Carolina took care of business last night against an over-matched team from William & Mary, in a game that while sloppy at the start, really wasn't competitive after the initial 10 minutes. While it is certainly easy, and probably somewhat warranted, to not put a lot of thought into the "meaning" of a win like this, all it takes is a brief look around college basketball to know that there is no such thing as a gimme anymore: Florida losing at home to Jacksonville, Tennessee losing three straight, and Illinois losing at UIC. Indeed, taking care of business is no longer something that can be taken for granted.
As is usually the case in a blowout, the Heels benefited from a sizable advantage in each of the Four Factors. What really stands out in this particular case, is the differential in turnover %. As THF pointed out in his pre-game, William & Mary came into the game with an awful reputation for turning the ball over, and UNC did nothing but add to it. Not only did the Tribe have an abysmal TO% of 28.2, but UNC's Steal % was 18.7, which was not only a season's high, but was also more than twice their season's average. More importantly, the Heels were able to use those turnovers to coax a team that was averaging under 63 possessions per game (and had not been over 68 possessions), into a game that had 75 possessions. The game of basketball places a huge emphasis on rhythm, and getting your opponent to play at the rhythm that you dictate can go a long way towards ensuring a victory.
On the other side of the turnover story, North Carolina once again walked out of the gym with a TO% under 17.0 (16.0). In the last edition of BTB I incorrectly credited them with having 5 such games consecutively; however, this game does indeed make 5 consecutive games in which the Heels have turned the ball over less than 17% of the time, tying them with the 2009 team for the longest streak of Roy Williams' North Carolina tenure. For the season, the team's TO% sits at a modest 19.4%, which also illustrates just how far they have come over the last 6 weeks.
One of the other bright spots for Carolina was the return of their offensive rebounding game. The Heels snapped a streak of 6-games with an OR% under 40.0 by grabbing 19 offensive boards against the Tribe, on their way to just their second game of the season in which they had a Floor % (scoring possessions/total possessions) in the sixties (60.0). This team does have the potential to be gifted offensively, but it is nowhere near there yet (especially with all the 2-footers it misses); one of the things that can help nurture this potential along will be to improve its cumulative OR% (Current: 36.1; Ideal: >39.0).
- For only the 3rd time in his career, John Henson had a block % greater than 30.0 (30.3), though in somewhat of an oddity, all of his blocks were rebounded by William & Mary.
- In the 1st half William & Mary had a lower eFG% (26.7) than they did a TO% (27.2).
- The bench really dominated the 1st half, as all 5 players had an on-court +/- between 14-19. The starters, on the other hand, all had an on-court +/- between 3-8.
- Justin Watts had a team best Roland Rating of +17. John Henson brought up the rear with a score of -19 (-16 in the 1st half).
Beyond the Box Player of the Game
Before naming the POG for the William & Mary game, let’s first take a look at the top five ORtgs for the Tar Heels (minimum possession percentage: 10%):
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Carolina has struggled to get consistent perimeter scoring since the moment Wayne Ellington subbed out with 1:03 to go in the 2009 National Championship game, so to have the team's three shooting guards sitting atop the Offensive Rating leaderboard is a very pleasant sight. The three guards combined to score 44 points (eFG%: 65.0) in just 58 minutes (30.3 P/40) as well as contributing 5 assists, 5 steals, and 8 rebounds (5 of which were by Reggie Bullock). While it is tempting to just name all three players co-POG (a "Position of the Game," if you will), I do feel that Dexter Strickland's dominance in the second half (team best Roland Rating of +19) merits him sole possession of the title.
There have been several pleasant surprises this season (Zeller's play and the recent ability to hold on to the ball to name a few) but I don't think anything has come more out of the blue than Strickland's recent play. After going the first 45 games of his career without having back-to-back games with double figures in points, Strickland has now scored in double figures in 3 straight, including back-to-back games in which he posted a career high. However, what may be even more amazing is how far Strickland has progressed in just this season. Through the first 5 games of the season Strickland scored 37 points on 22 FGA. Now, in just the last two games Strickland has once again scored 37 point on 22 FGA. Ideally, he would get his rebounding average (1 each of the last 4 games) back up to the almost 3-4 he was averaging through the UK game, but overall his recent play certainly appears to be a very nice early-Christmas present for Tar Heel fans.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Note: For reference, a full stats glossary can be found at StatSheet.com