to achieve that balance one player needs to be out of normal proportion. McDonald's current pace would be the highest ratio of three-pointers to two-pointers for any Tar Heel in the Williams era other than Wes Miller. The current UNC Greensboro coach attempted 267 field goals in his UNC career, with 242 (90.6%) of them coming from beyond the three-point line.
Brice Johnson's offensive production. Here's a player to keep a close eye on in league play. Johnson shot just 41 percent against ACC opponents as a freshman, and his rebounding production decreased from 12.5 rebounds per 40 minutes to 10.5 boards/40.
Johnson has been a more important part of Carolina's offense this year, and he's attempted the third-most field goals on the team while being the team's leading rebounder. Because he is so offensive minded, the Tar Heels need him to continue to score efficiently. That's why it is a little concerning that although he's hitting 55.2% from the field so far this season, he's shooting just 18-for-42 in his last five games.
Joel James' health. In the four games that have essentially been played without James, opponents are hitting 39.8% of their field goals. That's higher than the 37.9% figure with him. The Tar Heels are just +2.7/game on the backboards without James, as compared to +5.2 per game with him.
The moral: even though James doesn't score much (just 3.7 points per game), his presence makes a tangible difference. Roy Williams indicated earlier this week that James is not too far away from returning.
Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.