UNC vs. Michigan State: Beyond the Box

This was a solid win. There was nothing overly spectacular, but there was more good than bad, and that is really all you can ask for the first game of the season, especially one played on... wait for it... A FREAKIN’ AIRCRAFT CARRIER! Also, (extremely) odd location aside, it should be noted that the previous 7 season openers were against: ODU, Santa Clara (loss), Gardiner-Webb, Sacred Heart, Davidson, Penn, FIU and Lipscomb, so this was by far the highest profile and toughest opponent that the Heels have faced in an opener under Roy. That being said, it was still a game, and there is a still a boxscore. So with the standard "Air Craft Carrier" caveats in mind, let's dive in and go beyond the box.

Four Factors

Of all the stats that were generated during last night's game, there is really only one that matters (or will matter going forward): effective field goal percentage (eFG%).  UNC shot a respectable 51.0%, which moves their record to an absurd 166 - 10 (0.938) under Roy Williams when they crack the 50.0 barrier.  Interestingly, despite shooting the ball relatively well and doing a good job of getting to the line (FTR: 45.1%), UNC was only able to produce a relatively weak offensive efficiency of 98.5.  While their protection of the ball was not great (TO%: 20.6), it wasn't horrible, either, and it certainly was not enough to account for such a low OE.  However, their effort on the offensive board was.  UNC got thoroughly worked on the offensive glass, gathering only 8 offensive boards and ending the game with an OR% under 25.0 for only the 7th time during Roy's tenure as Carolina head coach.  Curiously, UNC has won all seven of those games, but I don't think that is a trend that they will want to test too often.

On the defensive side of things, as Jay Bilas noted several times last night, UNC's first-shot defense was really, really good, and there were flashes when their total defense was borderline suffocating.  Certainly, part of this was because the Spartan's couldn't hit water if they fell off of a boat (sorry, had to do it), going 2 - 20 from three.  But UNC also did a great job of contesting nearly every two-point FGA, holding MSU to a 2PT% of 38.4% and blocking a terrific 15.3% of the Spartans attempts.  Of course, as with the offense, the Heels' defense was also sabotaged by the team's inability to grab a defensive rebound.  The good news with respect to rebounding is that UNC showed that they were a fairly solid rebounding team last season (OR%: 37.1; DR% 69.9), and with essentially the same team back, I doubt much will change in that regard.  I suspect that this can be chalked up to a combination of first game rust and an opponent who is always ferocious on the boards, but it will certainly be something to watch as the season progresses.

Statistical Highlights

  • It was curious to see that all five starters played more than 30 minutes last night, with only McAdoo getting more than 15 minutes off the bench.  The rotation had the feel of something we would expect to see from Roy in March, but rarely before then.  One has to wonder if perhaps, given the unusual nature and meaning of the game, Roy wanted to win this game a bit more than he normally would a game in November.
  • The Heels did a nice job of sharing the basketball, with a team assist percentage of 58.3%.  Whenever players forgo a shot at the NBA, it raises the concern that they will force their shots in the following season.  I didn't see much, if any, of this last night (nor did I really expect to), and Henson and Barnes in particular, definitely looked comfortable making the extra pass.
  • Given the conditions, the 4-9 combined three-point shooting from Barnes, Bullock and Hairston has to make Tar Heel fans feel good.  If that trio can continue to shoot 40-44% for the rest of the season, the Heels will be lethal.  It was also good to see Marshall take three 3-pointers.  Yes, he missed them all, but he showed a decent ability to hit open threes last season and for now, it is the willingness to take the open shot that is of most concern.

Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings

Previously, this was the spot where I would, somewhat subjectively, select the Player of the Game.  In an effort to come up with a slightly more quantitative measure, I decided to experiment with developing the Player Impact Rating (PIR).  For those who are interested, the full equation can be found in the BTB Glossary, but in short, the PIR awards a player points based on the accumulation of tempo-free stats, which are then normalized based on the player's time spent on the floor (because you can't impact a game when you are sitting on the bench).  I will do these calculations for each game, and the highest scoring player will be the de facto "Player of the Game" and will receive the lion's share of the praise; however, this will also allow other players who make significant contributions to be recognized as well.  Additionally, the PIR is designed to be a cumulative statistic, so at the end of the season, we will also be able to judge which player(s) made the biggest impacts over the course of the year.  (Hopefully.  I admit that this is still a work in progress, so it is entirely possible that it goes down in flames.  Suggestions certainly welcome.)

So with the introduction out of the way, here is the very first set of Player Impact Ratings:

[table id=135 /]

How good was John Henson last night?  It will be interesting to watch how this pans out, but in the limited tests that I have run, a PIR over 50.0 is the mark of a really good game.  Henson's PIR last night was 61.4.  Obviously, much of the focus will be on his career high 9 blocks (BLK%: 22.3), but Henson demonstrated a really solid overall game last night, with an eFG% of 60.0 and an ORtg of 102.8 to go along with an AST% of 15.8.  If we are going to nitpick, Henson's rebounding percentages can and should be higher, and it can certainly be argued that his zeal to block shots actually left the Heels vulnerable on the defensive glass, but overall, he had a terrific game.

And while Harrison Barnes certainly made a yeoman's effort last night (PIR: 36.8), the other player who really impressed was Dexter Strickland.  Strickland was every bit the player we saw in the NCAA Tournament last season, producing in all phases of the game (save for rebounding), including a team best AST% of 31.6, while only turning the ball over once.  Most importantly, Strickland was once again a glove on defense, holding Brandon Wood (who torched UNC for 30 two years ago) to just 7 points on 3-9 shooting.  If you get a chance over the next couple of games, take a moment to watch Strickland when he is guarding his man off the ball.  It is a clinic.

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