This was an absolutely gut-wrenching loss, but I am not sure that it is anything more than that. As Brian pointed out in his post-game wrap-up, UNC is now 0-5 at home in their first match-up against Duke of season (and 2-7 overall). Additionally, Al Featherston (the link is to a "Duke-site", be forewarned) noted yesterday that the last 7 Duke and UNC teams to win the national title were 3-4 in the season's first match-up, but 7-0 in the second, and that is really the key. As much as this hurts, a season is not defined by what a (UNC) team does in February, it is defined by what it does in March. In the past, Roy's teams have improved continuously through February and into March (heck, even the 2010 team did, relatively so), which includes a 6-2 record against the Devils in the second match-up of the season. This team still has (most of) the pieces to be a legitimate threat to win it all, but it is up to them to make sure that games like this are a learning experience, and not a portent of things to come.
Last night was a perfect example of how seven minutes of bad play, can completely overwhelm 33 of good, and on the offensive end, it was really only the last two minutes that were bad. For the first 38 minutes of the game, UNC did almost everything they needed to on offense to win (the following stats include only the first 38 minutes). UNC shot (overall) well (eFG%: 50.0), rebounded well (OR%: 40.5, DR%: 71.1), and most importantly, took care of the ball (TO%: 10.1) and did work at the line (73.0%, including 13-15 in the first half). The last two minutes, were the complete opposite, as the Heels did not have a field goal attempt, did not grab a rebound, turned the ball over on 50% of their possessions, and were just 2-4 from the line. If any one of those things was different, UNC wins the game (literally, as little as 1 defensive and UNC wins).
Defensively, it is easy to sit back and say that UNC allowed Duke to make too many threes, because, in absolute truths, they did; but for most of the game, UNC actually did a really good job of contesting shots. From the 15-minute mark in the first half, to the 2-minute mark in the second, Duke was held to just 29.6 from three (8-27), which is terrific. However, during the other 7 minutes of the game, UNC let Duke hit 6 of their 9 attempts (3-5 to start the game, 3-4 to end it), and herein really lies the difficulty in playing a team the shoots a lot of threes: it requires a team to aggressively challenge shots for the entire game, not just 80-85% of it. While three-point defense will likely be the most talked about aspect of this game, the bigger concern in my opinion is the rate at which UNC is fouling. Last night, UNC gave up 26 FTAs to a Blue Devil team that took 58.0% of its shots from behind the arc (FTR: 41.9). Now, while it is clear that the officials were calling the game much tighter in the second-half, probably in response to the "talking" we saw towards the end of the first, this is still becoming somewhat of a worrisome trend for the Heels. Over the first 21 games, UNC had given up a FTR over 30.0 only twice (@UNCA, @FSU), but in each of the last three games, UNC has allowed its opponents to get to the line at a rate of more than 40.0%. Given UNC's new lack of depth, this is something that is not sustainable.
- From a defensive standpoint, this game was almost identical to the first Duke-UNC clash of the 2008 season, in which Duke went 13-29 from 3 and had 27 FTAs. In the rematch in Durham, UNC still gave up 10-29 threes, but was able to get the win by limiting Duke to just 31.9% from inside the arc and giving up only 9 FTAs. It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself again in March.
- On top of the threes, this was also the first game all season in which the Heels had both a steal% and block% under 5.0.
- This was the first time since the Kentucky game last December (52 games) that UNC made less than 2 of its three-point attempts. On three separate occasions, UNC missed a second-half 3 while holding a 10-point lead. Those are the shots that you need to make (at least one of them) if you are going to knock an opponent out.
Beyond the Box: Player Impact Ratings
[table id=179 /]
In looking at the P.I.R., the thing that absolutely jumps out at me is the fact that UNC got very little from Reggie Bullock, and almost nothing from P.J. Hairston. Yes, Zeller, Barnes, and Marshall all had critical gaffes at the end of the game, but that should not overshadow the fact that they were also the ones (along with Henson) who allowed UNC to control the game through the first 90% of the second-half. For the most part, they delivered the type of performance this team needs to win at a high level.
When Dexter Strickland went down, a common line of thinking was that Reggie Bullock would be able to step into his starting position and UNC, at least in terms of the starting rotation, would not miss a beat. And too some extent, this has been true. The problem is, in order for this to be completely true, it is absolutely essential that P.J. Hairston steps up his game to replace the considerable spark Bullock provided off of the bench. If he does not, then the loss of Strickland goes from being "losing two players" (starting shooting guard and back-up PG), to really the loss of three (starting shooting guard, back-up PG, top-6th man/scorer), and that might be too much to over come.
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=180 /]