UNC vs. UVa: Beyond the Box

Yesterday's game against Virginia can really be summed up in three words: good, ugly, good. The first 10 minutes (UNC +9) and the last 14 minutes (UNC +17) were pretty good for the Heels. The middle 16 minutes? Well, do you can do the math. It certainly wasn't pretty, but on a day when 7 ranked teams fell to unranked teams (and a few others survived serious scares), winning ugly, especially on the road, certainly beats the alternative.

Four Factors

UNC produced its worst eFG% (39.8) of the season (and the 3rd worst of any win in the Roy Williams' Era) and yet, they did not have their worst efficiency of the season (3 other times they have been lower) as they were still able to scrape together just under 1 point per possession.  The Heels were able to accomplish this because of two things.  First, the team, once again, did a great job of job of holding on to the ball, producing a season's best TO% of 12.8.  The only thing more impressive than that total number is the fact that their TO% in the second half dropped to a ridiculous 6.7%.  The best way for a team to increase its offensive efficiency is to not give away possessions, and as yesterday proved, this is absolutely critical in games in which the shots are not falling.

The second thing Carolina did well yesterday was the job they did both getting to (FTR: 50.0%), and capitalizing at (FT%: 70.4; 14 of their last 16) the free-throw line.  Much has been made of Carolina's rather putrid free-throw percentage this season, and while it still may cost them a game down the line, it is hard to argue that it has cost them anything to date.  However, it is inarguable that their ability to nail clutch free-throws has absolutely won two games (the other being the Kentucky game) for them this season.  Yesterday's performance was probably even more impressive than the Kentucky performance, simply because it came on the road, which is generally considered a more difficult setting to shoot from the line.

On the defensive side of things, despite yielding an eFG% of 47.1, UNC was still able to hold its 4th straight opponent under 0.9 points per possession (and in the 2nd half it was 0.63) due in large part to a steal percentage of 11.1% (4th game in a row >10%; longest streak since the first four games of the 2009 NCAAT) and an incredible DR% of 87.5 (2nd highest DR% in any ACC game in Williams' tenure).  Just as the stats discussed above helped UNC to maximize the scoring potential of its own possessions, these stats helped then minimize the scoring potential of Virginia's.  The combination of the two is how you get a 6-point win when yielding a significantly higher eFG%.

Statistical Highlights

  • Despite the work UNC did forcing steals and on the defensive boards, they could not speed the game up.  UNC was held to 63 possessions, which is 11 below their average and 8 less than their previous low for the season (71 against CoC).
  • UNC has a season's worst 35.0% assist percentage.  Even if one subtracts the 5 FGs that came directly off of offensive rebounds, the percentage only climbs to a sub-par 46.7%.
  • Only two Tar Heels had a Roland Rating greater than +10: Dexter Strickland (+16) and Larry Drew II (+14).  Leslie McDonald had the team's lowest RR, with a score of (-16).

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

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

[table id=69 /]

There will be no POG for the UVa game because it is almost impossible to single out one player as the production (or lack there of, if you will) was far to balanced.  For the first time all season, the minimum possession percentage threshold was unnecessary, as all 10 Tar Heels had a possession percentage between 11.9% and 22.5%.  Tyler Zeller led the team in scoring (12), but 8 others scored 4 and 9 points.  Nine (9) players had at least 3 (but no more than 6) rebounds and no one had more than two assists.

In general, I think that there are more positives than negatives to this kind of balance, but Andy In Omaha did raise a good point in THF's post-game recap when he questioned who would be the guy to step up when things get hairy.  At the end of games, I don't believe that this is much of a problem, as having a number of players willing (and able) to hold on to the ball and make free-throws is nothing but a good thing.  The same goes for taking the last shot, although in most cases, that onus will fall on Roy to draw up the correct play and call the right number.  However, where this does become a problem is in the middle of games, at the right at the moment where the wheels are starting to get a bit loose.  That is the time that it is on a player (or players) to step up, as Roy can't be expected to call a timeout at every sign of trouble.  Who will this player be?  I don't think there is anyway to answer that question now, but finding the answer (if it exists) by the end of the season will be the critical factor in determining this team's ultimate ceiling.

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

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