UNC vs. Miami: Beyond the Box

For a young team, winning on the road is never easy. This season, winning on the road in the ACC, for any team, appears to be especially difficult. And winning on the road when you spot the opposition a 10-point (or greater) lead in the first half, is nearly impossible. Yet, for the second time this season, UNC was able to pull off the trifecta, thanks in large part to a very efficient offensive attack and, of course, a couple of (what have almost become expected) big shots by Harrison Barnes. The impact of both will certainly be discussed in this latest, winning-edition, of Beyond the Box.

Four Factors

This game turned out to be a bit of an oddity for North Carolina, as it was their slowest game of the year (61 possessions), but also one of their most efficient on offense.  It is commonly, and correctly, assumed that the best way to beat a Roy Williams-coached team is to slow the game down and make them execute in the half court.  But that line of thinking is not holding form this season, as all 5 of UNC's losses have come in games that had at least 72 possessions, while at the same time, the Heels are 4-0 when the game is held to 71 or fewer possessions.

In this game, despite the slow pace, the Heels were still able to post an offensive efficiency (OE) of 121.3, which far outpaces anything they had done in the ACC, and is only the fourth time that they have cracked the 120-barrier all season.  At the start, it certainly did not seem that the Heels were going do anything noteworthy (in a good way) on offense, as they were only able to manage a measly 4 points through their first 11 possession (OE: 36.3).  However, over the games last 50 possessions, the Heels OE shot to an outstanding 140.0 on the strength of an eFG% of 59.2 and a TO% of 14.0.

The Heels breakout on the offense certainly came in just the nick of time, as the game against the Hurricanes proved to be one of the Heels worst defensive games this season.  Only one other time has UNC given up more than the 1.16 points per possession that it yielded to Miami (LBSU), and only two other teams have shot better than the Hurricanes' eFG% of 57.0 (LBSU and Illinois).  For the season, UNC's overall defensive numbers (adjusted Defensive Efficiency is 86.7; 8th in the nation) are still very good, so it will be interesting to see if this game is just a blip.  If it is, and if UNC can continue to slowly improve on offense (OE has been over 100 in both games since Marshall was inserted as the starter, which at this point is only correlative), then UNC may just start winning games without spotting the opposition a 10-point lead.

Statistical Highlights

  • Carolina is now 4-0 when the other team hits 10 or more three pointers.  Yesterday, Miami hit 7 more 3-point field goals than UNC, and while many (Mike Patrick) will jump at the opportunity to equate that to a 21-point edge, that is only true if the number of 2-point field goals the teams hit is equal.  In this case, UNC had 9 more 2-point field goals than the 'Canes did, which means that that "21-point edge" was, in reality, a 3-point advantage.
  • For the first time in 5 ACC games, the Heels had a team A/T ratio greater than 1.0 (1.36).  Despite the fact that UNC has done a much better job of limiting turnovers this season, their A/T for the season is still hovering right around 1.0.  Much of this can be attributed to UNC's struggle to finding consistent outside shooting.
  • UNC hit more than 85% of its free-throws (85.7%) for the first time since it hit 15 of 16 while beating Oklahoma in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.  For the season, the team is still at a terrible 64.9%, but in the games in which free-throws have been critical, they have risen to the task.
  • Reggie Bullock had a team leading Roland Rating of +33 (on-court plus/minus: +18), while John Henson had the worst score on the team (-33; on-court plus/minus: -15).

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

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

[table id=73 /]

This turned out to be a very balanced game for the Heels, as they had 9 players score between 4 and 13 points (contrast that against Miami, who had 5 players score 70 of the team's 71 points).  There are a couple good candidates for Player of the Game, but before getting to that, there is one player, who while not eligible (minimum possession percentage: 10%), still put together an outstanding performance.  For the game, Larry Drew II had an incredible ORtg of 298.0 and also had a team leading assist percentage of 47.1.  Drew has been terrific in the two games since moving out of the starting lineup (41 minutes, 12 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and only 2 turnovers) and needless to say, UNC can only benefit if he and Marshall continue to push each other in practice and in games.

As for the Player of the Game, like Reggie Bullock was in the game before, Dexter Strickland was clearly the player of the first half.  Strickland scored all twelve of his points (eFG%: 85.7) in the first half, chipped in with an assist percentage of 29.4 and a tidy A/T of 2.0, and was absolutely instrumental in sparking Carolina's comeback from an early 14-point deficit.

While Strickland's overall performance certainly makes a strong case for POG, sometimes what happens in the last two minutes needs to carry a bit more weight, and that is why Harrison Barnes is really the only choice to be the player of the game.  In the BTB for the Virginia game, it was noted that Heels' balance, while generally good, may cause some problems when it comes to the question of who do we want taking Carolina's most important shots?  This is no longer a question, as Harrison Barnes has firmly cemented himself as the choice to get the call at the end of the game.  For the season, Barnes is averaging 0.290 points per team-minute over the game's first 38 minutes.  In the last 2 minutes of the game, Barnes production shoots up to 0.395 points per team-minute, and would be even higher if one were to exclude blowout games.  But beyond the actual level of production, what is so impressive about Barnes' ability to hit huge shots at the end of the game is just how automatic and effortless it is.  At some point, that automatic and effortless ability will begin to seep into the game's first 38 minutes, and when it does, the need for Barnes to be the hero at the end of the game will rapidly start to disappear.

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

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