UNC vs. Long Beach State: Beyond the Box

Ah... the classic, "exam-week, defense optional" special. As an admitted fan of the Westhead/Gathers/Kimble-led Loyola Marymount teams, I will always have a bit of a soft-spot for games where both teams just try to outscore each other. In fact, one of my "favorite" UNC losses ever was their 119-114 3OT shootout versus Wake Forest during Roy's first year. And in some ways, I think a game like this may end up being good for UNC. We know, and more importantly, they know that they can play defense, but there may have been some doubt creeping in as to whether or not they could put up enough points to capitalize on that defense. It may have only been against Long Beach State, but sometimes seeing the ball go through the net is all that matters, regardless of who it is against.

Four Factors

This game was all about Carolina's ability to put the ball in the basket.  In their fastest game of the year (78 possessions) UNC was able to outlast the 49ers by matching their season's high eFG% (64.8) and setting a season's high for true shooting percentage at 64.5 [TS% = Points/(2 * (FGA + (0.475 * FTA)))]  UNC also did an outstanding job holding on to the basketball, as only 11 of their 78 possessions ended in a turnover (season's best TO% of 14.1).  This makes three straight games that the Heels have had a TO% under 17.0, and while it is unreasonable to expect them to maintain that rate all season (the 2009 team had a TO% of 16.4), consistently staying at around 18.0-19.9% will go a long way towards smoothing out some of the offensive inconsistencies.

The only troubling aspect of this game, from an offensive standpoint, was the fact that UNC had it's worst performance of the season on the offensive boards (OR%: 21.9).  While it would be easy to point the lion's share of the blame towards Zeller and Knox, who grabbed a combined total of 1 offensive rebound, I think that it is just as telling that in 101 total minutes, UNC's 6 guards also grabbed a combined total of 1 offensive rebound!  I am all for the guards getting back on defense (LBSU only had 4 fast break points), but in the future I think the Heels could get away with their backcourt being a bit more aggressive on the offensive glass.

Statistical Highlights

  • After blocking 18 shots over their previous two games, the Heels went without a block against LBSU.  Then again, the last time UNC had zero blocks in a game was the the 2009 National Championship game, so maybe this is not that bad of a thing after all.
  • Larry Drew has made 8 field goals over the last two games (in 9 FGA), which matches the number of field goals he made in UNC's first 8 games.  Additionally, over the last four games he has 23 assists against only 7 turnovers (A/T: 3.29).
  • John Henson, bad thumb and all, did a terrific job on the defensive boards (DR%: 36.8).  This is the 3rd time this season that Henson has been over 30%, and for the season, he is posting a DR% of 27.5, which is 15th in the nation and #1 in the ACC.
  • Justin Knox and Leslie McDonald posted team high Roland Ratings of +11.  Justin Watts was on the opposite end of the spectrum, with a Roland Rating of -19.

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

Before naming the POG for the Long Beach game, let’s first take a look at the top five ORtgs for the Tar Heels (minimum possession percentage: 10%):

[table id=57 /]

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of big ORtgs posted by the Heels, in what turned out to be a fairly balanced offensive attack.  UNC had 7 different players produce offensive ratings over 100 (low:109.4), accounting for 46 individual possessions.  By contrast, LBSU only had 4 players with offensive ratings over 100 (low:103.4); however, those 4 players combined for a total of 53 individual possessions.

Naming the Player of the Game for the LBSU game proved to be one of the more difficult decisions of this young season, as valid arguments could be made for each of the top three candidates: Harrison Barnes, Larry Drew and Leslie McDonald.  Barnes had arguably his best game as a Tar Heel, posting team and career highs in points (19, tie) and rebounds (10), en route to the first double-double of his career.  While Barnes certainly had a game to build on, he was not particularly (or maybe the better term is comparatively) efficient, which is what pushes the needle towards Drew and McDonald.  While Barnes did score 19 points, he took 16 field goal attempts to do so, whereas Drew and McDonald combined to score 30 points using just 15 field goal attempts.  Given the dearth of scoring that UNC has had from the backcourt this season, seeing two guards combine for 30 points, 11 assists and only 2 turnovers, has to make Tar Heel fans smile.  While the argument can be made that McDonald, due to his extraordinary shooting and efficiency should have been the lone POG, Larry Drew's performance, if only symbolically, was every bit as important.  It is for that reason that Leslie McDonald and Larry Drew are the co-Players of the Game.

Note: For reference, a full stats glossary can be found at StatSheet.com

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