UNC vs. NCSU: Beyond the Box

Ah, finally some numbers that are more (but still not entirely) pleasing to work with! We will get to that in a moment, but first there are a couple of important things that last night's win provided that go beyond just a prettier looking boxscore. First, Carolina clinched a winning record on the road in ACC games, which despite the ACC being down, is still an important accomplishment, as the Tournament Selection committee does place a premium on road wins. Second, the Heels clinched a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament, as they can now finish no lower than 3rd (own tie-breaker with VPI) in the ACC. And lastly, last night's win all but guarantees that UNC will be included in the NCAA Tournament, even if they should do the unthinkable and lose the next 4 games, though I would certainly prefer that they did not test this theory. Now, on to the boxscore...

Four Factors

In the last edition of BTB I noted that UNC had been completely Jekyll and Hyde with respect to their offensive efficiency (OE) through its first 12 ACC games (6 games with an average OE of 118.5, and 6 games with an average OE of 89.8) and that somewhere in the middle would be a decent place to set up for the rest of the season.  Last night, against a rival desperate for a win, the Heels produced a respectable OE of 111.9.  More importantly, in the second half, UNC had a relative explosion, upping their OE to an excellent 129.4 en route to snapping a streak of 4 halves (and 7 of their last 8 halves) in which they had scored less than 40 points.  Just as their recent struggles on offense started with a poor second-half against Duke, the stretch of  beautiful basketball that the Heels played preceding that (@BC, FSU, and the 1st-half @Duke) all started with their nearly perfect second half performance (OE: 156.3) in the first NCSU game.  Let's hope that history is about to repeat itself.

As for the individual factors of this game, one really has to look no further than the job the Heels did on the offensive boards.  While the team still struggled at times to knock shots down, the reason they were able to post a respectable OE was because the rebounded a terrific 47.5% of their misses, which was their best performance in the ACC this season, and the second best overall (Hofstra - OR%:  53.8).  And in the second-half, the Heels were even more dominant, upping their OR% to a ridiculous 57.9, which included several highlight-reel put backs.  In addition to their work on the glass, the Tar Heels also did a very good job of taking care of the ball, with a TO% of 16.4.  Maximizing possessions by protecting the ball and rebounding a high percentage of one's misses certainly go a long way towards ameliorating the deficiencies on offense that are caused by poor (or inconsistent) shooting.

Statistical Highlights

  • Despite the team's quality TO%, Kendall Marshall had 5 individual turnovers for the second straight game, after averaging only 2.5 TPG through his first 8 games as a starter.  This is certainly something that cannot persist if the Heels are going to make noise in March.
  • For the first time all season, the Tar Heels have now posted an OR% > 40.0 and a DR% > 70.0 in 3 straight games.
  • UNC's 3P% of 31.3, while by no means great, was a marked improvement over the 16.7% that they had shot over the previous 4 games.
  • The Tar Heels cracked 60.0 in floor% (61.0) and 50.0 in true shooting% (50.3) both for the first time since the FSU game.  The four game stretch under those thresholds had been their longest of the season.
  • UNC is still struggling to get production from its bench, as all four bench players had a Roland Rating of -10 or worse, with Reggie Bullock the low man at -24.  Roy obviously recognizes this, as 4 of the 5 starters had minute percentages of 75.0 or higher, and the only reason it was not 5 of 5, was because Tyler Zeller found himself in foul trouble.  Despite that foul trouble, Zeller led the team with a Roland Rating of +18.

Beyond the Box Player of the Game

Before getting to the POG for the State game, let’s first take a look at the top five ORtgs for the Tar Heels (minimum possession percentage: 10% or minimum minutes percentage: 80.0):

[table id=88 /]

While Dexter Strickland certainly had a (very welcomed) breakout game, scoring more points against the Pack (13) than he had in his previous 4 games combined (10), all while posting a team best ORtg of 192.9, the race for POG really came down to two players: Harrison Barnes and John Henson.

Barnes certainly had a solid overall game (16 points, OR%: 10.0, DR% 16.6, ORtg: 111.7), but his inclusion in this conversation is really the result of only two, 2.5 minute stretches of game time.  Barnes scored 5 points over Carolina's first four second-half possessions to capping a 13-minute stretch in which the Heels outscored the Wolfpack 31-14 to take "relative" control of the game.  But the more important stretch came around the four-minute mark, when the "Barnesbot" activated (credit: @joeovies), scoring 7 straight points on two spectacular put-back dunks and an absolute dagger 3.  There is nothing more that can really be said about Barnes' play in the game's final minutes, other than his ability to "flip the switch" and instantly become, head-and-shoulders, the best player on the court, regardless of the opponent, is a huge reason why UNC has been, and will continue to be, a very tough team to beat in a close game.

While Barnes was making his mark on the offensive end, John Henson was completely dominating the Wolfpack on the defensive end of the court, which was critical against a team (NCSU) that was trying to make a living off of 2-point field goals (78.5% of their FGA and 79.4% of their points where from inside the arc).  Henson, by a large margin, led the Heels in rebounding (DR%: 33.3), blocked shots (block %: 14.2), and talking smack.  (Okay, I admit that I have no numbers to prove that last one, but I think the observation is still valid.)  I was actually somewhat surprised that Henson did not get T'd up, but I think part of the reason he gets away with it is because, like everything else he does on the court, he talks smack with a giant smile on his face, which not only helps deflect attention from it, but also makes it more effective, in my opinion.

After going back-and-forth, it becomes evident that both Barnes and Henson provided UNC with something unique and absolutely crucial to their win, and it is for that reason that they are both being named co-Players of the Game.

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 updated standings through the team’s first 27 games.

[table id=89 /]

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

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