UNC vs. Virginia Tech: Beyond the Box

Coming into yesterday's game, there was some debate as to what would be the best possible outcome of the Virginia Tech game for UNC to (begin to) move past what happened Saturday. The two most discussed options were a blow-out win, or a game in which they were challenged and had to "dig deep" to win on the road. As it turns out, they got both, and in hindsight, that probably was the best possible outcome for this game (with Strickland's injury the obvious exception). Winning last night in Blacksburg doesn't remove the memory of what happened on Saturday, but it does serve as a reminder that with this team, the questions aren't about "can they?" (shoot, rebound, defend, respond, etc.), they are entirely about "will they?"

Four Factors

Carolina's overall numbers for the game, as one might expect with a 14-point final margin, look quite good.  The Heels' offensive efficiency (OE: 118.8) and defensive rebounding (74.4%) represent above average performances, and both their shot blocking (BLK%: 13.2) and their work on the offensive glass (OR%: 52.8) bordered on outstanding.  But as good as the overall numbers are, it is the second half data that really shows the type of performance that has come to signify a team that has (at least) the potential to be elite.  Much has been said/written about the intensity UNC played with on the defensive side of the ball during last night's second 20 minutes, but it should not be glossed over that the Heels' second-half OE was 150.0.  While UNC did have a surprisingly high TO% in the second-half (25.0), they more than made up for it by doing nearly everything else at an extremely high level.  The Heels shot 52.1% from within the arc, 50.0% behind it, and basically camped out at the free-throw line, with a second-half FTR of 62.1 (FT%: 83.3).  And in the rare occasions that UNC did miss, it really did not matter thanks to an almost unheard of 80.0 OR%!

Defensively, the second-half performance can really be distilled down to the fact that the Heels challenged nearly every shot.  They didn't force a lot of turnovers (TO%: 12.5) and their results on the defensive glass (DR%: 72.7) were nothing extraordinary.  But Carolina challenged shots, and as a result, the Hokies could only manage a second-half OE of 90.6 and an eFG% of 40.9, both of which are actually skewed up by two quick baskets scored after UNC pulled it's starters (VPI during the 1st 19-minutes: OE - 80.0; eFG% - 35.5).

Statistical Observations

  • The 48 points scored by the Heels in the second-half snapped a streak of 4 consecutive halves in which they had scored under 40 points, their longest stretch of the season.
  • Prior to the Miami game, UNC had assisted on 50.0% or more of its FGs in 14 of its 16 games.  It has now been under 50.0% in each of the last three games, the longest such streak since Marshall became the starter.
  • Last night's game was the 9th time this season (19 games) that UNC's opponent's have shot less than 10 free-throws in a game.  Last season, in 37 games, it only happened 4 times.  Carolina's opponents do have a slightly higher 3-point FG distribution percentage (37.8 vs. 33.3), but that is not enough to account for such a huge difference.

Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings

[table id=169 /]

If there was even the slightest question remaining as to where Carolina's bread is buttered (or maybe Butta'd is more approriate?) last night's performance should put an end to that.  The UNC trio of Henson, Zeller and Barnes were in a word, spectacular.  Up until this point, in the (very) brief history of the P.I.R., there had not been a game in which more than one player topped the 40-point mark; last night, all three did it.  Zeller (ORtg: 125.6; OR%: 14.2 DR% 21.0, BLK%; 6.9) was what is becoming his customary self: an efficient-rock that his teammates can count-on on both ends of the court, and Barnes (ORtg: 144.3; STL%; 5.4), especially in the second half, was simply sublime.  Not only did he score at will, but he was primarily responsible for holding Dorenzo Hudson, who had scored 16 in the first, completely scoreless in the second.

But the star of stars was John Henson, who produced only the 3rd P.I.R. score over 55.0, the result of terrifically balanced performance on both ends of the court (ORtg: 120.1; DR% 32.8, BLK%; 19.0; TO%: 8.3).  That Henson, who is on pace to become the first Heel to average a double-double in multiple seasons since Mitch Kupchak, and his frontline-mate Zeller, are having a terrific season should be no surprise, but just how good the pair of seasons is, may be.  If Zeller, who is currently averaging 9.3 RPG, can get his average into double-figures, then he and Henson will become only the second pair of Carolina teammates to average a double-double in the same season.  The only other time this happened was more than 50 years ago, when Doug Moe and Lee Shaffer pulled it off for the 1960 Heels.  Considering how much rebounding rates have dropped since the mid-70s, this would be a truly remarkable accomplishment for the current Heels.

Season P.I.R.

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=170 /]

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