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Heel Tough Blog: The Green Light

JP Kupferman - AP

When you look back at the struggles that Carolina Basketball experienced last season, you don’t have to look further than their struggles from behind the three-point line to see why they were so inefficient offensively. The Tar Heels averaged 7.1 made three-pointers per game last year, which ranked 217th in the country, despite attempting 22.8 shots per game, which was 126th in all of college basketball. Those numbers averaged out to 31%, which was 329th in the country, as they put together one of the worst perimeter shooting seasons in the history of the program. Seven players averaged at least one attempt from behind the arc last season, but only one of those seven players (R.J. Davis), is back for the 2023-24 season, as Caleb Love, who took over 7 triples per game transferred out of the program, along with many other players, as Hubert Davis wasted no time overhauling his program, after missing the NCAA Tournament last season.

Once R.J. Davis announced his decision to return to North Carolina for his senior season, the task was to put a supporting cast around him, one that would fit better with him, and be more efficient from behind the arc. That led Hubert Davis to bring in Notre Dame transfer Cormac Ryan, and Brown transfer, Paxson Wojcik. Ryan, who will be playing his fifth season of college basketball, is a career 35% three-point shooter, including having shot 41% back in 2021-22. As for Wojcik, he is a career 36% three-point shooter, who shot 38% last season, and a career-best 41% back as a freshman in 2019-20. When you combine them with Davis, who is a career 36% perimeter shooter, the Tar Heels have three proven commodities from the outside, and coincidentally they are the only players on the roster with the green light according to Hubert Davis. Last Friday was Media Day for Carolina Basketball, and he explained why those guys have the green light, saying “The reason why they are green light guys, is one they’ve earned it, they can make shots and number two they take good shots, and so I want our best shooters from three to feel comfortable and confident to let it fly”.

Davis also shared a story from his playing days under Coach Smith, where he entered the program as a freshman, with the red light, meaning he could only shoot wide-open layups, and by the end of his career, he transformed into having the full green light, just like Davis, Ryan and Wojcik have now.

When you look at the numbers from last season, one of the biggest reasons why Carolina struggled from the perimeter, was due to their shot selection, and the lack of ball movement to create better looks from deep. This preseason, Hubert Davis has introduced a new drill where they have to complete 80 passes in a minute, stressing the importance of better, more crisp ball movement. If you can remember Carolina’s run to the national championship game back in 2021-22, the perimeter shooting was a big reason why, but also the assists numbers reflected a team that loved sharing the basketball with one another. Davis is hoping with better ball movement this year, his veteran perimeter shooters will put up the type of numbers he wants in his free-flowing offense.

While Davis, Ryan, and Wojcik are the “green light guys”, don’t be surprised if guys like Harrison Ingram and Jae’Lyn Withers enter that category as well. Ingram was the most coveted transfer the Tar Heels brought in over the summer, as he’s a former McDonald’s All-American, that was never surrounded with the type of talent at Stanford, that he’ll be surrounded with at UNC. During his time with the Cardinal, he was a career 32%, but that was with all the responsibility of the offense falling on his shoulders. That won’t be the case at North Carolina, and with better floor spacing, and ball movement, he’ll have more quality looks from deep. As for Withers, who played with more talent at Louisville than Ingram did at Stanford, where he shot 35% from deep for his career. That theoretically gives Carolina five perimeter shooters that they can count on for the upcoming season, all of which are going to be more effective than the group they had last season, which saw Leaky Black average over 2 three-pointers per game.

Hubert Davis is confident that his offense will be more effective this season, as he has a roster that better suits the way he wants his team to play on both ends of the court. And while R.J. Davis, Cormac Ryan, and Paxson Wojcik are the only guys starting out the season with the green light, with better ball movement and spacing, more guys will have the green light, as Carolina’s offense looks to find another gear in 2023-24.

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