That was a terrific game. It was lot of fun to watch, and for a December game, was played at a really high level. But to be perfectly frank, Carolina could have/should have beaten Kentucky yesterday, and on a neutral court, they likely would have; and that, more than the actual loss itself is probably where any sense of disappointment stems from. Despite that, there was clearly more good than bad to be taken from yesterday's performance, and looking ahead, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic. After playing 3 straight games against teams in Kenpom's Top-15 (two of which were on the road), Carolina can now look forward a schedule in which they will (according to Kenpom) be significant favorites for their next 22 games. While it is not likely, it would not be entirely shocking if in approximately three months, these Tar Heels go rolling into Durham with a 28-2 record.
Yesterday was the 193rd time in the last 8+ seasons that UNC had an eFG% of 50.0 or better for a game. It was only the 12th time they have lost such a game. In the previous 11 losses in which the Heel's had an eFG% of 50.0, UNC had a defensive efficiency (DE) worse than 100.0 in all of them, and in 9 of them, it was 114.0 or higher. Yesterday was no different, as UNC had a season worst DE of 114.1. While both teams made a killing on the offensive glass (OR%: UK - 43.2; UNC 40.5), where UNC really struggled was forcing turnovers. UK came into yesterday's game with a TO% for the season of 18.1% and were having the ball stolen from them 5.7 times per game. UNC was not able to take advantage of this, forcing a young Kentucky team into a TO% of only 14.1 with only 2 steals. Obviously, UNC's inability to turn Kentucky over hurt their defensive efficiency, but it also prevented them from supplementing their offensive efficiency (OE). While UNC only forced 9 TOs yesterday, they did do a terrific job converting those turnovers into 17 points (OE: 188.8). Pretty easy to see how 1 or 2 extra takeaways would have paid off yesterday.
On offense, the Heels weren't actually that bad, as their OE of 112.5 was just off their season average (113.1). Despite this, there were a couple of areas of concern. Clearly UNC had some turnover issues (TO%: 20.3), but much of this came early. The Heels gave the ball away on 4 of their first 7 possessions, but rebounded nicely after that, and only turned the ball over on 15.8% of their remaining possessions. The bigger concern, however, was UNC's inability to hit shots from within the arc in the second half. For the 3rd straight game, UNC hit less than 33.0% of their second-half 2-pt FGAs, and yesterday it was a paltry 5-20 (25.0%). Talk all you want about UNC needing to have shooters on the court, but the Heels are getting good looks from in close, and they need to start hitting them with regularity.
- I was shocked to see this, but yesterday's game against UK featured only 4 more possessions than did UNC's game against Wisconsin. Certainly did not feel like a similarly paced game.
- The season is only 8 games old, but UNC already has two games in which they have hit 11 of their 18 3PA. For the season, UNC is shooting 44.4% from behind the arc (8th in the nation) and over the last 5 games, they are hitting an incredible 52.9%. Safe to say that early season questions about their shooting ability have been at least partly answered.
- Over the last two games, UNC is 30-38 (78.9%) from the line. It will be interesting to see if this is a blip, or the start of a trend. Unfortunately, yesterday was only the second time all season that the Heels had a FTR under 35% (season low, 23.3%).
- Barnes' 3rd foul clearly had an enormous impact in the game. Despite a very strong 123.8 ORtg, Barnes was held under 15 points for the first time in 19 games due to his limited minutes. And just as important to the outcome of the game, Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 12 of his 17 points in the 10 minutes that immediately followed Barnes is 3rd foul, after taking only 2 shots in the game's first 14 minutes.
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings (Glossary)
[table id=144 /]
I'm sure there will be many, as I was, who will be surprised to see Zeller at the top of this list, but looking at the boxscore, Zeller did do a lot well yesterday, particularly on the offensive boards (5) and at the line (6-6). Unfortunately for the Heels, the things that Zeller did so well last season, shooting from the floor (FG%: 54.9) and protecting the basketball (TO%: 11.5), were significantly lacking, as they have been throughout the bulk of this early season. Hopefully Zeller will be able to use these next 9 home games to get back to being the player he was last season.
The other player who really jumps out is Reggie Bullock, who is quickly establishing himself as the Heels' most well-rounded option off of the bench. While Hairston may be the better pure scorer, Bullock is no slouch (43.3 3P%) and has twice as many rebounds (at least 4 in 5 of the last 6 games) and 5 more steals than does Hairston, who at this point still appears to be fairly one-dimensional (although, he is very good at that one dimension).
The cumulative impact ratings for each player can be found below. A player's average P.I.R., both for the season and the last five games only considers games in which the player officially logged at least 1 minute of game time. The C.V. is a measure of variation; the smaller the percentage, the more consistent the player's performance has been. While it is not technically correct to use in this instance, because P.I.R. is an interval scale (it can go into the negative), it still has some value for the top-tier players, who will likely have a positive P.I.R. in every game.
[table id=145 /]