Survive and advance. Okay, so we are not nearly to that point of the season yet, but for some reason, whether it was the Friday/Sunday game times, or the unusual hype surrounding the games, these first to contests sort of had the feel of something that the Heels just needed to get through with a couple of wins and move on (this may also explain the shortened rotation). Now, with a full week of practice ahead of them, followed by a couple of games that are the definition of "cupcake," Carolina can really start working on ironing out the kinks to what has the makings of a very entertaining season.
Not to belabor the point, but basketball can be a pretty simple sport to analyze sometimes, and when UNC shoots well, they win. Not only was their eFG% outstanding (61.1), but their overall FG% (59.3) was at a level that has been matched only once in the previous two seasons. UNC has now shot better than 47.0% in both of its games this season, a mark they hit in only 12 of their 37 games last season. And while it should be noted that last season also opened with two FG%s above 47.0, games against Lipscomb and Hofstra are a far cry from Michigan St. (on an aircraft carrier) and UNC-Asheville (a true road game). On top of the shooting prowess they displayed, the Heels also did a very good job of both getting to the line (FTR: 64.8), and capitalizing while they were there (FT%: 71.4). Interestingly, UNC was only able to produce a FTR of 60.0 or better 4 times last season (all wins), and yet, every time they did, they also managed to shoot better than 70% from the line, so they have at least shown the ability to capitalize in the most opportune times.
The one real negative from this game, at least in terms of the Four Factors, centers around turnovers. UNC did not maximize their possessions, and under normal circumstances, their TO% of 21.8 would be a bit disturbing, especially considering that this is only the second time since Marshall has become the starter that the Heels have had a TO% over 20.0 in two straight games (though certainly none of yesterday's TO problems can be attributed to Marshall). But again, these were not normal circumstances, so for now, I would file this under the "wait and see" category.
On defense, while the Heels did do a relatively good job contesting UNC-A's shots (FG%: 39.7; 3PT% 28.6) and a better job on the defensive boards (DR%: 80.5), they really didn't do much in terms of forcing UNC-A into mistakes, as the Bulldogs turned the ball over on only 12.8% of their possessions. Certainly some of this can be attributed to the fact that Primm and Dickey are as good and experienced a backcourt as you will find on a mid-major, but more of it falls to the fact that there wasn't much of the really intense defense the Heels showed flashes of on Friday.
- Despite the turnover problems, UNC put up a solid 116.7 offensive efficiency. Last year's team had an average raw efficiency of 106.5, while the 2009 champs had an average of 118.3, so this is definitely closer to the level that they need to be at.
- It was also refreshing to see the Heels play at a pace that is more customary of a Roy Williams' coached team (78 possessions). Last year's team only had 3 games in which they forced at least 78 possessions, while the 2008 and 2009 teams did it 15 and 13 times, respectively. It is no secret that in the past, Roy's teams have been most dangerous when they are running up and down, and with the collection of athletes on this roster, I have a hard time believing that this team would be any less effective.
- Harrison Barnes has shot at least 7 free-throws in each game this season, after reaching that level only 4 times last season (and average 3.4 attempts per game). If this keeps up, to go along with Marshall's ability to feed the post (Zeller) and Henson's apparent improvement, then the Heels could end up doing major damage at the charity stripe this season.
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings (glossary)
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John Henson has been a revelation, which is saying something for a player most had pegged as a potential All-American and future lottery pick. Coming into this season, Henson had the reputation as an elite defensive weapon, who could clean up stuff around the rim on offense and make the occasional spectacular pass. What we have seen in two games this season is a player who can not only change the game on defense, but now appears to be a weapon on offense as well. Yesterday was the first game in Henson's Carolina career in which he posted an ORtg over 140.0 while playing more than 20 minutes, showing off an array of scoring options, including a turn-around jump shot that looked every bit as effortless (and unguardable) as Tyler Zeller's jump hook or Harrison Barnes' step-back jumper. On top of the offensive production, Henson was a beast on both boards (OR%: 19.1; DR%: 25.1), blocked two shots, and through in a 4-6 performance from the line to boot.
While I don't think anyone was too worried about Tyler Zeller's performance on Friday, it was good to see him bounce back with what has almost become a "customary" performance for him. He started off a bit slowly, but once he got it going, there was a stretch where the entire Heels' offense consisted of Kendall Marshall throwing the ball into Tyler Zeller on the post. And who could really blame them, as the result almost always ended with Zeller either scoring, getting fouled, or both? I made the comment on Twitter yesterday that Marshall-to-Zeller, while not as spectacular, is every bit as efficient as Cota-to-Jamison was, and after 24-hours, I still stand by that statement.
And as for Kendall Marshall, what more can be said that hasn't been already? A 15:1 A/T ratio, on the road, against a good back court is as good as it gets, especially when you consider that he lost a couple of assists due to either missed dunks (Zeller) or players getting fouled (usually Zeller). If I was going to nitpick just a little with Marshall, I would still like to see him be more aggressive driving to the rim (because he does it well), but his ability to run this team is as good as it gets, and his performance executing the two-for-one at the end of the first half yesterday was a thing of beauty.