Going into last night's game, Evansville, despite the fact they hit 10-18 from three in their previous game, did not represent an opponent who was going to beat Carolina outright, but they were a team (especially at home) that Carolina could lose to if they were to look past the Aces. Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for Evansville), the Heels did not do this and convincingly beat the Aces. Carolina methodically built a 19-point halftime lead that was eventually stretched out to the point that the game was statistically over by the penultimate TV timeout (7:21, to be exact). After losing on the road to a similarly rated College of Charleston last year, a game in which the Heels let an 11-point lead slip away in the final 4 minutes, seeing this year's squad maintain, and even intensify their focus (at least on defense) in the second half has to be heartening for UNC fans. The perimeter offense is still questionable, but strong post play combined with very strong defense can go a long way to mask that, and this team is starting to look like they are here to stay.
Carolina's defense completely dominated the Aces holding them to 31.7% shooting (eFG%: 34.2) and forcing them into a season's high TO% (for both teams) of 31.1. This is probably pretty obvious, but when your shooting percentage is about equal to your TO%, that is pretty a good sign that you should not have gotten out of bed in the morning. While some may gripe a bit about the 11 offensive boards the Aces grabbed, that number has to be taken in context with the total number of shots that were missed; with a defensive rebounding percentage of 73.8, it turns out that the Heels did do quite well in corralling most of the Aces' missed shots. The net result of all of these numbers is that Evansville produced 0.662 points per possession, which represents, statistically, the 6th best defensive performance in the 7+ seasons that Roy Williams has been the coach. More impressively, it was the best performance UNC has ever had (under Williams) away from the Dean E. Smith Center.
On offense, UNC really did most of its damage in the first half. While the overall numbers are certainly nothing to write home about (save for the TO% of 16.2), in the first half the Tar Heels produced an eFG% of 56.7 and an OR% of 43.8, both of which are excellent, and also show that this team does have the ability to be productive on offense; whether they can do it consistently is the ultimate question. It took 6 or 7 games for this team to go from "potentially good on defense" to "consistently good on defense." And it may take the Heels another 6 or 7 games (or more) to go from "potentially good on offense" to "consistently good on offense," but if they do, then they will be a very, very dangerous team come March.
- Despite forcing a TO% of 31.1, UNC only scored two (2) fastbreak points the entire game, though part of this is do to the fact that Evansville had more travels called on them then you will see in all of this season's 1,230 NBA games, combined.
- UNC has had an assist percentage of at least 50.0 in five straight games (56.5% last night) since posting an awful percentage of 36.4 against Vandy. The shots may not be falling, but it is not from a lack of sharing the ball.
- Reggie Bullock likes to shoot, which makes him perfect to play the role of scorer off the bench. Last night, he took 66.6% of the team's shots (SH%) when he was on the court. In contrast, Dexter Strickland's SH% was 3.5.
- The season's most pleasant surprise, Justin Knox, led the team with a +37 Roland Rating (+32 on court). Justin Watts had the lowest RR (-31), due primarily to the fact that he only played 6 minutes in a blowout win.
Beyond the Box Player of the Game
Before naming the POG for the Evansville game, let’s first take a look at the top five ORtgs for the Tar Heels (minimum possession percentage: 10%):
[table id=56 /]
The three highest ORtgs for the team were actually held by Larry Drew (348.5!), Kendall Marshall (262.7), and Dexter Strickland (179.3), but they were only based on individual possession percentages of 4.7, 3.8, and 5.1, respectively. None of these three need to carry the bulk of Carolina's possessions this season, but it would be nice if they were all consistently in the 10-15% range, even when one factors in the expected drop in efficiency (for even the greatest players, ORtg is inversely, though not always linearly, related to possession percentage).
Before getting to the Player of the Game, I would like to throw out the following number: .382. That number represents the combined shooting percentage of Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington during their "home" games. It is fairly common, and not at all surprising, that college kids would press a bit in such a game, which is what makes Zeller's performance last night so impressive, and is why he was (yet again) the easy choice of POG. Zeller was the model of efficiency, scoring 18 points on only 9 field goal attempts (FR%: 71.1; FR% = scoring possessions/total possessions), which is basically just a continuation of how good he has been all season. To put Zeller's play thus far in proper perspective, during Tyler Hansbrough's junior season he had an FR% of 65.5 (3rd in the nation) and an ORtg of 125.5. Through nine games, Zeller's numbers are 63.9 and 121.5, all without any real perimeter threats to keep the defenses honest. Obviously, there are still a lot of games left to play, but if UNC can start to shoot just a bit more consistently, then Zeller may be heading towards some very prestigious accolades.