UNC vs. BC: Beyond the Box

Last night provided an answer to a very important question about this year's North Carolina team: the question of how good can they really be? The answer, it turns out, is that this team, on any given night, can be good enough to beat (possibly convincingly) any team in the country. Obviously, this alone in no way means that UNC fans should start dreaming about a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, as this is still a very young team, and the most important question about it (can/will they do it consistently?) is still a long way away from being answered with any certainty. But in terms of a possible ceiling, especially if one wanted to look beyond this season (obvious caveats apply), then this team's is as high as any team in the country.

Four Factors

First, let's get the disclaimer out-of-the-way: BC is awful on defense.  As a result of last night's  game, BC is now the worst team in the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency and rank 272nd nationally.  But none of that should really matter, because over the first 20 games, this team had shown the ability to miss plenty of uncontested shots, and yet last night, they were nearly flawless.  UNC posted season's bests in eFG% (65.4) and TO% (12.0!) en route to producing a stratospheric offensive efficiency of 141.3.  Last night was only the 3rd time during Roy Williams tenure that the Heels have cracked 140.0 against an ACC team (the other two were in 2006), and it had never happened in a game that had more than 70 possessions (last night: 75.0).  However, perhaps more important than the overall number was the fact that, unlike the last couple of games, the team performed very well on offense in each half, with only a slight drop in efficiency from the first half (eFG%: 69.1, TO%: 8.8) to the second half (eFG%: 61.8, TO%: 14.6).

On defense, UNC's final numbers (DE: 98.7, eFG%: 44.9, TO% 21.3) were right around their season average (which is pretty good) and well below what BC had been averaging on offense.  Getting past the base numbers, UNC was very aggressive defending both the high screen and with their overplay of the post entry (particularly Zeller), both of which combined to force the Eagles into a game that was 10 possessions faster than their preferred pace.  And while this strategy may have contributed to UNC's rather pedestrian effort on the defensive glass (DR%: 61.2), the overall of speeding the game up are hard to argue against.

Statistical Highlights

  • The Heels have now produced 2 games this season with an OE greater than 140.  UNC had 1 such game the last 2 seasons, combined!
  • All 9 of the scholarship players had at least 1 assist and the team had a Playstion-like A/T of 3.0.  The last time UNC had an A/T of 3.0 or greater against a DI-opponent was against Arkansas in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
  • The Real Blue Steel had an offensive efficiency of 125.0 and an incredible efficiency margin of 105.0.
  • Kendall Marshall had the team's highest Roland Rating (+28), while Dexter Strickland's score of -24 was the lowest on the team.

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

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

[table id=75 /]

While he didn't have a high enough possession percentage to qualify, Larry Drew may have had the best game ever for a player who only took 1 shot.  Drew's ORtg for the game was 624.2!!! And while numbers that high are a bit fluky, and generally an artifact of small sample-size, what has not been fluky has been Drew's play since being moved out of the starting lineup, as over the last four games Drew has 19 assists and more steals (5) than turnovers (4).   Marshall and Drew are not Lawson or Felton, but at the same time, Lawson and Felton never got the type of play from their backup that we are seeing this season.  For the season, Carolina is getting 4.6 assists per game from whoever is playing backup point guard, which would be 3rd in the ACC.  Production from the point guard position can come in many forms, and what we are seeing now certainly seems to be working.

As for the POG, this decision really was not as difficult as it seemed.  Yes, Reggie Bullock was huge over a 4-minute stretch that was instrumental in turning the game for the Heels.  And yes, Zeller was (mostly) dominant on the interior (floor %: 92.6).  But in terms of overall impact, the Player of the Game was Harrison Barnes.  Barnes led the team in both possessions (13) and scoring possessions (8), and for only the 3rd time all season, posted an ORtg over 130.0 (139.8) and an eFG% over 70.0 (73.3).  Barnes was equally good in both halves and played in huge role in putting the game away, as over a 7-minute stretch that bracketed the intermission, Barnes single-handedly outscored the Eagles (13-11) which helped the Heels turn what (based on previous experience) could have been a tenuous 10-point lead into an insurmountable 23-point bulge.

The (ridiculously?) high expectations that came with the start of this season were generally centered upon the idea that Harrison Barnes would be this team's (and one of the nation's) best player.  What we have seen over the last two games is an indication the when the latter is true, then former may be possible.

Beyond the Box Player of the Year

Now that we are 70% of the way through the regular-season schedule, it is time to start looking at the race for Beyond the Box Player of the Year.  The BTB POY is based on a points system in which a player gets 10 points for being named the POG and 3 points for having a top five ORtg, with a 2 point bonus for having the top ORtg.   What follows are the standings through the team's first 21 games.

[table id=76 /]

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

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